Among the breathtaking cinematic beauty and action of Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End lies a young-at-heart adventurer hellbent on seeking out one of the biggest pirate treasures in the world with his brother. Not only does Naughty Dog’s final Uncharted game bring everything to a well-orchestrated close, it feels like a collection of everything the California-based studio has done so well over the years. From its brilliant story and writing to the jaw dropping set pieces, Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End is a masterpiece from start to finish.
A Thief’s End picks up years after Nathan Drake’s last adventure in Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception. Gone are the days of swashbuckling adventures, which have now been replaced by days of trying to lead a normal, risk-free life with Elena. In typical fashion, though, it doesn’t take long for things to change – as Sam Drake, Nate’s brother, arrives on the scene in need of desperate help. Nate’s quickly dragged back into the thick of things, and the search for one of the biggest treasures in the world begins, bringing brotherly bond time to an all new level.
Unlike in previous entries, A Thief’s End begins its narrative slowly, weaving personal storylines together before jumping into the overarching story. Cinematic cutscenes take hold for a good chunk of the game’s opening couple of hours, as Naughty Dog’s chops for cinematic storytelling and fantastic writing takes full focus. This isn’t a bad thing, though, as A Thief’s End expertly sets up its story in a clever way, shooting for a more personal and emotional narrative rather than the intense, action-focused narratives of previous entries.
It doesn’t take long to get attached (or reattached) to the characters, too, as series veterans make their return throughout the opening act, each in charming, smile-inducing ways. It’s hard not to chuckle at Sully’s witty lines and immediately feel reconnected with Nate and Elena’s sequel-spanning romance. And even while these three have been the prominent stars of the series, the handful of new characters – notably Troy Baker’s Sam Drake, Laura Bailey’s Nadine Ross, and Warren Kole’s Rafe Adler – also play fascinating, important roles in the game’s narrative.
The stakes have never felt higher in A Thief’s End, and as you make your way through the globe-trotting adventure it doesn’t take all that long to feel connected with the situation at hand, the characters at play, and how important the search for this treasure has become for those involved. There are moments of elation, moments of humour, and moments of sadness – but amongst it all is that wonderful Uncharted tone that permeates throughout the entire 13-hour journey. It’s a game that manages to mix in the wonderful character development and unrelenting emotion seen in Naughty Dog’s previous title, The Last of Us, while keeping with Uncharted’s well-loved action-oriented sequences, witty one liners, and loveable characters.
Those who’ve played previous Uncharted games will find that A Thief’s End blends in new elements of gameplay while keeping in line with what its predecessors had on offer, too. The action hero feeling you get during intense gunfights continues on here, although Naughty Dog have also implemented a stealth system that allows Nate to silently take out enemies and make his way through areas mostly unnoticed. A good chunk of the areas you find yourself fighting in are now much more open with tall grass scattered throughout, as well, allowing those who are more stealth-inclined to stay hidden and clear out entire areas without ever firing a bullet.
Those who favour the all-out gunfights that have lined previous Uncharted games will find that’s still a viable option in A Thief’s End, with a new tool in Drake’s arsenal – the grappling hook – a clever new way of taking out enemies from above and navigating the game’s gorgeous landscape.
While I initially didn’t think it would play such an important role, the grappling hook’s inclusion in A Thief’s End has given Naughty Dog the flexibility to make areas of a much larger scale than ever before. The vistas that Nate, Sam, Elena, and Sully navigate are absolutely jaw dropping, containing some of the most well-designed, breathtaking locations I’ve ever seen in a video game. And this is a common theme throughout the entirety of Uncharted 4 – Naughty Dog have clearly spent a gruelling amount of hours touching up every last little bit of detail in A Thief’s End, ranging from Nate’s well-worn gun holsters to the eloquent design spread across Adler’s pistol. Every minute little detail and design choice has been catered for, and it makes the experience all the more immersive.
When you aren’t traversing the game’s beautiful collection of locations or fighting goons, a good chunk of Uncharted 4 is spent working through puzzles, which are, no doubt, some of the best in the series. These handful of fantastic puzzles require thought, deliberation, and execution, and combined with the much bigger scale of the game’s areas make for some of the most diverse and unique sets of puzzles in the series. I couldn’t help but feel like I’d accomplished something each time I’d figured one out, as Naughty Dog have managed to make the intricacies lining Uncharted 4’s puzzles feel hard enough to require thought but not hard enough to make you want to pull your hair out. The game strikes a perfect balance between action, narrative, exploring, and puzzle solving, making your journey feel constantly fresh and fun.
When all’s said and done with the game’s story, and, assumedly, after you’ve returned from collecting the game’s treasures and making use of the fun game modifiers, there’s a great multiplayer component awaiting. While I played the multiplayer modes in Uncharted 2 and Uncharted 3 fairly sporadically, Uncharted 4’s new additions, gameplay tweaks, and the fact it’s all running at a silky smooth 60fps has already drawn me back in for more. The four multiplayer modes available – Team Deathmatch, Plunder, Command, and Ranked Team Deathmatch – all offer up a good selection of multiplayer chaos for each type of Uncharted player.
Team Deathmatch is the basic mode here, and one I assume most players will gravitate towards, but I found that most of my time was spent in Command – which is more or less akin to your Domination/Conquest game modes in Call of Duty and Battlefield respectively. Nonetheless, each mode offers up something for everyone and is a blast to play either with friends or with random players on the PlayStation Network.
The additions in multiplayer – most notably sidekicks and mystics – are fantastic in the way they change up what would otherwise be stock standard gameplay. Having the ability to spawn in sidekicks, whether they’re a sniper specialist, a brute, or a revive specialist, mostly alleviates the frustration you may feel if you’re first to die a lot. These buddies, I’ve noticed, distract players more often than not and act as a quick way of drawing enemies out, giving you an easy target to hit.
Similarly, mystics, which are magic items that can be used throughout a game, also change up the formula in fun and entertaining ways. One, and the mystic I used the most, would highlight enemy positions on the map for 30 seconds at a time, giving my team the chance to get the drop on them and get some points on the board. Another, for example, would deal out significant damage in a specific radius to where the mystic had been dropped. These magic items are almost always fun to use and, when utilised properly, are key to winning matches and capturing objectives.
Naturally, to make use of the aforementioned sidekicks and mystics, you need to purchase them through an in-game menu by gathering money. Money naturally accumulates as a match progresses, but you also gain more by taking out enemies, reviving downed players, and collecting money that’s sprawled across the map. Sidekicks and mystics aren’t all you can purchase, though, as power weapons will sporadically pop up in the menu as well as gear upgrades – making your life a little bit easier and making the opposition team’s a little bit more difficult.
After a couple of rounds, you can start tinkering around with custom loadouts, mystic choices, upgrades, and gear, as well. Similarly, you can also customise a plethora of differing options for your character, whether it be different skins, new cosmetic items, or taunts – there’s a lot of customisation available here. If you’re a stickler for cosmetic weapon changes, there’s also an option to change the colours on your weapons as well. Most items will have to be unlocked though, and that is done through Uncharted Points (which are purchased with real money) and through Relics, the in-game currency that is earned by completing the game’s plethora of challenges and trials, as well as finishing matches. It’s worth noting that these are purely cosmetic changes – purchases don’t affect skill, level progression, weapon unlocks and the like, keeping a balanced playing field for all players.
Lining both the single-player and multiplayer of Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End is Henry Jackman’s phenomenal score, which manages to combine some of the most beloved tracks and tunes of past Uncharted games with fantastic new compositional works, culminating in my favourite Uncharted score to date. From the emotional moments to the exceptional action set pieces, Jackman manages to pull together everything that makes the music of Uncharted special, and constantly left me with a smile on my face.
As a combined package, Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End excels in almost every single way. Its story is arguably the best in the series, and brings in a fantastic new Drake who, arguably against all odds, manages to succeed at being likeable amongst a ragtag group of treasure hunters we’ve all come to know and love over the past nine years. The gameplay is refined, with new additions making it the best of the lot with only minor frame drops every now and again to momentarily pull it down. And after all is said and done, the game’s multiplayer is a great, addictive addition that will no doubt keep Uncharted fans at bay until the game’s story DLC comes trotting along some time down the line.
Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End is another example of Naughty Dog at their best, and shows exactly why they’re so highly regarded in this industry. It’s a masterpiece from beginning to end, and is this console generation’s best game by a good mile right now.
Developer: Naughty Dog
Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment
Platform: PlayStation 4
A review copy was provided by the publisher.