To say that Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End is one of the most anticipated Sony releases of the entire PS4 console generation would be putting things mildly. The build-up surrounding the latest from developer Naughty Dog is arguably up there with some of the biggest releases in the history of gaming, and with that comes a laundry list of expectations. Luckily, Naughty Dog is a tested studio that knows all to well how to both surprise and satisfy its fans, and with Uncharted 4 they succeed on both counts.
For fans of Naughty Dog it should come as no surprise that Nathan Drake is given the loving farewell befit of such a treasured character. From top to bottom, the developers have poured a tremendous amount of effort into the game, ensuring it sings on nearly ever level. From the character work to the story to the gameplay to the environmental design, Uncharted 4 is an achievement, and not just for a console game. What Naughty Dog has done here is nothing short of stunning, setting a new bar for interactive storytelling in gaming.
Without getting too deep into the story, Uncharted 4 picks up with an older Nathan Drake. After years of treasure hunting, Drake has settled down with Elena and found a comfortable life, but one with very little excitement. However, when Nathan’s brother Sam, who he thought to be dead all these years, comes knocking, our half-tucked hero settles back into his old ways, for better or worse.
What follows is a globe-charting adventure that has its fair share of twists and turns, major discoveries, and the occasional moment of bombast. But coupled in between the jumping, swinging, and shooting, Uncharted 4 continually finds quiet moments with its characters. And by the end, players will feel a renewed connection with Nathan Drake, Elena, and Sully, while also learning more about Sam Drake.
With cutting edge mo-cap and facial animation, Uncharted 4 delivers some of the most photorealistic characters ever seen in a game. The subtle nuance to each actor’s performance is captured in stunning detail, to the point you forget these aren’t real people. Uncharted has never been a game whose focus was on emotional weight, but here the developers find ways to give gravitas to the proceedings, while the main actors succeed in breathing life into their characters. The only shame is that the villains aren’t nearly as memorable as in past games, but still get the job done. Newcomer Nadine, for example, is a little too one-note, despite the amount of detail put into her performance and render.
That same attention to detail extends to the game’s environments, which are, in a word, stunning. It doesn’t matter whether Nate is in a dense urban Italian city or a jungle island off the coast of Madagascar; every element of the design exudes that handcrafted feel. The fact that Naughty Dog could spend hours in a jungle/tropical environment and still make every nook and cranny feel fresh is a huge testament to the design. Every inch of the game is packed with a staggering amount of detail – both inside and out. Even things as simple as plants, mud, and water stand out in the hands of the Uncharted 4 devs.
Although it’s easy to get lost looking at the landscapes and vistas of Uncharted 4, it’s important to point out that this is still a focused experience. The game is far less guided than past games, but there is still always one destination. That being said, Naughty Dog has some fun with climbing and traversal mechanics, including a few drivable vehicles. Exploration has always been the selling point of the Uncharted franchise, but it is only in this fourth game that it truly feels like the player is exploring these environments. Yes, there are still ledges and paths that stand out from the walls, but the game feels a lot less hand-holdy overall.
And when the game does get focused it’s usually to accommodate one of a half dozen or so puzzles. Each puzzle is both clever in its design and well thought out for the story. They are challenging enough to ensure the player won’t be able to breeze through them, but clear enough that players won’t run into any major brick walls. Overall, the puzzles add back to that signature Uncharted feel – making for a game that truly lives up to its billing as a treasure hunt.
Combat in Uncharted 4 is as refined as it has ever been, but it’s arguably the weakest point of the overall equation. The series has never been particularly well known for its shooting mechanics, and here they are solid but not great. However, the larger environments and the addition of Drake’s grappling hook help make the shootouts feel more free form. There’s a sense of improvisation to the fights that help fit that loose shooting style.
The only real nitpick with the gunplay is that the enemies don’t offer much in the way of variety. Players will see the same handful of thugs throughout the entire game, with a few tougher enemies sprinkled throughout. It’s the part of the formula that is the least evolved, as evidenced by the use of the same enemy archetypes (shotgun rusher, heavy machine gunner, and sniper). To Naughty Dog’s credit, though, the devs seem to realize gunplay isn’t Uncharted 4’s strongest quality, and so shootouts are kept to a minimum overall.
Multiplayer in the Uncharted series has always had its share of fans, and those folks are likely to be pleased once again. Naughty Dog has done some interesting things with the addition of loadouts and using in-match currency to buy power-ups, which help expand the experience beyond the basic running and gunning. Overall, the online PvP is enjoyable and it does its best to stand out from the average third person shooter.
The handful of modes available at launch suit the milieu well and will certainly keep MP fans occupied for a good while. But the biggest selling point for multiplayer is arguably Plunder – a type of Capture the Flag variant. Plunder has been a fan-favorite since its debut in Uncharted 2 and we are happy to report it is as fun as ever in Uncharted 4. There’s no denying that many will come to Uncharted 4 specifically for the story, but we’d recommend giving multiplayer a try. It has a surprising amount of depth this time around and makes for some zany shootouts.
Independent of the hype or the series’ legacy, Uncharted 4 is worth the recommendation on its own merits. From the tremendous environments to the incredible character work to the globetrotting story, the design of the game is second to none, setting a new bar for interactive experiences. It’s true that Naughty Dog puts a lot more stock into story and character, but even then Uncharted 4 is pure, unadulterated fun.
Those who want to dig deeper, however, will find a story that’s engaging, mechanics that are refined, animations that are technically excellent, and writing that’s mature but also playful. In every way the game feels like the perfect send-off to a beloved character and a major Sony mascot. Uncharted 4 is the best game of this generation, proving once again that Naughty Dog is filled with master storytellers and brilliant designers.
Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End releases May 10, 2016 for PS4. Game Rant was provided a digital download code for this review.