Warning: there are some minor spoilers in this review—please read at your own discretion.
It should not come as a surprise when I openly admit that initially, I’d prematurely dismissed the Uncharted franchise as nothing more than an ill-fated, uninspired attempt to ride shotgun on the success train of the Tomb Raider franchise—now, that’s not because I’m the largest, self-proclaimed Tomb Raider fan on the East Coast, but primarily because the similarities were abundant and I struggled to comprehend the difficulty to grasp the reins of innovation and creativity in a world of infinite possibilities. It shouldn’t be a surprise because, naturally, I was not alone in my original thought process surrounding Naughty Dog’s debut of the American fortune hunter, Nathan Drake, as the often-times heated Uncharted vs. Tomb Raider discussions have been in circulation for the last nine years. I have no shame in admitting that I discovered that I was completely wrong—despite my initial protest, I ended up having a go at launch and found myself apologizing to the television during the game’s halfway point. Uncharted certainly shared quite the number of similarities with Tomb Raider and I still hold true that Uncharted would not exist without Tomb Raider—like Tomb Raider would not exist without Indiana Jones—but Naughty Dog’s franchise was absolutely unique in its own way, and like a fine Italian wine, it only grew better with age.
The notion that Nathan Drake was continuously taking notes from the adventures of his British sister is steadfast throughout the franchise and rather obvious in some capacities (for example, the new grappling hook/rope feature in Uncharted 4 that was just introduced in Rise of the Tomb Raider six months prior) but it was never so much a copy and paste as a “How can we apply this knowledge to improve on the franchise we’ve created?” It was inspiration, which then turned into innovation and wonderfully so. Without a fraction of doubt, you could easily find gamers who will argue that Uncharted is an over-glorified Tomb Raider clone while the other side of the coin will shout that Uncharted does everything Tomb Raider does in a better capacity. Despite my initial assumptions, my beliefs and actions have been on-the-whole neutral since 2007, sharing a love and appreciation for both franchises equally.
Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End brilliantly takes what it’s learned over the last nine years and applies the knowledge tenfold to create what essentially amounts to a masterpiece in its own right. It sent me back to the roots of Drake’s Fortune and reminded me what I loved about Among Thieves and Drake’s Deception and it did so in a way that really made me feel like I was playing a game that was familiar, but very different at the same time. From the moment I started playing, I immediately noticed an overhaul on how the game feels—it’s more fluid, responsive and really contributes to the cinematic element that Naughty Dog seem to have mastered. With newly introduced vehicular mechanics and both new and improved general mechanics, everything feels the way it should have felt since day one; that’s not to say the last three installments did it incorrectly, but Uncharted 4 managed to get so much right, it’s definitely going to be a little difficult to go back to Drake’s Fortune without wishing it played like A Thief’s End.
One thing that both seasoned gamers and Naughty Dog aficionados will notice immediately is how reminiscent Uncharted 4 is to The Last of Us, both in cinematic visuals and comparable gameplay mechanics. I found the overhaul to not only be completely paramount but just as well interesting—Rise of the Tomb Raider had a rather large jump from the 2013 reboot in terms of cinematic and brilliantly detailed visuals, and the same could be said between Uncharted 4 and its predecessor; with that being said, I can’t imagine either of the two franchises looking better than they do currently. I think what I find most appealing is that I’m wrong—in time, somehow, Naughty Dog will produce a new IP that will make Uncharted 4 look like Drake’s Fortune in 2007 and Crystal Dynamics will bring along a new Tomb Raider installment that will have the same effect.
Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End is a visual marvel, for lack of advanced terminology. From the detail on characters’ clothing and skin to the vast and varied landscapes and environments of Panama, Scotland and Madagascar—it’s positively jaw-dropping and gives the player every excuse in the world to use and abuse the brilliant Photo Mode. It was originally included in the Nathan Drake Collection, the three-game collection on PS4 that serves as a prelude to the final chapter. Photo Mode allows players to, with the press of a button, pause the game—during gameplay or cutscenes—and take advantage of the PlayStation 4’s rather simple Share feature, to take screenshots. During gameplay, players can rotate and move the camera in Photo Mode to capture the best angle of the shot and during both gameplay and cutscenes, players can add filters and borders and even remove characters from the scene, whether it be Nathan himself, his companions, the bad guys, or everyone, if you’re looking for a strictly environmental shot. I think I’d spent a total of three hours in Photo Mode alone, capturing every breath-taking landscape, bad-ass combat stance, action moment or camaraderie.
Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End tells the final story of Nathan Drake, who has hung up his shoulder holster and shelved his passport as he lives as normal of a life as possible with his wife, Elena Fisher. Nathan is thrown back into the frying pan when his brother, Sam, who was presumed dead for the last fifteen years, shows up on Nathan’s doorstep in significant trouble and needs his brother’s expertise in locating the lost treasure of Henry Avery—something that Nathan had given up on after his brother’s presumed death—in order to save his life. The journey takes them from a humid and ruthless Panamanian prison to the serene mountains of Scotland and the beautiful landscape of Madagascar. We’re introduced to characters both new and old that are wonderfully given life by a well-rounded cast of actors that create a true cinematic experience. The narrative proceeds at a steady pace and does feel a bit slow at times when you think you’re nearing the end but still have another five chapters to go—if the game wasn’t as enjoyable as it is, it definitely would serve as a negative point, but that is not the case here. I couldn’t begin to explain the sense of relief I’d felt when I thought I was near the end and realized I still had about seven chapters to complete. I honestly did not want the experience to end.
Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End is easily comparable to its predecessors in terms of gameplay on the surface, but everything feels incredibly different from Drake’s Deception alone, never mind Among Thieves and Drake’s Fortune. It feels more fluid, more responsive and it’s easily noticeable immediately when starting the game. It manages to take everything it did before and improve upon it in a way where little feels repetitive. We’re presented with improved platforming and navigation, physical and armed combat, stealth mechanics and even vehicular mechanics—all of which are done in rather spectacular ways. I really appreciated the fact that some key moments of the game can be accomplished entirely through stealth, whether you take down the enemies one by one without being spotted, or completely infiltrate and exfiltrate the area without anyone being any the wiser. The stealth mechanics are on-the-whole well done, but after the first two segments, they become rather redundant and uninspired; it consists of hiding in tall shrubbery, taking down enemies and hiding their bodies out of sight and using vertical ledge takedowns. If it wasn’t for the varied environments and settings, it would be incredibly difficult to differentiate one stealth segment from another. It’s easily forgiven as that is truly the only noteworthy shortcoming in the overall experience, but it is a little frustrating in a sense, because adding variation to the segments would not have been a complicated accomplishment at all.
Usually, I tend to steer clear of any kind of competitive online multiplayer in this genre of gaming. You’d have a better chance of seeing the God of your choice before you see me indulging in Call of Duty, Battlefield, Rainbow Six: Siege, or Star Wars Battlefront—the only time I indulged was with the online multiplayer in the 2013 reboot of Tomb Raider. I take no issue with Forza or DriveClub’s online multiplayer, but I’m not a connoisseur of the formula behind shooter-genre online gameplay. However, I have never had as much fun as I have with Uncharted 4’s online multiplayer; it must be my appreciation for the franchise, as I’ve enjoyed the rather abysmal online multiplayer of Tomb Raider and Uncharted 4’s online component is simply down-right addicting. It’s a team-based experience with essentially heroes versus villains in a variety of game modes and locations. It features an outstanding level of customization for the rather sparse roster of playable characters and weaponry and simply manages to be as enjoyable as the story itself. It does get a little frustrating at times when it seems unbalanced and three shotgun blasts did nothing to your enemy, while a peppering from their AK-47 gave you a respawn screen faster than a toupee in a hurricane. Despite the frequent and confusing bouts of seeming unfairness, it still manages to deliver a great amount of entertainment and serves as a wonderful supplement to the overall experience.
Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End is, without a shadow of a doubt, a masterpiece in its own right. It is a brilliantly written adventure that is brought to life by phenomenal visuals and levels of detail paired with a wonderful cast of actors that bring personality and diversity to the table. Like its predecessors, it contains a solid amount of replay value, vast treasures to collect and lots of charming anecdotes that parallel past adventures. It is a more than satisfactory send-off to a beloved franchise and its final ride is certainly enjoyable and memorable. Even still, if I am perfectly honest, I’m not ready to say farewell to Nathan Drake.