Review: Uncharted 4 : A Thief’s End
Game after game, Naughty Dog has probably built one of the strongest empire and fan base in the gaming industry, pulling hits after hits like beads rolling, to also experience serious repercussions internally. After many delays that especially angered impatient PlayStation 4 owners, an HD Collection of the previous episodes to keep them busy, Naughty Dog finally put the pen down on their final chapter of the relic hunter, with Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End, Nathan Drake’s final opus. Claimed as one of the candidates for the 2016 Game of the Year by almost all sorts of media outlets, players and devout Naughty Dog fans, was Uncharted 4 : A Thief’s End worth the long wait?
Words are sometimes not strong enough to describe the magnificence of Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End. Dazzling, gigantic, lavish, sublime, and even breathtaking would explain the game’s graphical slap in the face, when you boot up the game. Considered the equal of Sonic, Street Fighter, Gears of War in terms of iconic game franchises, Naughty Dogs had a lot to prove, because it’s also the closing chapter of this licence. But before I start, it is first necessary to introduce this new episode that combines both tradition and innovations.
As always, you step in the shoes of our hero Nathan Drake, who is on the hunt this time of Henry Avery’s treasure, the infamous pirate of the late seventeenth century, whose fortune was never found. For this trip, we get the usual help of our long-lasting friends and teammates, Elena and Sully, but also a new kid on the block, Sam Drake, who is none other than Nathan’s older brother. Added surprisingly late in an already well established storyline and lore, Sam Drake aroused as much curiosity as fears, about how Naughty Dog will add him into the adventure. It is safe to claim after my playthrough that the studio still manages to surprise us, thanks to a great script, even if it feels a little simpler, yet still accurate in details. The newcomer quickly falls in line with his comrades, by bringing humor – a lot of it – to the adventure, and distinguished from his peers by his difficult past and his intense love for treasure hunting. As years have passed since the end of Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception, Nathan has decided to hang up the relic hunter uniform, and live an easier life with his wife Elena. However, an unexpected event will encourage him to return to his first treasure hunt, alongside his brother Sam, on a journey that will take him around the globe.
The game in general has fewer explosions, more emotion, and that’s something that I prefer. The experience of working on The Last of Us seems to have done good for Naughty Dogs, which helped releasing Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End with the most careful narration of the saga. The Santa Monica based studio has worked hard to refine each scene, each gameplay sequence, and cutscenes to make sure that it’s integrated perfectly in its narrative arc. In general, there’s a greater amount of dialogue scenes, that help shape the traits of each character, but also more surprising ideas by which the studio manages to advance the narrative via the emotion and expression on the face of each hero (One of the first clear sign of the technical expertise the studio has, a point on which I will return later on in this review). If the antagonists will inevitably not escape some clichés of the genre, they fit perfectly into t his “indiana jones” story, which gets out of its comfort zone and classical design, to offer a variation of tones, crafting an epic adventure regularly giving way to intimate and emotional parts. Adding on top of that, I’ve also played couple of the chapters in Arabic, which I can say is greatly done in terms of voice-overs, even if I’m not personally a fan of the Egyptian dialect. For that, I’ll raise a toast to the PlayStation Middle East team for finally answering to the requests of the community here in the region. Finally, spoiler-free, the end of the adventure did not fall into the easy trap of the excessive “open page”, but gives us a real conclusion to the saga that will not leave anyone hungry for more.
The main story is based on the effective staging process of previous Uncharted titles, that contributes greatly to the immersion and quality of this opus’ narrative power, and helped by a transparent transition between cinematic and gameplay and even manages to mask loading times. You take more than ten hours – potentially up to 16 hours for the higher difficulty modes, or those who want to collect all the treasures and trophies – to reach the end of the adventure, which offers different bonuses upon completion. You will then be able to replay the entire game with different filters – Mirror mode, cell-shading, pixel art or other – or even remove the UI, perfect for all of you streamers. If all of the ideas mentioned here aren’t really groundbreaking, I will note that all of these extras always bring a bit of replayability to a title that is not something gamers usually come back to.
Now that we discussed the pace of the adventure, let’s go deeper into the mechanics of the game, shall we? Like the other Uncharted, we find ourselves in the typical trio of shootings-puzzle-exploration, to which we must now add stealth, which is – most probably – influenced and adopted from The Last of Us formula. If the first half of the adventure sticks to the typical momentum of previous episodes through a more conventional linear structure, the second part is a plethora of environments that are semi-open world in structure, where you have a real freedom of how to approach the levels (even if it’s an illusion of choices in some cases). That’s when you can opt for a stealthy approach and get rid of all the guards discreetly, or opt for the hard way by shooting anything that moves. The full arsenal of modern infiltration gameplay mechanics are on the menu: the ability to tag enemies hiding in the tall grass, the detection bar with color codes to see if a guard is alerted or just spotted you. I personally salute the absence of a “stealth vision”which is quite common in these kind of gameplay settings, but I will point out at how dumb the enemy AI is, which often doesn’t detect you while you are within a few meters under their noses.
The other new features is how you control Nathan Drake, which is still as agile when it comes to scaling a wall and jumping from one ledge to another. We can now slide on slopes, a mechanism often combined with others to vary the pleasures during the many “platform” phases, but also the ability to use a grapple to propel yourself to other region (a little bit like Tomb Raider’s same mechanics). Whether it is used on an enemy to crush him, or just swinging over the void while waiting for the right timing to jump on the ledge in front of you, the hook is a fun addition, but still limited to specific grabbing points in the levels. The best part though, which is something I was never fond is, and expressively mentioned in my Uncharted: The Nathan Drake Collection review, is the “ragdoll” animation effect of how Nathan walks through levels. It is now fixed, and feels more human, than a weird lump of animated pixels.
The introduction of vehicles also brings variety to gameplay, allowing you to easily travel in more opened environments. It was possible to find some hidden areas thanks to these new exploration mechanics, filled with treasures in Madagascar or even to brave the waves of the Indian Ocean, with some underwater diving sections. While the whole thing remains too scripted and used sparingly, it still helps to fully immerse the player in adventure.Also a quick fun addition is the addition of the photo mode, where players can capture the magic of the scenery and action, while playing on a lot of parameters such as camera angle, depth of field, color saturation etc. A treat for lovers of pretty screenshots, and those who want to show off their skills, as they probably did before in Infamous: Second Son.
So what about the technical side of the game? Each episode of the Uncharted series has always acted as new technical and artistic reference for the PlayStation generation. And I can reassure you right away, Naughty Dog hasn’t lost its habits with this fourth opus. Not content to give us new and breathtaking panoramas, Uncharted 4 : A Thief’s End fully exploits the capabilities of the PlayStation 4 in its management of lighting and modeling, that is almost faultless from the start to the end of the adventure. Apart from a few and rare slowdowns in some of the semi-open areas, the game is running with great fluidity and stability. Other visual effects now also look as credible as a blockbuster movie, with intense explosions, but also small little details here and there like mud and water splashes under the wheels of the car. The animation of characters is intense, with a reminder of that after each close-ups, where emotions conveyed by the faces, via intimate scene and dialogues. In short, the result once again live up to the reputation of the series and the studio, who probably did its finest to date, if not the best game released on the console, and will surely define them for years to come.
Finally, a quick rundown on the multiplayer to end this review, which acts as a best-of of its predecessors: you will find the main characters of the saga in several modes such as team deathmatch, control or capture the flags. All modes make use of 8 maps representing the emblematic places of this fourth chapter, and offers in general more verticality than the previous games, helped by the use of the grappling mechanics, which requires us to focus on all angles, including the areal ones. The more you score points – for completing objectives on the selected mode – and the more money you’ll earn, to purchase various bonuses ranging from companion managed AI, to even supernatural power bonuses (Inspired by myths and legends of the series). The multiplayer mode is obviously not the flagship section of the game, but the result is satisfying and fun enough to add to the lifespan of the game, especially if you’re a fan of it from the previous episode.
Uncharted 4 : A Thief’s End was reviewed using a PlayStation 4 retail copy of the game purchased by the reviewer. The game is exclusive to the PlayStation 4 console. We don’t discuss review scores with publishers or developers prior to the review being published.
• One of the best videogame of this generation
• The sublime environments
• Amazing modeling worl on all front
• Fabulous lighting effects
• The game is runing at an imperial fluidity
• The dialogue and script are worth a blockbuster movie
• Amazing job on the Arabic voiceovers
• Great lifespan topped with its dedicated multiplayer mode
• Some redundant gameplay sections
• An outdated gunfight and infiltration mechanic
• Story is a bit cliche, even for the franchise
• After four games, the AI should've been better by now