“One Last Time”
Developer: Naughty Dog
Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment
Format: PS4 (reviewed)
Released: May 10, 2016
Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End is a remarkable and exhilarating representation of what video games can be. Elevated by an aged tone of maturity not seen in past entries, A Thief’s End embraces powerful themes of regret and loss, driving at its narrative with an unrivaled level of respect for its characters. Over the years, developer Naughty Dog has taken the series to sprawling Himalayan vistas, lush jungles, and more, but with Uncharted 4, Naughty Dog has taken the series deeper. This time, each technically astounding set piece is complimented with intimate moments that build character and develop relationships. There’s a lot going on in A Thief’s End, however, the pacing and overall ambition of the project never seems to bite off more than it can chew. Refined, joyful, and immaculately constructed, Uncharted 4’s gameplay is a series high, blending seamlessly into the world and story, encompassing it. A Thief’s End is a rare body of work, taking what made the series great and expanding on it by breaking new ground thought to be untouchable. It isn’t afraid to go places previously shied away from in the franchise, and in doing so, creates what is, without a shadow of doubt, the series’ best narrative efforts. Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End is a marvel of an experience and a masterclass in design, assembling into a phenomenal conclusion for one of gaming’s proudest icons. With the events of Drake’s Deception, now a chapter of the past, it’s been a while since we’ve seen the fortune hunter, Nathen Drake in action. A lot has changed since his days of jumping from exploding planes and escaping sinking cruise ships. Instead, Drake leads a somewhat normal life, clocking in at his job and dreaming of prior adventures. Alongside Nathen, is his wife Elena Fisher, together they’ve retired from the life of gunfire and treasure hunting to settle into something more quiet. However, adventure comes knocking one last time when Nathan’s older brother, Sam, returns from the grave. Presumed to be dead for 15 years, Sam has reentered the picture with a hefty debt to pay and a convincing lead on one of history’s grandest pirate treasures. With the stakes personal this time, Nathan is forced back into the life he left behind, to help his brother. All eyes are on the loot of notorious pirate, Henry Avery, a treasure haul that would set Sam strait with those he’s in debt to, which also just so happens to be a discovery Nate and his brother have been chasing since childhood.
UNCHARTED 4 IS UNPRECEDENTED IN ITS VISUAL AND NARRATIVE AMBITION
A Thief’s End is built off of the narrative basis of an uncomplicated adventure to fulfill a bounty, yet the grounded mood and sophistication to its characters and plot organization, lead it to places where the storytelling is all but unprecedented. Naughty Dog has accomplished something special with Uncharted 4, managing to dive into the psyche of its cast and Nathen, himself, in ways that are emotionally revealing and powerful. At its heart, A Thief’s End is ultimately about obsession and how far someone would go for those they love. This is a far more realistic and adult iteration of the Uncharted we’re used to, and while it can be jarring at first, it doesn’t take long to settle into the refined cadence which drives the journey. The pulpy nature of past installments’ self-aware writing is considerably more vacant here than I was expecting. While jokes are still cracked and the globetrotting feel of the series remains strong, the curtain is pulled back to reveal a deeper meaning behind it all. Nate’s wittiness has more to it than meets the eye and the ramifications brought on in the previous games are explored here. Everything is brought to life in a grown-up mentality that respects the complexity of its characters, digging into their emotional well-being in ways that effectively give weight to Uncharted 4’s more outrages action sequences. Speaking of Uncharted 4’s action set pieces, each stunt is a technical marvel and an absolute joy to control. A Thief’s End places a completely unrivaled degree of agency in the player’s hand, allowing them to feel as if they’re the one directing the scene themselves. In comparison to the stunningly choreographed action sequences of Nate’s past endeavors, Uncharted 4 is much lighter in terms of quantity. However, for what A Thief’s End lacks in terms of hard numbers, it easily makes up for in the intricately designed nature of the set pieces. Regarding an exhilarating car chase through the busy streets and eventual countryside of Madagascar, Naughty Dog comes close to outdoing nearly everything they’ve accomplished from an action perspective leading into Uncharted 4. It’s a breathtaking sequence that evokes stunning awe around every turn, maintaining a breakneck sense of momentum that solidifies the title as one of the stronger action games ever made. A few other small scale sequences see similar moments of action-packed wonder, contributing to a rhythm of play that knows exactly when to ramp up and when to slow down.
In terms of pacing, Uncharted 4 is rather methodical. It maintains a consistent structure far superior to its predecessors, marrying gameplay with narrative, in a cohesive balance all too rare in games. Helping A Thief’s End expand into new territory is, in fact, The Last of Us, Naughty Dog’s previous game. The 2013 post apocalyptic masterpiece is to be found all over in Uncharted 4, with inspirations affecting smaller aspects such as how friendly AI works in battle, to game-changing design decisions that adopt more open ended level design. The Last of Us is most prevalent within the sandbox areas Uncharted occasionally opens up to. These areas are massive and encourage exploration from the player, a task that can be rewarded with hidden collectibles and additional story beats tucked away from the main path. When the pacing slows a tad during these more open environments, everything feels as if it’s given room to catch its breath. For the most part Uncharted 4 moves along incredibly quickly and efficiently, but there are hours in which it simply stops what it’s doing to let everything soak in. You’re not always in a gunfight or solving centuries-old puzzles, for A Thief’s End often chooses to spend time with its characters in slower moving moments, devoid of any particularly demanding gameplay. It’s in these interactions that Uncharted 4’s magnificent writing chops, shine brightest, brilliantly breaking up the action-heavy momentum with moving bits of narrative, guaranteed to resonate.Narrative excellence aside, Uncharted 4’s gameplay is also at a series’ high. Presented with finely-tuned mechanics that match up superbly with the immaculate level design, A Thief’s End is an absolute dream to play. |n classic Uncharted fashion, Drake mows down his fair share of armed mercenaries throughout the campaign, but this time the emotional stability behind the act of killing isn’t completely ignored. Inevitably, an element of suspension of disbelief does come into play, but it’s nowhere near enough to derail the more grounded tone surging throughout it’s nearly 20 hour story. The combat itself isn’t necessarily groundbreaking, following along the lines of about what you’d expect from a third-person shooter in this day and age. You’ll take cover, eliminate enemies with a traditional arsenal of automatic weapons, and engage in hand-to-hand combat. Yet, while A Thief’s End’s core gameplay isn’t packing anything revolutionary per se, it’s incredibly polished and satisfying to take part in. Easily the best part of Uncharted’s combat suite here, is that of its option to tackle situations while in stealth. You’re not always given the choice, but when the opportunity presents itself, taking down entire platoons from concealment is engaging and rewarding. Surprisingly, combat encounters are fewer and farther between in this entry, meaning you’ll spend a lot of time traversing about the environment. Climbing, sliding, and swinging the newly introduced grappling rope, are exhilarating activities which keep the game fresh and unpredictable. The rope adds a considerable dose of variety to climbing–as well as combat–a welcome addition considering the amount of hours you’ll spend jumping from one ledge to another.
A THIEF’S END IS A CONTENDER FOR THE BEST ACTION GAME EVER MADE
While much of what A Thief’s End borrows from The Last of Us strengthens the quality of the title, there are a few minor annoyances that slow progress. Chief to them are hoops set in place in order to progress onto a new area, such as finding a crate to stand on or boosting your companion to a high point. They’re perfectly fine the first few times, yet they eventually begin to overstay their welcome after a couple hours in. However, akin to how they boiled down in The Last of Us, there’s always something magnificent right around the corner. The constant beats of exemplary scripting, acting, and technical achievement, make this sort of nitpick a momentary annoyance that keeps its distance from actively affecting the game in a negative light. Beyond that, Uncharted 4 is a spectacle of a game that sets new standards in its wake. From its incredibly polished mechanics, to stunning technical fidelity, A Thief’s End is all-around one of the best presented games to see the light of day. Constantly spellbinding, the character animations, sprawling vistas, and near photorealistic interiors, visually carry Uncharted 4 to another level. Not only is it PlayStation 4’s best looking game, period, but it very well might be the best looking game ever created. The sheer amount of expression portrayed within the believable faces of the characters is unmatched in games, allowing for some of the best interactions to play out in this medium. This feat, in particular, coupled with the overall graphical caliber of the expertly realized environments, make Uncharted 4 an astounding experience to simply gaze upon.With the spectacular main game behind you, there’s a fully-featured multiplayer mode to fallback on. It’s nothing to write home about in comparison to the game’s single player, but what’s here is by no means subpar. Standing confidently on its own two feet, Uncharted 4’s multiplayer is comprised of both 5v5 and 4v4 action. In heavy contrast to A Thief’s End’s more grounded tone, the multiplayer embraces complete chaos with a smile, allowing players to choose from a roster of the series’ iconic characters, before they get to killing each other. It’s harmless fun that’s reinforced by a few solid modes consisting of Team Deathmatch, Command, and Plunder. Both easy to pick up and have a good time with, Uncharted 4’s multiplayer doesn’t feel like an unnecessary tack on to the package. A Thief’s End certainly wasn’t in need of a multiplayer portion, but I’m glad it made it. Though not essential to the experience, it’s worth checking in on, if not solely to land a devastating punch to Uncharted 2’s main villain, Lazarević, one final time.Conclusion: Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End is a hallmark of excellence and a shining example amongst its peers. Ripe with achievements substantial enough to send-off any body of narrative work with a bang, Uncharted 4 is a fitting and finite conclusion to one of gamings’ more important series. Greed, selfishness, and the desires that drive who we are, are thematic beats A Thief’s End’s makes its forte. Rarely has a game executed upon its narrative ambitions with such a concrete and mature understanding of its scope and cast of diverse characters. In its respectful exploration of the people who drive the series, Uncharted 4 confidently dives into Nathen’s relationships with those around him. By exposing the truth behind lies and explaining the unwavering love of a passion, Naughty Dog has brought the franchise to a touching and impactful close, one in which goes above and beyond giving its characters a fitting goodbye. Nothing about A Thief’s End feels phoned in or taken too far. There’s no blatant setup for an unnecessary sequel down the road or plot thread left unraveled. What we’re left with is a gorgeous and fulfilling adventure that leaves its mark with an exceptional serving of poignancy and resolve. Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End is worth its weight in gold, and then some.
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