Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End Review

Uncharted 4

Naughty Dog has come a long way over the years. The studio first gained widespread recognition with the Crash Bandicoot franchise, of which they developed the entries found on the original Sony Playstation. The Playstation 2 era saw Naughty Dog make a more serious platforming series with Jak & Daxter, while the Playstation 3 years saw them reach new critical heights with The Last of Us and the Uncharted series.

Naughty Dog has now broken their usual conventions by resurrecting one of their series for a new Playstation generation, as the Playstation 4 is now home to the fourth entry of the Uncharted series, which Naughty Dog has claimed will be its final installment before they head into new horizons. If Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End really is the last hoorah for Nathan Drake and co., they probably couldn’t ask for a better sendoff. Uncharted 4 is both a culmination of everything Uncharted has accomplished over the last nine years, and a loving tribute to Naughty Dog’s own history.

Uncharted 4Uncharted 4 sees series hero Nathan Drake in a new light, as he’s put his adventuring life behind him, settled down, and married series heroine Elena Fisher. But when Nathan Drake’s older brother Sam – long believed to be dead – comes back into Nathan’s life, our hero is left with little choice but to resume his dangerous lifestyle.

It turns out that Sam Drake has been locked away in a South American prison for the last fifteen years. Though Sam hasn’t seen the same kinds of adventures as his younger brother, he does share a similar love for adventure, being most obsessed with the lost treasure of the legendary pirate Captain Henry Every (spelled “Avery” in the game). Sam has deduced where to begin searching for the treasure, but made the grave mistake of sharing this information with his cellmate, a notorious drug lord named Alcazar. After Alcazar enacts a prison break, he threatens Sam to find Avery’s treasure for him, giving Sam mere months to do so before Alcazar’s men come looking for him.

Uncharted 4Sam, aware of his brother’s famous exploits, tracks down Nathan Drake, who reluctantly agrees to partake in the treasure hunt to save his brother’s life (after believing to have lost his brother once, Nate can’t bear the thought of losing him again). The brothers recruit Nathan Drake’s old friend Victor “Sully” Sullivan, and the three of them head out on their biggest adventure yet. But things won’t be so easy, as an old rival of the Drakes, Rafe Adler, and his army-for-hire, will stop at nothing to get the treasure first.

Uncharted 4The premise is simple enough, but it serves as a perfect setup for Nathan Drake and company to visit the most exotic locations and partake in the most tremendous action set pieces in the series. The story also provides the series’ best character development, with Nathan, Sam, Sully and Elena all growing as characters, and Rafe proving to be the series’ best villain.

Where Uncharted 4 shines the brightest, however, is in its gameplay. Taking the best elements of its three predecessors – and a few cues from Naughty Dog’s other works – Uncharted 4 is the most polished and varied entry in the series.

Nathan Drake is still able to equip two guns at a time (a pistol and a larger weapon) for a bit of run-and-gun, third-person shooting, and there’s still plenty of platforming and climbing to be had. And yes, there are still Indiana Jones style puzzles to be solved from time to time. What makes Uncharted 4 feel refreshing, despite being the fourth entry in the series, is how well utilized these elements are.

The staging and level design in Uncharted 4 brings out the best of the series’ elements. The combat and platforming feel more fluid than ever, and the puzzles are easily the best in the series, with some of them requiring some serious thinking to solve.

Unfortunately, there are still a handful of shootout segments that are overly long (a complaint I had with previous entries that really seems like it should have been rectified by this point), but they are much less excessive than they were in the third entry. It’s never that these shootout segments are outright bad (a point I might argue was the case in Uncharted 3), but Uncharted is at its best when it’s utilizing all three of its gameplay components: shooting, platforming and puzzles. So when the shooting segments do become a bit excessive, it becomes really noticeable, and can take away from some of the game’s overall genius with their repetition.

Uncharted 4That’s ultimately a small complaint, however, when you take into account how well the overall package is, especially the series’ famous set pieces, which reach new heights with their exhilarating pace and ridiculous setups. From taking part in a gunfight while dangling from a collapsed building over a cliff to the series’ best car chase sequence to booby-trap-filled pirate islands, Uncharted 4 keeps upping the ante with one action achievement after another.

A small gameplay twist has been added to the game’s narrative, as there are a number of instances in which players are given a series of choices for how Nathan Drake reacts to a situation and what he has to say. It’s nothing game-changing, and maybe even a bit under-utilized, but it does help give the game an added dose of personality (not that it had any shortage in that department).

Uncharted 4Another of the game’s highlights is the presentation. Good heavens, is this game ever gorgeous! From a purely technical standpoint, Uncharted 4 might be the best looking game I’ve ever seen. Every environment is richly detailed, and a wonder to behold. The character models and animations are the most realistic I’ve seen in a game, made all the more believable by the great performances of the actors. The cinematic presentation is simply second to none.

The campaign alone would be more than enough, but Naughty Dog has gone the extra mile and included an incredibly fun and addicting multiplayer mode to go with it. Teams of players can face off against each other in a handful of play styles (from death matches to capture the flag, under the title of “Idols”).

Uncharted 4The seemingly simple multiplayer setup turns into something great due in large part to how well it implements the core mechanics from the main game, and tweaks them appropriately for multiple players. Along with the usual platforming and shooting, players can gain upgrades and power-ups by collecting treasure (obtained via defeating enemies, helping downed allies, or finding trinkets throughout the stages). With enough treasure, players can purchase better weapons, AI controlled henchmen (like brutes, medics and snipers), and powerful items called “Mystics,” which pay homage to the supernatural twists of the series by unleashing curses on your foes or giving benefits to your team.

Uncharted 4Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End is a wonderful gaming experience that exudes a strong sense of love and dedication on the part of its developers. That main adventure captures the feeling of an action-adventure flick better than any game out there, and the multiplayer is strong enough to hold its own. Take into account that the campaign’s hidden treasures, notes, and secret dialogues are more cleverly tucked away this time around and require some serious exploration to unearth, and that you can unlock customizable options for the multiplayer modes (from small costume changes to additional characters from the series’ history), and you have more than enough content to keep you coming back for more.

Some of the series’ flaws are still present, and the new mechanics that are added aren’t as present as they could have been, but Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End is no doubt a milestone for Naughty Dog. In one segment of the game, Nathan Drake plays one of the stages from the original Crash Bandicoot on his Playstation. This moment doesn’t just play into our nostalgia, but also sums up what Uncharted 4 is all about. This isn’t just Nathan Drake’s last ride, it’s also a culmination of Naughty Dog’s accomplishments that started over two decades ago, on the shoulders of a bandicoot.

 

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Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception Review

*Review based on the remastered PS4 version as part of Uncharted: The Nathan Drake Collection*

Uncharted 3

Video games have a much better track record in regards to sequels than most mediums, though threequels can still be a bit of a mixed bag. In the video game world, the second entry of a series usually learns from its predecessor’s missteps, rectifies them, and expands on the merits of the original. The third entry can either enhance a series even further and bring it to new heights, or be the point where things start feeling a bit repetitious. Naughty Dog’s 2011 title, Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception, falls somewhere in between. It’s a stellar experience that lives up to the heights of Uncharted 2 in many ways, but still suffers from some of the shortcomings of being third in line.

In terms of gameplay, Uncharted 3 is pretty much identical to Uncharted 2. Nathan Drake still wields two weapons at a time (a pistol and a larger weapon) to partake in third-person shooting action, while combining that run-and-gun nature with platforming and Indiana Jones style puzzle solving. There have been some small additions to the experience, with a notably greater emphasis on melee combat (this title introduces “Brute” enemies, that can be fought in bouts similar to the recurring fights Indiana Jones had against big men). But overall the gameplay remains largely the same.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing, since Uncharted 2 is a tremendously fun game, and that same sense of fun carries over to Nathan Drake’s third outing.

This time, Nathan Drake, Victor Sullivan, Elena Fisher and Chloe Frazer are on a quest to find the lost city of Iram of the Pillars. Naturally, an evil organization, lead by Katherine Marlowe – a former acquaintance of Drake and Sully – is also trying to find this lost city.

The good thing about the plot is that it’s a lot more character-driven this time around, with a particular emphasis on the relationship between Drake and Sully (perhaps as a means to rectify Sully’s questionably limited role in the second game). The story takes a number of cues to Lawrence of Arabia, but might also need to cite Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade as an equal in inspiration. There are even segments that see players in the role of a young Nathan Drake in a way not dissimilar to how Last Crusade gave us a glimpse of Indiana Jones’ earliest adventure.

On the downside, the very setup of finding a lost city, and the way it plays out, almost mirrors the plot of the second game. They more or less just dropped the snowy mountains in favor of the deserts of the Middle-East (personally, I find the snowy setting to be both more unique and aesthetically pleasing). Additionally, the main plot takes a detour midway through, with a few chapters serving as little more than padding (albeit one of the game’s finest set pieces is included among them).

Uncharted 3Where Uncharted 3 shines brightest is in the action itself. There are a number of instances where the set pieces and action scenarios of Uncharted 3 match those of the second game. The adventure opens with an extensive bar fight. Later in the game Drake has to escape a burning building, run from countless deadly spiders, jump from horse to truck and back again in yet another nod to Last Crusade, and in one of the game’s best moments (the aforementioned one that takes place during the dip in the plot), Nathan Drake must navigate his way out of a sinking cruise ship, with the overturned ship changing up the platforming of the series in inventive ways.

These set pieces are Uncharted 3’s greatest strength, but the title also benefits from its terrific implementation of the series’ overall mechanics for much of the game. Along with better utilized melee fights, many of the puzzles found in the game rank as the best and most clever in the series. The game even continues what Uncharted 2 accomplished with more compact and focused gunfight segments. At least it does all this until the last few chapters.

It’s a shame to admit that, although Uncharted 3 recreates the spectacle of the second entry, the last few chapters ensure that it never consistently captures the quality of its predecessor. Though the majority of the game is on equal footing with Uncharted 2, the last few chapters bafflingly resurrect the greatest misstep from the first Uncharted.

Like the first game, the final few segments feature overly-long gunfights against enemies that seemingly eat bullets, and once you’ve finally managed to finish them off, they are followed by reinforcements who do the same. The puzzles and set pieces all but disappear by the third act, and they are replaced by seemingly endless fights against armies of enemies that grow more and more repetitious.

Uncharted 3This means that Uncharted 3 ends on a more disappointing note than it begins. Coupled with the familiarity in gameplay and plot, and unfavorable comparisons to Uncharted 2 were bound to happen (and they still do today). But don’t think that Uncharted 3 is a failure by any means. Its predecessor is simply a landmark title. One that Uncharted 3 couldn’t quite live up to. But by its own merits it’s still a pretty remarkable game.

Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception is a great game filled with fantastic action and fun gameplay that lives up to the series’ reputation, as well as that of its inspiration, Indiana Jones. The visuals are terrific, the music is appropriately epic, and much of the game displays a great sense of variety. It’s a thrilling experience.

The problem is that it fails to improve upon its predecessor. Instead it simply goes through the same motions, but throwing different obstacles in Nathan Drake’s way. And by the end, the game’s genius devolves into something of a monotony.

A great game under most criteria, but perhaps not quite the spectacle that Uncharted 2 is.

 

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