Developer: Naughty Dog
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Review Platform: PS4
Release Date: May 10, 2016
Greed is an ugly thing. A sin in every major religion, the Christian bible declares it to be the root of all evil, while the poet Dante Alighieri considered it the fourth circle of Hell itself. Ultimately, it’s greed that drives thieves, be they pirates or everyday robbers. It’s fitting, then, that greed is the force which series protagonist Nathan Drake must struggle with and battle in the final entry to the Uncharted franchise. Given the subtitle, players are forced to wonder throughout the entire game exactly how greed will be the end of this lovable thief.
There’s a moment in Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End when I realized just how much care Naughty Dog puts into the writing of its games. Series protagonist Nathan Drake, once only satisfied with the thrill of adventure and the promise of treasure galore, is now content arguing with his wife over who will do the dishes. It’s a special scene that showcases the drastic development that the characters have gone through over the last nine years. Artifacts from his last three adventures are now hidden away in his attic, and while, yes, he does indeed like to have imaginary shootouts with a toy gun, he’s genuinely happy that salvaging cargo from the local river is as close to uncovering treasure as he gets nowadays.
Or is he? Because when Nathan’s older brother Sam, whom was presumed to be dead for the last 15 years, shows up at his doorstep, the call of adventure is one he can’t ignore. The only thing standing between Sam and his actual death is the treasure of famed pirate Henry Avery; while this personal reason is initially the excuse for being sucked back into the world of treasure hunting, Nathan becomes increasingly excited by the prospect of finding the treasure as he hops around the globe—much more so than doing the dishes.
The story is undoubtedly the best in the series, with a compelling narrative full of twists and turns, and characters develop over the course of 6-12 hours more than television characters can develop in an entire season. Naughty Dog makes it clear that no other studio in gaming today crafts stories like they do. The end result is a satisfying payoff, and whether it’s to your relief or your dismay, it makes it clear that this is indeed the final chapter of Nathan Drake’s story.
Gone are the big set pieces of previous games, such as the famous trek up a train that’s teetering on the edge of a cliff, or finding your way out of a sinking ship. Instead, Naughty Dog has decided to place much smaller set pieces throughout the entire campaign. It’s a risky decision, given how much the series has gotten attention for such iconic moments, but it’s one that pays off extremely well. I was more than happy to survive a series of tense and thrilling moments rather than one set piece. From escaping impending doom by sliding down steep cliffs and making use of the new grappling hook mechanic to an exciting vehicle chase, Naughty Dog makes sure that players’ adrenaline stays pumping.
Environments this time around are much bigger, almost giving the sense of an open world. Yes, these paths which you’re free to explore usually lead you to the addictive collectibles, but sometimes they lead you to dead ends or even just loop back around to where the game is trying to get you to go. But the illusion of exploration is one that makes the world seem much less linear and makes the environments feel organic.
The gunplay feels much tighter now, especially compared to the studio’s previous title, The Last of Us. It’s not quite as tight as it could be, as there’s still a degree of looseness, but it’s been vastly improved upon from previous titles. This means that gun fights are much more exciting and fun to participate in than ever before; I actually found myself excited when faced with the opportunity to let the lead fly after the platforming segments. Stealth has been drastically improved with the ability to mark enemies Far Cry style, and it’s satisfying to sneak your way through a shootout should you choose to do so. The game doesn’t punish you for whichever approach you take, either.
Special mention goes to the game’s wonderfully addictive photo mode. Because the environments are insanely gorgeous (Naughty Dog spared no attention to detail), I often found myself taking dozens upon dozens of screenshots to share with my friends just to showcase the astounding visuals. There’s a wide variety of adjustments you can make to your photos, turning this…
Multiplayer is fun, too, once again successfully moving the series’ platforming and gunplay from the single player campaign to a multiplayer environment. There are new elements introduced, such as Sidekicks and Mystics. Sidekicks are characters that fight alongside you or your team, while Mystics are special items with effects that greatly vary. For example, one lets you become invincible for a brief second as you dash forward across the map, while another damages enemies and effectively acts as a turret. Sidekicks and Mystics can alter the tides of battle and have the ability to make for great fun, and I found them to be a welcomed addition.
There are also loot packs, and while microtransactions unfortunately do come into play here, it’s entirely possible to avoid them and purchase the packs through hard work and frequent play. Since these loot packs don’t really alter the experience, you never feel like purchasing one gives you an upper hand in battle. Your enjoyment of multiplayer, though, is ultimately going to come from whether or not you’re satisfied with the gunplay itself, as there’s rarely an option to go the stealthy route.
This send-off to Naughty Dog’s landmark franchise is absolutely terrific. From an insane attention to graphical detail, to jaw dropping environments, to an ending that’s sure to make even the most cynical’s eyes water, it’s a love letter to both the franchise and its fans. There’s no way this final chapter could have been improved upon; not only is it the best game in the series, but it’s one of the best games period.