Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End Review: The Drakes ‘R Good Enough’

Uncharted 4: A Thief's End Review
5.0
out of 5

As we are now in year three of the current console cycle, it’s fitting that Sony has not only set the bar with Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End, but they set it so high that it may never be topped. And I type that with a straight face. Pushing the boundaries of the PS4’s power, Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End is possibly the best looking game on the system (or any system), and may be the best looking game ever.

Naughty Dog has created the absolute best game of this generation, and they did it by redefining one of their flagship Sony franchises. The Uncharted series has always been near the top (the first game, Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune, is one of my favorite all-time games), and now, with A Thief’s End, Nate Drake’s story comes to an emotionally satisfying conclusion that gives gamers the best of the series, which means hitting a variety of locations and solving some pretty well thought-out puzzles, some outlandish vehicular action/combat scenes that puts the first Indiana Jones film to shame, and they even found a way to make combat interesting by putting a heavy emphasis on stealth.


Uncharted 4: A Thief's End Review

One of the many locations in the game to explore.

Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End opens with Nate Drake (voiced by the incomparable Nolan North) living a boring, everyday life as a married man to Eleana (Emily Rose), with a boring, everyday job at a salvage company. Years have passed since his last adventure, and Nate has finally grown up.

When his long lost brother Sam (Troy Baker) shows up seeking to revisit an old quest to find Henry Avery’s (the historically self-proclaimed “Pirate King”) massive store of gold and treasure, Nate is sucked back into the life of a daring adventurer/antiquities thief, and he risks his normal, safe life — and his relationship — to go on one last adventure with his big brother.

Uncharted 4: A Thief's End Review

There are some vehicle portions of the game which help vary the gameplay.

Naughty Dog takes the player to various locales (and stunning environments) around the world. Like an Uncharted greatest hits package, we get to play in the snowy Scottish highlands (snow as in Uncharted 2: Among Thieves), break into an Italian mansion, drive across the muddy plains of Madagascar (plains last seen in Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception), and explore the lush jungles of mysterious pirate-founded islands (jungles, as in the first game in the series), and there’s even an old Panamanian prison to break out of and so much more. And exploring returns here, as the maps are huge with many hidden secrets and paths. The variety here is exemplary. In fact, we don’t even see Nate in his iconic half-tuck and shoulder holster until half-way through the game. Everything about Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End is ramped up, as this is reportedly the last game in the series.

Uncharted 4: A Thief's End Review

Let’s play, “Where’s Nate in this picture?”

I could spend paragraph after paragraph talking about the graphics on Uncharted 4, but they must be seen in action to fully appreciate what the artists at Naughty Dog have done here. Hair moves naturally, and light reflects off of objects and skin as it does in life. This is as close to photo realism I have ever seen in a video game — and I’m not only talking about the character models. The environments are laid out so well, many with various ways to traverse, that the player no longer feels like they are being pushed forward, which was an issue in previous games in the series.

There’s one chapter in the last third of the game where Nate and Elena are in a dark cavern with only torches for light, and the lighting effects here were eye-popping. It’s like the PS4 and Sony were outright bullying the Xbox One and Microsoft as they flexed their powerful graphical muscles. Rise of the Tomb Raider on Xbox One looked stunning, and this is seven levels beyond that. And just when I was enjoying the shadow and light play of the orange-flamed torches, blue flares are brought into the mix, creating a whole new effect and a new color palette that truly shows the artistry put into this game. And this is only one short chapter in the back third of the game. The entire game is this stunning.

Uncharted 4: A Thief's End Review

This image does not do the lighting effects justice.

Also, while Drake spends a good portion of the game adventuring with Sam and later Elena, there are long patches when he is alone, which is a very welcome call back to the first game. There were times where I felt that same sense of wonder and awe that I felt back in 2006 when I played Drake’s Fortune. The way that Neil Druckmann and company have found a way to recreate that and still push the series forward (way forward) is simply astounding.

Uncharted 4: A Thief's End Review

A ship graveyard never bodes well for our hero.

No longer does the player come into an open area to find various boxes for cover and scattered caches of weapons, indicating a firefight is coming. Naughty Dog has integrated these areas a little better, and you never know when a gunfight can break out. The stealth emphasis allows for Nate (and his partner, when applicable) to use the cliffs, line of sight, and tall grasses to stealthily knock out each bad guy one by one. Making plans of the fly and memorizing patterns and sight lines is key to success here, and I loved every second of it. There are still those areas for dedicated gunfights, but it’s not that way all the time.

A new addition to Drake’s arsenal in Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End is the rope. Nate can swing, climb, rappel, and scale (run on) walls, and it really opens up the traversal paths. Naughty Dog mixed in hand holds and parkour options, with various latch on points for the rope, giving the player a new level of freedom while exploring the world in this game. It’s a very welcome addition.

Uncharted 4: A Thief's End Review

Swing away.

The voice acting and music are both top-shelf quality, with Nolan North and Emily Rose making us believe that they actually love each other, and Baker and North, two of the very best ever, making the player believe that they are brothers. Trust me, the performances are so good, it actually comes off that way. Henry Jackman’s score is amazing in some parts, and just great everywhere else. The score helps to make the greater product seem bigger and fuller, even while doing things on-screen that are epic. It’s a win all around.

Uncharted 4: A Thief's End Review

The voice acting is so good, that this feels like a real conversation between a married couple.

Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End has a multiplayer element that extends the play of the game with various game modes that center around killing friends and strangers while collecting jewels and treasure. It’s a nice side distraction, and doesn’t do anything to hurt the game package as a whole, but the meat and potatoes of the game is in the story mode, as it should be. The 22 chapters and 18-22 hours of gameplay are more than enough to satisfy, and for completionists, there are over 100 treasures to find, and journal entries to collect that fill in some of the back story of Avery and his quest to unite the Pirates under one free republic. All of this makes for some solid replayability.

Uncharted 4: A Thief's End Review

Multiplayer gives players more to do after completing the story.

When it boils down to it, Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End plays out like one big adult version of The Goonies. Two brothers coming together with a few friends for one final adventure, chasing some old pirate’s gold, while battling against a powerful group of thieves (including a tough-as-nails woman). And the pay off at the end even draws on The Goonies (not to spoil it, but the pirate ship is sitting in a lagoon in a hidden cave). I found myself humming that iconic Cyndi Lauper song through the last chapters (hence the title of this review), and since The Goonies is one of the all-time greatest adventure films, it’s very fitting that the comparison is made, as Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End is one of the all-time greatest adventure games, one that may never be bested. This is one of the best games I have ever played, and I will surely miss it. That is, unless Naughty Dog goes for one more adventure.

Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End is available now exclusively for the PlayStation 4. This review is based off a copy of the game purchased at retail.

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