‘Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End’ is a thrilling adventure
The Grim Reaper’s scythe rarely falls upon treasure hunters.
The earth collapses beneath their feet, arrows fly from walls and giant boulders give chase, but these adventurous souls cannot be stopped. Their expeditions are brimming with rollicking fun, but their stories always end the same way: They live another day, and one less treasure is lost to the world. But unlike Indiana Jones (who is still chasing myths and legends at age 73) and Lara Croft (who is turning back the clock), Naughty Dog says “Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End” is Nathan Drake’s final chapter.
That question of Drake’s fate turns “A Thief’s End” into a ticking time bomb of a narrative. As the story unfolds, we see Drake’s entire life come into frame.
Drake has settled down, working a 9-to-5 job and then heading home to Elena. The unexpected arrival of his older brother Sam, who was believed to be dead, pulls Drake back into the treasure hunting game. He is reluctant, but Sam’s life hangs in the balance.
The story shifts between “Uncharted’s” patented “everything is suddenly exploding and everyone is yelling” design to the slow, emotional tone of “The Last of Us.” There’s clear inspiration from “The Last of Us” in “Uncharted 4,” and it’s a better game because of it.
While Nathan and Sam are front and center, one of the most interesting characters is Captain Henry Avery, a dead pirate who we only learn about through written clues and riddles scrawled on cave walls. Avery has concocted the mother of all treasure hunts, a fascinating reflection of a pirate in his prime, and a fun breadcrumb trail to follow.
The action may feel somewhat routine at times, but the feeling of exploring lost worlds is heightened. The environments are much wider, sometimes offering multiple traversal solutions. In this game, many of the environments made me pause, analyze my surroundings and figure out how I could navigate them.
Drake’s new grappling hook enhances the exploration, and is often tied to harrowing platforming sequences. It’s also flat out fun to use. The platforming is as briskly paced as it’s been in the past, and is often done with the world exploding around Drake. But again, this element has lost some of its magic with time.
Some of the environments are so vast that they take on the illusion of open worlds, giving the player even more freedom to explore. These areas change up the pacing nicely and embrace the essence of adventure in a slightly different way. Since Drake is often with Sam or other characters, light team-based gameplay is periodically thrown in (think “The Last of Us”).
Drake’s hand-to-hand fighting is greatly improved, giving each punch a cringe-inducing (but satisfying) smack. The gunplay is still a little loose, but the enemies are smarter now, which means Drake either has to rely more on stealth, or strategically pick off targets before they advance or flank. Combat never feels like a thrown in chore.
“A Thief’s End” is the best “Uncharted” yet, delivering a story I didn’t want to end, and an adventure that concludes with a hell of a payoff.
Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End
Concept: Nathan Drake’s final adventure is as emotional as it is exciting, a true testament to Naughty Dog’s storytelling and gameplay skills.
Platform: PlayStation 4
Graphics: A work of art. Few details are spared in making the characters and world come to life.
Sound: The score is used expertly for tension and drama, sometimes drowning out all sound to heighten a moment.
Playability: The awe factor of the world blowing up around Nathan Drake isn’t what it once was, but the combat is better, and the exploration offers more gameplay and discovery.
Entertainment: The best “Uncharted” yet. It hooks you emotionally early on and keeps you locked in place as the thrill of the hunt for a lost treasure takes shape.