For nearly a decade, game developer Naughty Dog has been turning players into what is essentially a modern day Indiana Jones. By allowing players to explore ancient underground ruins, discover mythical cities and avoid enemy forces at every turn, the “Uncharted” franchise has proven to be one of the greatest series of the modern era. “Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End,” concludes the saga with jaw-dropping beauty, snarky humor and cinematic storytelling.
Over the course of five games, Naughty Dog has consistently improved the series’ core elements. Visceral action, precarious traversal of rickety bridges and crumbling cliffs as well as a film-like focus on storytelling all combine in the final installment. A winding story (that tends to drag in the last third of the game) finds a Nathan Drake who has retired from adventuring. Having settled down with his wife, Elena, he finds himself bored with a “normal” life. Opportunity arises after his brother, who he thought died over a decade prior in a prison escape, convinces him to go on one last treasure hunt, and the two set off with old allies to seek out the missing treasure of pirate Henry Avery. On top of delivering a top-notch story, Naughty Dog also seamlessly weaves in little callbacks to previous games.
Like Naughty Dog’s previous game, “The Last of Us,” “Uncharted 4” deals with some hefty emotions exhibited through masterful storytelling. While it feels like much of the game is lopsided towards exploring, Naughty Dog uses these gaps from the action to tell its story through dialogue that digs deeper into the game’s unforgettable characters that put most film writing these days to shame.
Over the course of my 11-hour play-through, I experienced some of the most extraordinary graphics I’ve ever seen. Picturesque vistas, Italian mansions, ancient Scottish castles and lost pirate villages dot the game’s globe-trotting map, begging players to simply sit and look. Yet, even though the game is brilliantly lush and carefully rendered, there isn’t much to besides following a linear path. Aside from a few hidden treasures, there isn’t much incentive to go off and explore the game’s many environments, which is disappointing when you compare a game like this to the recent “Tomb Raider” reboot, which offers hours of side material. Still, this shortcoming is minor when one considers the game’s gameplay, and forces you to remain focused on the story.
Though it was thrice delayed, “Uncharted 4” plays like a dream. Slick controls and new mechanics (like the always-thrilling grappling hook) make landscape traversal easy and fun. Still, “Uncharted’s” main form of navigation does have a penchant to grow stale near the end of the game as the game predictably throws curve balls at players, allowing ledges to snap and crumble beneath Drake as he climbs. These moments grow more frustrating and repetitive rather than harrowing as they don’t really offer any challenge, but are instead continued inconveniences that slow speedy travel.
Combat is fast-paced and tight, but feels underutilized and stagnant. New elements are rarely introduced, and with the exception of a few new guns in the game’s second half, there isn’t much gameplay evolution either. Players have the option to navigate through certain areas with stealth, which is functional, but an additional tool like a silencer for your guns or a ranged weapon would have made the gameplay a little more dynamic. Puzzles are few and far between, but they are fresh and challenging, while open-world areas that allow players to maneuver in cars and boats are gorgeous to look at, but are disappointingly linear.
Despite a few stale mechanics, a lopsided reliance on storytelling and travel and a decidedly empty world, “Uncharted 4” is a work of art within a video game; a marvel of the current console generation. With a poignant script, immaculate graphics and a winding story through some of the most beautiful digital sights of the past decade, “Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End” is a phenomenal and bittersweet conclusion to one of the best franchises of all time.
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