Here we are, the true end of the saga. The first time I played this game I was blown away. It seemed to perfectly capture all the elements of previous Uncharted games that I had loved. There was less shooting and when there was it was massively improved. The set pieces were just as jaw-dropping and adrenaline pumping. The simple joy of climbing something tall and seeing a massive vista was back and better than ever. Finally, narratively it gave Nathan Drake the ending he deserved. And then I played it again 4 years later and had almost the exact same experience, let’s dive into what makes Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End such a masterpiece.
Firstly, we need to take a brief look back to Uncharted 3. While this is by no means a bad game, it left you wanting more and like Nathan’s story wasn’t over. We pick up the story a few years after Drake’s Deception with Nathan and Elena living surprisingly normal lives. Gone are the days of dangerous treasure hunting and wartime journalism. Instead, they live in a normal home with normal jobs. In comes Nate’s older brother who was presumed dead for thirteen years and turns everything on its head.
From here we go on an Uncharted adventure that pays homage to its predecessors but has a style of its own. For me, one of the major improvements is how combat is handled. The system in Uncharted 3 for counters is refined and flows silky smooth. On top of this, stealth is now a feasible solution to almost every encounter. This goes so far as to mean that you can almost avoid shooting a gun at all and can play the game without a kill count. This goes a long way to address the body count that Nate racked up in previous games and feels more like how things should have played out in other games. That being said, when you do need to fire a gun it feels so much better. Transitioning from cover works like a charm and you can run and jump throughout the environment to flank enemies and gain cover. It isn’t perfect and there are better iterations of 3rd person shooting but it is the best the series has seen and is no longer a detriment to the experience.
In terms of pacing, Uncharted 4 takes a far slower approach. Unlike Among Thieves which is a constant and almost exhausting adventure from start to finish or Drake’s Fortune and Drake’s Deception which have fairly steady paces as you progress through each area and set-piece, A Thief’s End takes its own approach. This is partly thanks to the reduction in combat sequences and means that Uncharted 4 can give you the time to explore and enjoy its environments. While there is always continuous progress towards a goal, more open areas and a larger emphasis on exploration means that a Thief’s End can relish in both the action-packed and quiet moments. And because this game is beautiful from start to finish, taking the time to absorb every detail draws you further into the story and adventure.
I briefly touched on the set pieces and while after 4 games they aren’t as surprising, Uncharted 4 has more than its share of iconic moments. From being dragged behind moving vehicles to escaping a belltower as it crumbles, they are moments that stick in my memory as highlights from the series. In part due to the slower pace (thanks to the longer run time of around 12 hours rather than 9 of previous games), it allows for a greater build-up to events. This means that tension and anticipation ramps up before eventually climaxing in an action-packed, visually spectacular moment.
The climbing itself has improved on previous titles. At its core, it is still press button to climb but with pitons to hold onto rocky surfaces, a grappling hook to swing across gaps and Nate’s arm following your analogue stick inputs, the whole thing comes to life like never before. You feel far more in control of Drake and like you are really running, jumping and climbing your way through this piratical adventure. There is even a scene where Nate is exhausted and injured so you have to direct his hands as you help him climb to safety. And while I’m glad the entire game wasn’t like this, you could play it almost like a rock climbing simulator.
It’s with the characters that Uncharted 4 will always leave a lasting impact. The longer story means that we spend a decent amount of time with everyone and explore Nate’s relationship with his brother and Elena in great detail. The voice acting is fantastic, from the incidental dialogue as you climb a cliff face to the action set pieces. There are optional conversations that get you inside the heads of characters and emphasise taking your taking and experiencing the game rather than blasting through it at a fast pace. These further establish relationships and if you want to get on with the story you can skip them.
Previous Uncharted games have relied on the supernatural to set the story apart and add an extra element to spice things up. However, I’ve never found that they were 100% needed and served to sometimes distract from the story and characters. Thankfully, Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End forgoes all of that and focuses on human stories. And while the themes of obsession, riches and addition to the lifestyle have all been touched on in previous games, especially Uncharted 3, they are given the space to play out fully in Uncharted 4. This isn’t a story about saving the world but one about family, and that makes it far more impactful and memorable.
And that’s the end of Nathan Drake’s story and I love it. It’s the end I wanted him to have in a story that is my favourite of the four. For me, it set new standards in video game storytelling when it was released and few games have come to match it since. It’s nice to see a conclusive end to a story and know that Nate is done, he’s happy and we are lucky to have experienced four brilliant adventures with him.
Thanks for reading. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed revisiting the main Uncharted series and if you want to check out my other retrospectives of the series then head over here. Alternately, for some other retrospective reviews you can read my review of the first Kingdom Hearts game.
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