Uncharted 4 A Thief’s End: Saving the best till last

Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End has been responsible for me losing sleep.
It turned out it was one of those “A few more minutes then I’ll go to bed” games. Most gamers would have been there. All gamers will know a game like that.
city_09I finished Uncharted 4’s narrative campaign in 16 hours, 31 minutes and 56 seconds on moderate difficulty (I’ve heard things are fairly tough in the hard and above difficulties) and loved it. According to the in-game stats, I spent 2 hours 14 minutes and 34 seconds of that standing still, I climbed 5652 metres, collected 25 of 109 treasures and defeated 583 enemies. I plan to play through it again (I haven’t gone near the multiplayer yet. If I do, I’ll do it when the servers go public but Uncharted has always been about the campaign for me).

During two late night sessions when I played until 2am in the morning (one of them Monday night) I remember looking at my watch at 11.30pm – I was the only one up: My family had long gone to bed – and saying to myself “OK, a few more minutes and I’m off to bed”. The next time I looked at my watch it was 2.10am – and I had to be up at 7am to get ready for work.

ope_01I can’t remember a game that has hooked me so much as Uncharted 4. It’s good. It’s very, very good.
Set three years after the events of Uncharted 3, Nathan Drake, the intrepid adventurer from the previous three Uncharted games, has apparently left the world of fortune hunting behind him but when his older brother Sam turns up, he’s convinced to head off on a quest to find the treasure of fabled and feared pirate Henry Avery.
What follows is a roller coaster ride of adventuring globe-trotting that is, to me, the best of the series.  Naughty Dog have definitely saved the best to last. Uncharted 4 might not have the big set pieces like Uncharted 3 did or the unforgettable opening of Uncharted 2 but it’s all the better for it.

dive_01Visually, the game is stunning – I think that will come as no surprise – with locations including lush verdant valleys, abandoned towns, underground tombs and the depths of the deep blue sea, but for me, the Uncharted games and Naughty Dog have always been about the narrative, about the relationships between characters. There is a reason that ND’s other stellar game The Last of Us is so good: The relationship between its two lead characters – and it’s the same with Uncharted 4. The relationships are front and centre.

The main thing that really hit home for me with Uncharted 4 is that it’s about the relationships between Drake and those he loves, especially the relationships he has with Elena Fisher (who he is now married to), and his brother Sam, who Drake thought was dead. Sure, Uncharted 4 has gunplay  and climbing and bad guys and treasure but it’s all about the characters. This may sound really weird, because we’re talking about digital actors here,  but at times I almost believed they were human: They looked and behaved so realistically.

home_01Case in point: During one late game cinematic, I watched Elena who was standing in the background as Drake spoke and her mannerisms and body language felt like I was watching an actor and not a collection of pixels rendered on a TV screen.

I felt more connected to Drake and Elena more than I had in previous games and they look older too: We’ve been through a lot together and I put that connection down to ND’s Neil Druckmann and Bruce Straley, who both skipped Uncharted 3 to work on The Last of Us. It shows: This is probably the best narrative I’ve seen in an Uncharted game – or perhaps any game in recent memory – and I felt invested in the characters. Not many games do that to me.

The game’s environments are more open, too, allowing you to reach an objective using a variety of paths, and combat feels more weighty than in previous Uncharted games and while at times the odds seem stacked against Drake, using the environment to your advantage works beautifully here.

You can now use a grappling hook to help take enemies down as well as swinging across gapping chasms and, yes, ledges and handholds still crumble when Nate is climbing a precarious cliff face or building but I never grew tired of it.

city_06I liked that I could tackle the combat situations all guns blazing, if you want, but that will attract the attention of every enemy in the vicinity, of  course, or you can creep through long grass (yes, creeping through long grass is now a feature), taking out as many enemies as you can quietly. I tried to handle as many situations as I could this way: Take out a handful of enemies quietly by pulling them off ledges or from the vantage of vegetation then using the grappling hook to swing across a gap, punching down an enemy from above. It’s so satisfying, believe me.

Uncharted 4 is also a game full of little details that help you feel that the game world is a living, breathing place and the characters have conversations amongst themselves while Nate is off climbing a ruined building. It’s those little things that give the game more grounding in reality and makes the characters more believable, more real. Driving through Madagascar,  I knocked over several rock piles, prompting Sam to say:  “You do realise that someone probably took hours putting those rocks there?”
The puzzles are back, and they’re not too taxing if you pay attention to sequences and clues you’ve picked up and I could go on for hours about Uncharted 4 but I’m going to stop.  You’ve realised by now that I loved Uncharted 4 and it’s the best  of the series because its characterisation is front and centre.
If I had any niggles it would that I felt there were perhaps too many “Oh, can you find something to help get me up to that out-of-reach ledge” moments. Generally that something involved a large crate on wheels.
Uncharted 4 is a triumph of narrative and proves Naughty Dog are masters at creating characters you can believe in. It is a fitting farewell.
Thanks to PlayStation NZ which provided me with a review copy of Uncharted 4 A Thief’s End. 

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