After several years of anticipation, one of gaming’s most praised series finally has a proper ending. Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception left the series. It didn’t give much insight into the futures of characters many players had strong connections with, but it did answer most of the questions that fans had for a bare-minimum sense of closure. Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End brings back the gang for one final heist, the search for the notorious pirate Henry Avery’s vast fortune, which Nate and his older brother have been tracking since they were kids.
Sam Drake, the aforementioned older brother, is a new addition to the series, having never been mentioned before in the previous games. At first, it’s hard to believe that Sam should even belong in the game, since he had such an important role in the childhood years of our protagonist, and had never been mentioned before this point. As the game progresses though, and you see how genuine and loving he is towards Nate, it’s easy to forgive his awkward addition. Throughout your adventure, you dive deeper into Nate’s relationships with Sam, Sully, and Elena, and those interactions are what makes this game the best way to end the series.
One of the most credible aspects of the game is your synergy with the other members of your team. Sully, who taught Nate all the tricks of the thieving trade, always has a bit of wisdom to offer Nate. That and his familiar witty charm make Sully’s character feel believable. Elena, Nate’s wife, acts as a great grounding point for the group. She reminds them about how foolhardy their pursuit of the treasure is. I felt a genuine sense of guilt when Nate would lie to her about what he was doing, and when she finally found out the truth, I felt equally responsible as Nate. Elena is unbelievably quick to forgive Nate, but I’m sure that’s because she’s used to him pulling these kinds of shenanigans. Naughty Dog does a good job at keeping the characters’ personalities consistent with previous games after such a long hiatus.
In the past where Uncharted characters had a ‘find the treasure, no matter the cost’ attitude, A Thief’s End instead hosts characters with a more mature sense of whether the treasure is worth risking their lives for. The dynamic between Sam, who is desperate to use the treasure to repay a debt, and the others, who are concerned about the consequences, is showcased not only during the cut scenes, but in the in-game conversations the characters have while working their way towards the next goal. When Elena partners with Nate later in the game, she does a great job of keeping the group focused on staying alive, and her personality and outlook is much more enjoyable that in previous games. The depth given to the characters and their stories is what makes Naughty Dog stand out from other well-known developers.
The environments you’ll explore in Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End are breathtaking. While I think it’s a stretch to label A Thief’s End as the best looking game ever, as many have done, it is still one of the better looking releases I’ve played. Naughty Dog takes full advantage of their proprietary engine, which was used on the critically acclaimed The Last of Us, and uses it to create exceptionally realistic animations and environments. A Thief’s End will take you to many incredible locations, with Madagascar being one of the most stunning locales I’ve visited in a game. From the mud you splash around in on a 4×4 to the lush green and orange landscape, Madagascar is a milestone in environmental art.
The underground sections are also rewarding and enjoyable to explore. Instead of being dark and lifeless stretches between puzzles, there are intelligent additions of ancient ruins and treasures that encourage analysis and bring out the player’s inner archeologist. With the addition of the grappling hook, the environments seem more natural than in past games. You no longer need a knocked over tree or some bizarrely placed beams to get across pits or chasms. Using the grappling hook, Nate cane traverse the world in a death-defying manner. While great for exploration, I found the grappling hook to be best utilized during combat. If you have a good understanding of how it works, you can swing across the battlefield and land fist-first on your enemies face, which is exactly as cool as it sounds. If you try and rush into using it, or don’t understand how to use it, the grappling hook will make you look like a chump as you swing off a ledge or by your enemy. It can quickly be used to get Nate out of a tight situation, and afford you time to plan a new approach. I wish the grappling hook had more functions for interacting with the enemy. Pulling them off ledges or stealing a gun right from their hand would have been some incredible antics.
There have been many improvements to moving around the environment. When climbing a cliff, you will actively control Nate’s hands to reach for the next rock. Later in the game, the piton is introduced for climbing certain sections of rock. It’s functionally similar to the pickaxe in the Tomb Raider reboots, though you won’t use it nearly as much. For being a sharp piece of metal, the piton surprisingly has one single function: climbing a wall. There were many sections in the game where Nate could have used the piton to open a door, stab an enemy, or do something else that would have changed the turn of events to be more in his favor.
Gunfights in Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End are even more hectic than in the previous entries in the series. Some of the most outstanding weapons return, along with a several new ones to gun down enemies with. One thing I’ve always enjoyed about the Uncharted games is how the weapons ammo capacity is small enough to encourage you to switch weapons several times during long gunfights, leading to some tense situations. If you do run out of ammo, you can always brawl it out with the nearest enemy hoping to knock them down before his comrades can get to you. You can also retreat from combat and use Uncharted 4‘s improved stealth to disappear and knock an enemy out from the shadows, then take out the rest of them using whatever tactics you’d like. With the earlier mentioned grappling hook, you’re able to traverse easily to get better ground, or even shoot while swinging for the sake of style (props to those of you who can land headshots while swinging). During fights you are rarely alone. You are usually paired with one of your companions, and luckily, they can hold their own in combat. If you choose stealth, they will stay hidden in the grass and intelligently take down enemies or look for new cover. When in the middle of a fire fight they will actively seek and shoot enemies, and if there is one who is getting too close or trying to flank you, they will point them out.
One thing I’ve appreciated about Naughty Dog games is their music. The Last of Us masterfully evokes emotion from the sounds of a single southern guitar. Consequently, it was a bummer for me to turn the game on and not be impressed by the soundtrack. It felt very lackluster compared to previous Uncharted games that had thundering trumpets and that communicated a feeling of triumph and inspiration. A Thief’s End instead employs standard assortments of a string orchestra and piano, and abandons the brass section in a number of songs. The flagship track, Nate’s Theme, is subdued and humdrum where before it was befitting for an epic adventure. Additionally, I was very disappointed that when I started up Uncharted 4 for the first time, Nate’s Theme wasn’t playing. The changes to the music make sense since Naughty Dog is trying to build a more somber atmosphere, but when we want to swing around and shoot enemies like a action hero, we need a more exciting and elated track to back us up! Unfortunately, there was never a time in A Thieves End where the music could evoke the right feelings for a given section of the game.
, Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End is a close to perfect way to end a decade-long story. The final ending of the series was something that has stuck with me since beating the game, and gives our hero the send-off he’s deserved. Uncharted 4 combines qualities which make the previous three games great with new ideas, and improves upon already strong characters to make one incredible game. I strongly believe that Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End will be a game we hear about again during Game of the Year talks at the end of the year. If you have never had the chance to play the Uncharted games, there is not a series that I could recommend higher!