Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End combines melancholy and mayhem to create an unforgettable conclusion to this iconic series. The original Uncharted trilogy on PlayStation 3 feels like playing through a blockbuster action film full of adrenaline. Uncharted 4 boldly presses down on the brakes for this series’ seemingly unstoppable thrill ride. With a poignant deconstruction of its iconic main character Nathan Drake, Uncharted 4 takes a genre-subverting look at the long-term impacts of his swashbuckling lifestyle.
Released in 2016, Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End contains Naughty Dog’s signature unrivaled production value. Unfortunately, the gameplay plays it relatively safe compared to the refreshingly emotional angle that the story succeeds at. Although derivative, I still had a lot of fun playing Uncharted 4.
Treasure hunter, parkour-superhuman, and quip-machine Nathan Drake was well established as one of gaming’s favorite sons coming into his final chapter. Therefore, I admire the writers’ gutsy call to fully dissect the flaws of this charming hero. Uncharted 4 shows the cost of Drake’s ambitious drive that has carried him throughout his entire career as an adventurer. The writers manage this by taking us deeper than ever before into his personal life, creating a believable conflict between the regrets of his past and the realities of his present.
The re-emergence of Nathan’s long-thought dead brother, Samuel Drake, reawakens boyhood dreams within him of finding Henry Avery’s pirate treasure. However, setting out for the treasure directly interferes with Drake’s current married lifestyle. He and his wife Elena have been forgoing crazy adventures in favor of arguing over who does the dishes. I felt a sense of fatalistic lament watching Nathan’s web of lies and greed come back to affect those dear to him. The parallels to Henry Avery’s failed pirate utopia bring extra weight to Drake’s own need to bury the Peter Pan within him.
But, when Uncharted 4’s adventure truly kicks into gear, I once again had a big goofy grin on my face. Watching the contagious personalities of Nathan, Samuel, Sully, and Elena working off each other is a delight. Rafe’s sleezy arrogance makes for an entertaining villain. But, I wish Nadine got more characterization outside of being good with her fists.
The flow of the story is extremely McGuffin-heavy. However, a focused third act does away with a lot of the baggage. This allows the characters to tackle their failings head on. And, it leads to a finale that feels satisfying in its reflectiveness and restraint.
Uncharted 4 doesn’t stray too far from the series’ original formula. This includes cover-based third-person gunfights, climbing over anything Drake can grasp, and even the occasional puzzle to solve. It’s a reliable mix of action-adventure mechanics that has opened the franchise up to a large audience. Naughty Dog ensures it has enough gameplay variety to fall back on, thereby keeping momentum across the 14-hour journey.
Despite this, there is a pervading conservatism to the gameplay of Uncharted 4. It doesn’t play much differently from a game released in 2007. I felt an empty relationship to the game’s uninspired choice of weaponry. And, the half-baked stealth mechanics held me back from truly appreciating the effort that had been put into the open-ended level design of the combat encounters.
Finally, multiplayer makes a return. It continues to operate at an entertaining enough level to keep me coming back after the credits roll. Kitting out my character with gear, mysticals, and sidekicks added a layer of customization that built upon the standard modes and weapons on offer.
The creativity in playing through Uncharted 4 stems from how Naughty Dog has structured the game. The opening two hours are content to slow things down by establishing the brotherly bond between Nate and Sam. They also focus on married life for the younger Drake and Elena. I enjoyed this change of pace for an introduction. It served the story well and subverted my understanding of how Uncharted’s typically show-stopping openings should play out.
The traditional gameplay loop of shooting, climbing, and puzzle-solving only takes hold after some time. I welcomed some of the new additions to this well-worn formula. For example, feeling like Tarzan as I swung over precarious gaps with my handy rope was always a rush. And, the handful of wide-open explorative levels sprinkled throughout are the most addictive sections I have ever experienced in Uncharted.
Still, there is an obsession with combining the sensational with the mundane. I started to lose my count — and my mind — at the amount of times I was forced to push a crate, tie a winch, or slowly wait for an ally to come and help me open a door.
Three years on, Uncharted 4 remains one of the most gorgeously lush and detailed games I have ever played on a console. Each environment is bathed in a hyper realistic richness that beautifully accents everything on screen, from a shimmering plant to a looming volcano. The animation carries this immersion further. Each subtle movement the characters make feels painstakingly crafted for their surroundings. For example, they reach out to touch a wall or a post as they pass by.
I did notice some weird blurring around the edges of character models during cutscenes. But, when playing the game in motion, there can be no question about the effort that has been put into maintaining Naughty Dog’s high standards for visual mastery.
Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End elegantly avoids many of the pitfalls that concluding chapters can fall into. It doesn’t concern itself with one-upping the scale over previous entries, but instead focuses on a character-driven narrative that isn’t afraid to explore similar themes in a more nuanced light.
I had a ton of fun playing through Uncharted 4, even if the gameplay is too lodged within its comfort zone to compete with its impressive story and visuals. At the end, it felt bittersweet saying goodbye to these characters that have captured my imagination so much over the years. Sic Parvis Magna, Naughty Dog.