What you keep.
Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End takes place three years after the events of Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception, with Nathan Drake now retired from the exhilarating life of treasure hunting. We are introduced to a much different Nathan Drake, one who has settled down. He also does paperwork. Yes, paperwork. He even has a real neat stamp! Again, this is a much different Nathan Drake that what we’ve become accustomed to. You can see it in his eyes, read it in his body language. Nathan Drake is a man living a much different life. But there’s still that fire, you can see the spark in his eyes. This is when Nate’s older brother Sam, who has been presumed dead for 15 years, comes back into the picture. Sam is in a whole heck of a lot of trouble, and Nate is the only one who can help.
Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End begins in media res, akin to the opening of the deservingly praised Uncharted 2: Among Thieves. I’ll keep the exact details out in order to keep this review spoiler free, but I absolutely adored being thrown right into the action. Even better so, was how Naughty Dog eventually approached returning to that same scene later in the narrative. Unlike Uncharted 2, I wasn’t forced to replay through the exact sequence, which was appreciated and welcomed with open arms. Little improved techniques and approaches like this became more and more apparent throughout my approximately thirteen hours spent during my first playthrough of Uncharted 4’s single player campaign. Uncharted 4 is the magnum opus of all that Naughty Dog has learned and created and it is so apparent during every second spent inside of the world that they have crafted. Despite turbulence and delays and anxious worrying about what the end product of Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End might be, I am over the moon about what it is. It’s phenomenal.
There are so many moving parts within Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End, but each various piece and gear and mechanism are what make it so outstanding. It’s the love child of Uncharted and The Last of Us in the very best of ways. Uncharted 4 gave me exactly what I wanted; all the while giving me so much that I never knew I could have. While past Uncharted experiences have been harrowing and dramatic and altogether action packed, which has been great, this is the first Uncharted that feels wholly tangible. Is Nathan Drake a wisecracking and charming action hero? Of course. Does Uncharted 4 humanize him and the supporting cast in ways that gave me chills on numerous occasions? Most certainly. So many fans of the series were worried when Neil Druckmann and Bruce Straley took over after the departure of Amy Hennig. Many voiced their opinions and fears that the dark and morose nature of The Last of Us would bleed into Uncharted. Was this, perhaps, a silly fear to have in the first place? Of course. But Druckmann and Straley injected a much-needed dose of honest maturity and a truly tangible sense of humanity into Uncharted 4 that I never knew I really wanted, and that I never knew I would love so much. Nathan Drake is a flawed character, and Uncharted 4 shines lights in all of those broken and jagged spaces. And you know what? I love Nathan Drake all the more because of it it.
Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End is the love child of Uncharted and The Last of Us in the very best of ways.
These advances in how Naughty Dog approached the narrative isn’t restricted only to Nate though, but branches out to the rest of the cast and how they interact with him and each other. These interactions feel real and genuine, they’re uplifting and heartbreaking, and every one was singularly special. Whether I was appreciating a vista with Sam after an intense action sequence, or having a heart to heart with Elena, every moment felt palpable, so real that the experience felt just out of my own reach. Every character is given multiple moments to shine, and they do so without hesitation or fault. Yes, I am invested in these characters and who they are because I’ve spent a trilogy with the majority of them, but Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End infuses so much depth and emotion and humanity into these characters. The entire experience is all the better because of it it. As much as I love Sully because of his past adventures with Nate, by the end of Uncharted 4 I felt just as strongly about newcomer Sam Drake. While my feelings about Elena have changed from game to game, after Uncharted 4 I am now riding on an Elena high. And of course, Sully is Sully and par for the course, but still contributes to the phenomenal work done by the entire cast. Even the antagonists were given scenery to chew, and chew they did. Both the direction given and action taken by the entirety of the cast proves the point that video game performances should be taken just as seriously as that for film or TV, if not all the more so.
Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End keeps up this pace, well, with their exceptional setup and structure. While there are quieter moments of introspection and retrospection, there’s not a dull moment within the digital walls that Naughty Dog created. Had it not been for a shift at work, which I seriously considered missing, I would have played through Uncharted 4 in a single sitting. I was that mesmerized, that engrossed, that engaged by every single moment spent adventuring as Nathan Drake. There are huge action set pieces that had my heart racing. There are beautifully crafted puzzles that had my mind spinning. There are gorgeous sections where Nathan Drake is set loose in, free to explore and wander through as he pleases. These moments merge beautifully into the next, creating a brilliant experience through and through.
All of these moments, all of these developments are only enhanced by how Naughty Dog has treated Nathan Drake in Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End. Yes, I’ve always been fond of Nate as an action-adventure hero. He’s always been great at that, without a doubt. Uncharted 4, however, gives Nate the opportunity to truly shine as a pseudo archeologist. This is the most I’ve truly felt like a full-fledged adventurer and treasure hunter probably since I was laughingly rubbing my PlayStation Vita and holding it up to light sources while playing through Uncharted: Golden Abyss. Naughty Dog has created truly vast sandbox areas to explore, providing collectible treasure as in previous entries, but also providing a hoard of contextual collectibles, optional dialogue and environmental story telling in spades. Even further, Nate’s notebook is involved and integrated and integral to the narrative progress you make. The more I found and collected and discovered, the more the pages within my notebook filled. Could I have solely focused on progressing from Point A to Point B? Most certainly, but that would have been a shame. Every different aspect funnels into the next, and during my time with Uncharted 4, I felt like I was finally and fully Nathan Drake, honestly for the very first time. All of his potential, his knowledge and know-how, everything that Nathan Drake is, I was.
Feeling like Nathan Drake to the Nth degree, it didn’t hurt that Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End is the most mechanically sound game in the Nathan Drake Saga. The combat is what you expect from previous adventures, but refined to a T. Oh, also, you don’t have to shoot every single bad guy in the face to continue! Parallel to how The Last of Us approached combat, there is versatility in these encounters. Heck, shooting a single bullet is entirely optional in most sections. Whether I was taking out enemies with stealth, climbing a tower to take advantage of the sniper rifle I had, or tossing grenades with whimsy, it’s the best that Uncharted has ever felt. The same goes for general adventuring and climbing. There is a fantastic new grappling hook that adds a brand new option for both exploring and combat, and brings something special to some of the more intense action sequences. Also gone are the hoards of bright and shiny and obviously climbable ledges that we came to love in the PlayStation 3 era. Sure, there’s still an occasional white ledge that appears to be a favorite spot for any and all birds to defecate on, but the climbing sequences feel as tangible as the rest of Uncharted 4 does. Every change, drastic or minor, all continuously focuses into the grandiose experience that Uncharted 4 is, and it’s astounding.
Gone are the hoards of bright and shiny and obviously climbable ledges that we came to love in the PlayStation 3 era.
*As a quick aside, this review will not address the multiplayer aspects within Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End, because the servers have not been live. While these aspects will be addressed, based off of multiple experiences and impressions from the beta tests held, they will not have an effect on the final verdict.
There is so much greatness within Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End, far more than a single review can or should hold. Uncharted 4 is wholeheartedly a journey full of secrets and nostalgia and contains a plethora of treasures within. This is a final chapter that ties a beautifully crafted bow around the Nathan Drake saga. It’s greatness that must be experienced, not told. Greatness from small beginnings encompasses both Naughty Dog and the Uncharted franchise in one fell swoop that is blissfully accurate, charmingly so. Previous to playing Uncharted 4, I don’t think that I could have let go of Nathan Drake. I could have never said goodbye. I never wanted to say goodbye. Now? There’s only one thing I can say now. See you around, cowboy.