There’s been a lot said about Uncharted, much of it positive and heaping praise on Naughty Dogs latest adventure. But the attention has been taken away from that by the one or two people less than impressed with the game. Petitions have got involved and everything is a little messy on that front. So going into my Uncharted 4 Review I was thinking how much of a shame it is that such an amazing game for fans of the series is wrapped up in something so petty.
And then I had to think, what the hell can I say that hasn’t already been said?!
Unlike one particular reviewer, I am a big fan of Uncharted as a series in spite of its flaws, of which there are a number and some of them even appear in Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End. This review will be done with my personal feelings of course but, I hope to be objective enough to see the areas where the game could have been better but not ignoring everything it gets so right.
For me, Uncharted 4 is a masterpiece of an action-adventure title. It’s utterly stunning from the moment you start playing, to the imagery at the end that will leave a smile on your face and a tear in your eye when it’s all over. The narrative, acting and motion capture of every actor in this game is first class from beginning to end, the gameplay is brilliant too but some of the shooting does lack in some areas compared to modern standards.
As a big The Last of Us fan – and I put that at the top of my list as far as this genre of games go – the big question for me is: is Uncharted 4 good enough to take its place? Let’s find out in the (Spoiler Free!) review below.
Look and Feel – “Shh. Just, enjoy the moment.“
It took Sam two thirds of the game to tell Nathan to Just Enjoy the Moment but it only took me a few minutes into the title to stop in awe at its graphical prowess. It’s not even a deciding factor in a game for me usually, I know some gamers are all about the visuals and if that’s the case then this is the game for you. But even as someone less taken in by a game’s visual quality, it’s hard not to just stop and enjoy the various moments the game stuns you with its artwork.
And it’s in the variety of what they have created that really makes the game stand out as something special in this department.
Locations range from the old orphanage where Nathan grew up, Under the Ocean, small towns with ancient architecture and of course those long lost areas a mixture of stunning views and overgrown foliage that all moves and reacts so real you could almost touch it.
Everything, every tiny detail is beautiful in Uncharted 4 and it’s a work of art in its presentation.
This of course comes down to the characters too with each one of them captured perfectly. Again, detail being the theme as the smallest of movements of Nate’s eyes or Sam’s slightly wrinkled smile, not to mention the villain, Rafe’s maniacal expressions and the animations on Nadine Ross.
The music is wonderful too, it really works to set the scene and often you’ll find you only notice this in additional playthroughs of the title. The voice acting will be covered in the story section below but, simply put: it’s as polished as the visuals and atmosphere.
And that is what this game creates, the atmosphere and feeling of a truly polished adventure. Detail everywhere and hardly a moment of technical problems to get in the way but for one or two camera positions that went slightly wrong. This sets a new standard of how a game is presented for me, it’s magnificent in this regard and it’s going to take some beating.
Story – Greatness From Small Beginnings
One thing that Naughty Dog really stepped forward with when they released The Last of Us was in their storytelling. Sure, Uncharted games have had good stories and characters, but they never really had a moment that got me emotionally. Whereas I was almost in tears 10 minutes into the start of The Last Of Us and completely shocked at the serious tone of the game early on.
It was time to put this into Uncharted, and they have certainly done that.
Plenty has been said about the acting around the web already but if this game is to be beaten to any award this year, it will not be for the quality of performances from its cast. Nolan North and Troy Baker are outstanding and work so well together on the screen, and you’d expect there is now a full bromance off screen between these two now, since they seem like lifelong friends as they perform every scene together perfectly.
A lot has been said about them of course so I also want to give some credit to the actors and team for giving Uncharted what it really needed, a fantastic villain. And just like busses, I wanted one and actually two showed up together as Rafe Adler and Nadine Ross, outstandingly played by Warren Kole and Laura Bailey respectively, work so well to really create two antagonists that really make you want to get to that treasure first. Maybe even kill them if you are a bit sick and twisted…
Not me though… honest.
The story does the usual Uncharted time hopping early on and starts you towards the end of the game. You and Sam, Nathan’s brother, try to escape other ships chasing and shooting at you. After some fast action and cool set pieces you are taken back to the day’s Nathan is a young boy in an orphanage. This introduces you nicely to the relationship between Nate and his brother as the two pair up for some action.
Years later, but before the events of the other Uncharted games, Nate is taking part in a fist fight in a Panamanian Jail (a nice Easter egg for us fans) before revealing he’s there on purpose to find details of an artefact leading to famous pirate, Henry Avery’s treasure. After acquiring what he could Rafe and Sam, also in prison with Nate go to settle the debt with the warden. The unstable Rafe soon has the group in trouble and desperate to escape the more action packed route. Sam is unfortunately left behind and presumed dead for years as Nathan goes on his adventures.
Sure enough, Sam returns as his younger brother is all settled down working to salvage old scrap from fallen ships. But Sam’s in trouble with a drug lord the two make their way to finish what they started and find Avery’s treasure in order to buy Sam’s freedom. But Rafe and his partner Nadine Cross and her army of mercenaries are ready to stop you and kill you to stop you getting to it.
There is more depth to this take, including some nice twists and turns along the way. There are also some fantastic moments that really will pull your feelings one way or another. For example, without spoiling anything, there is a moment towards the end of the game between what Sam wants to do and what Nate thinks is best. Now I was totally behind Sam, almost getting annoyed with the game at this point since Nathan wins the argument. But then I spoke with fellow MGL writer David about this and he’d sided with Nate in the situation. Then we had a full blown Facebook debate about the whole thing.
This is what makes the story and the characters so great, even in the farfetched nature of the adventure you can still identify with them. They are all flawed in some way and that only makes them more human and real, which is just what you need in the finale of a series.
My first issue with the game comes here though gamers, and it’s to do with a young Drake moment that people have mixed feelings on. I personally enjoy the moments when you play Nathan as his younger self, it brings me closer to his character and in this case the relationship with Sam. But late in the game there is a sequence in a large house where the Drake brothers are looking for their mother’s lost work about Captain Avery. In isolation it was a solid scene, a little to long and ponderous perhaps but as good as the rest of the game generally. But the time in which it was placed in the rest of the story I felt made it lose some momentum, really slowing everything down at a strange point for me.
But that is only a blemish because overall, for me, the story is wonderful throughout but made into something utterly spectacular by one of the best performances of acting within a game I have ever experienced.
Gameplay – Old Dog, New Tricks
Here is where the biggest shake up of Uncharted lies with the game definitely taking less of a focus on the action and more on the adventure. Previous games have been about getting to the next cool action scene or big explosive set piece that really gets you on the edge of your seat. But, while these things of course happen in the game, mostly I was more impressed with how well they’d brought a sense of wonder to the gameplay that complemented the visual presentation of the game perfectly.
The platforming element is the main source of this effect in the game as you take on some incredible climbs that reveal some stunning architecture as you leap between the hand-holds and swing on your new grappling hook that is a simple but welcome addition to the game’s mechanics.
You can swing, climb, rappel and even use it on environmental items to move them and solve puzzles and even hook onto vehicles, which certainly brings something new to the game. The rest is the Uncharted style platforming movement that sees you reach and leap in some of the best game animations you’ll find as each time a ledge breaks or a rock crumbles Nathan clings on for his life. It’s on the cheesy side of course but it always brings a smile to my face.
Occasionally I did find myself leaping to my death as I didn’t seem to line things up properly or just plain dived out of a window but generally speaking it’s as good as the series has always been in this regard.
Exploration takes a bit more of a focus in this game too and this provided me with two of my favourite moments as I explored Nathan’s house and his attic of memories early on in the title with detail everywhere to be found. There was also an amazing exploration scene with Sam later in the game as you discover an area lost for hundreds of years. For the first time in the series you don’t just start blowing it up the moment you get there and you can even take part in some really well scripted optional dialogue.
Vehicle exploration is also a large part of the game too as you drive around exploring large sections of the game, able to step out and find small areas that will update you journal and bring you those hidden pieces of treasure.
Mercenaries from Nadie’s army try and get you at every turn from standard grunts to shotgunners and armoured gatling gun or rocket launcher armed goons that have you using all your skills. Stealth takes more of a focus in this game and, more often than not, you can actually choose how you take on the mercs’ with the option to say hidden and keep it quiet or get into an epic gunfight. Some are unavoidable of course and you then end up in some of those signature set pieces that really make the series famous. Buildings falling apart around you, explosions and bullets flying everywhere with armoured cars chasing you down the street and even some excellent action in the vehicles as you take race around in cars, bikes and boats.
The fact the action happens with more moments of slower play in-between also give it more impact when it does happen and there is so much to enjoy.
Shooting is nothing special really, I would say it’s the game’s weakest element in comparison to other games now. While it’s good for Uncharted, there is nothing here that isn’t found in other games and there are a number better than it in this regard. But when you define so many other things, it’s not too bad to have one standard element in the game.
The puzzles however are much improved in the game, less elaborate and invoke more of a thought process than previous games. Your traditional Indiana Jones puzzles are interesting but never give you a sense they are beyond human construction. While the more practical puzzles are well done as you try to get old technology working or get your vehicle to a certain area with the winch.
The shooting might be on the standard side but nothing else is. Naughty Dog taking the decision to slow the game a little, and give that real feeling of adventure more than just constant action very much works for Uncharted’s final outing and in doing that everything has a bigger impact as you play through this magnificent game.
Uncharted 4 A Thief’s End is by far the most visually stunning game I have ever played. The artwork the presentation is just beautiful. The acting performance by the cast is also as good as any game ever released and brought a more serious and mature feel to this series, which it benefits from massively.
It still maintains the action and charm of the previous games but does it in a much more impactful way by giving gamers more a sense of adventure rather than breathers between action sequences.
But is it better than The Last of Us, my favourite game in this genre?
Uncharted 4 comes close; it has everything and pushes so many boundaries that it’s one of the greatest games ever. Standard shooting mechanics and the poor placement of The Brother’s Drake chapter just take away from it being Naughty Dog’s best work for me.
However, it’s still a masterpiece of gaming; one that everyone should play that has any interest in single player action-adventure titles. For fans, you get the send of the series deserves and one thing it gets just right is the ending that will certainly leave you with a sense of ambivalence as you are happy yet sad at the same time.
This was a joy to play and Naughty Dog, I thank you for it.