Naughty Dog's final Uncharted instalment is a great bookend to a great series.
Here it is folks – after years of waiting and a couple of delays, Uncharted 4: A Thief's End is finally out.
As you may well imagine, being huge fans of the Uncharted series, our expectations are pretty high, especially considering that developer Naughty Dog has said this will be the final game in the series.
That’s a lot to live up to but as it turns out Naughty Dog has delivered with Uncharted 4 and given us everything we could have hoped for in this final adventure with Nathan Drake, Elena Fisher and Victor Sullivan.
As the story is one of the reasons we play the Uncharted series, and since my editor is also a big fan and he’d kill me if I revealed major plot points, I’ll try my best to avoid spoilers for those who have yet to complete the game.
Anyway, the story picks up a few years after Uncharted 3 with Nathan settling down to a domestic life with Elena after promising to give up his treasure hunting life for good.
However, his semi-blissful married life is interrupted by the appearance of Sam, the brother he long thought to be dead.
Sam has to enlist Nathan’s help in finding a hidden city where famed pirate Henry Avery is said to have started a colony of pirates and pooled together all their treasure.
So, giving Elena a story that he’s gone to do a legitimate “Malaysia Job”, Nathan and Sam, together with longtime business partner Victor Sullivan, go globe trotting in search of this treasure trove of riches.
If you’re hoping to pop in the disc and start playing Uncharted 4 immediately, think again – if you bought the physical copy of the game, there’s a 5GB day-one patch to install first.
Like all Uncharted titles, the game runs smoothly without any loading screens. You get chapter headings but it never pauses to load so you are always immersed in the game.
So how is the first (and last) Uncharted game for the PlayStation 4 look? In a word – gorgeous.
You have to hand it to Naughty Dog as it has consistently raised the bar in terms of graphics for every game it has made and with the increased firepower of the PS4, the company has outdone itself.
While we wouldn’t call it photorealistic, Uncharted 4 nevertheless looks phenomenal. The characters are detailed and expressive, and the environments are colourful and so full of life that you can’t help but stop to occasionally take it all in.
The soundtrack too is excellent, especially during action sequences.
While playing the game, I noticed that the soundtrack had a very Marvel Cinematic Universe feel about it and I was right – a quick check on IMDB reveals that composer Henry Jackman is responsible for scoring X-Men: First Class, Captain America: Winter Soldier and Captain America: Civil War as well.
Balance is everything
The best way to describe Uncharted 4 is that it’s the ultimate fan service. It has all the platforming, story and puzzles you’d expect in an Uncharted game but amped up to the next level.
Fortunately, unlike Uncharted 3 which was a little too heavy on shooting sequences, Uncharted 4 has a good mix of shooting, platforming and puzzles.
That’s not to say that we’re not getting anything new – in fact, director Neil Druckmann and his team have tweaked and improved upon every part of the Uncharted 4 experience.
For example, the platforming and shooting sections break away from the usual fixed path, allowing you to reach your destination in more than one way.
You might think that this would be confusing, but it’s a testament to the developers that I never once got lost, as I could always see my objective (which is usually a well-lit structure that can be seen from anywhere).
The game also gives you plenty of time to find your own path, but if it notices you wandering aimlessly for a while, an AI character (usually Sully, Elena or Sam) will step in to give you a hint to get you back on the right track.
In fact, there’s a lot of improvement in the AI generally. Enemies now have alert icons over their heads (similar to the Splinter Cell and Assassin’s Creed games) showing you the threat level – white if they don’t detect your presence, yellow if they have caught a glimpse of you, and orange if you’re in their direct line of sight.
If enemies are alerted to your presence, you can reduce the threat level by hiding from view and platforming to another area.
All this makes stealth a very viable option. If you don’t want to get into an extended gunfight, you can choose to sneak your way to your destination, stealthily taking down enemies as you go.
While I’m not normally a big fan of stealth games, I really enjoyed opting for stealth in Uncharted 4, as the level designs are such that there are lots of places you can hide and take down enemies silently.
The game also occasionally throws different gameplay elements at you – for example, one level has you pickpocketing a key by focusing the camera on a person’s pocket, while another has you do an extended bit of driving.
And what Uncharted game would be complete without a “wow” moment similar to the train sequence in Uncharted 2?
Well, Uncharted 4 has several of these but the most notable one is where you have to platform and escape a collapsing building.
Ever since Uncharted 2, Naughty Dog has included multiplayer (player vs player) maps into every game and Uncharted 4 is no different. What has changed this time is that you can utilise magical powers inspired by the previous games.
I’m not really into multiplayer so I didn’t spend enough time playing it to form an opinion.
Over the years, I've come to enjoy popping the disc of Uncharted 2 into my PlayStation 3 (and more recently the PlayStation 4) to relive the story again and again. And now Uncharted 4 will be joining my list of endlessly replayable games.
Somebody asked why not replay The Last Of Us, often cited as Naughty Dog's magnum opus.
The Last Of Us is certainly a better game than the Uncharted series in most ways, but it’s like watching Schindler’s List versus the original Ghostbusters movie – both are good, but only Ghostbusters makes you feel good at the end and that’s what I want to watch (or play) over and over again.
Playing Uncharted 4 gives you that same feel good factor and the gameplay was so good that at the end of the roughly 14-hour adventure, I was upset simply because it finally hit me that I'd never again be able to peek into the lives of these characters or listen to the hilarious banter between Nathan and Sully in a future Uncharted game.
Sure, Naughty Dog will likely deliver more excellent games in the future that will mix shooting and platforming, but we won’t see it in an Uncharted game with the same characters again.
Nevertheless, Uncharted 4 is a great send off to the series – it gives you everything you expect and more in terms of gameplay, while answering all the questions you've ever had about Nathan's past.
So yes, Uncharted 4 is a must-play if you’re a fan of the series. If you're new to the series, it will still be an enjoyable third-person platfomer/shooter/puzzle game, but perhaps the ending won't hit you as much as it hit me.
Now excuse me while I restart the game and replay it from the beginning.
Pros: Great balance of platforming, shooting and puzzles; maps are more open; great end to the series.
Cons: There won’t be any more Uncharted games.
Uncharted 4: A Thief's End
Third-person action game for PS4
Price: RM239 on PSN
Rating: 5 stars
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