After the less-than-innovative Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception, I feel like the Uncharted series needed something more inventive. Luckily, Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End enhances the adventure with some new tools to be used in a variety of scenarios. Moreover, despite being 3 years old, Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End is one of the most graphically impressive games that I have ever played. This is all of course complimented by the tenets of the Uncharted series: insane action, lovable yet realistic characters, phenomenal writing, and a sense of adventure.
This entry is without a doubt the best story in the series. The game still follows Nathan Drake and his companions, yet it has a more somber tone as Drake realizes how his lust for adventure is damaging his relationships. After being contacted by his sketchy brother, Drake decides to go on one last treasure hunt to find the lost stash left by the infamous pirate Henry Avery. There are plenty of character-building sequences in this game, including flashbacks from when Nathan and his brother were kids and how they became addicted to treasure hunting. Throughout the entire series, Nathan rarely thinks of how his actions effect his wife Elena and his mentor Sully. In Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End, we get a more personal look at the characters and Nathan finally realizes how poorly he is treating those around him.
Naughty Dog has made some major additions to gameplay of Uncharted. Three new mechanics are introduced: a grappling hook, sliding, and a climbing spike. The climbing spike is given to the player late in the game and does not see much use, but it is a welcome addition nonetheless. It requires the player to dig the spike into certain walls to create something for Nate to hold onto while climbing. It isn’t a revolutionary new tool, but it does make climbing at least a little more interesting than just jumping from ledge to ledge. The two far more important additions are the grappling hook and sliding.
There are branches throughout the game which Nathan can grapple onto, allowing him to swing across crevices. These branches can be found in climbing sections and combat arenas alike. The same can be said for sliding ramps. These steep ramps have the player slide down them, often times jumping off at the very end to carry momentum into a long jump across a gap. Both the grappling hook and the sliding mechanic were a fantastic way to make climbing sections more interesting. You can actually mistime or misalign jumps from the grappling hook or from sliding. This alone makes climbing sections more engaging, as there is way that you can die if you screw up. The issue is that the grappling hook and sliding ramps are not nearly used frequently enough throughout the course of the game. For the most part, climbing is the same old noninteractive and boring button mashing as you watch Nathan leap from handhold to handhold. And there is more of it than ever.
I am a proponent for games to include what I categorize as “downtime”. Things like cutscenes, exposition, walking, or the puzzles and climbing in the case of Uncharted. Having some downtime between difficult sections can give the player a break from action. If a game is constant action, then players quickly accrue mental fatigue and will need to take breaks from the game more frequently. While I appreciate that Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End does have plenty of downtime between its intense shootouts, it does feel a little bloated at times. Climbing in particular should be a means to an end, not a core gameplay mechanic. It should serve as a method to traverse terrain, to view the gorgeous locales and set pieces, and to provide small breaks between action. Instead, climbing is frequent and often goes on for too long. The developers try to make it exciting by having the things you are climbing on crumble or fall, but it is pretty much impossible to fail a climbing section without blatantly hitting the wrong buttons.
Climbing is just one way that the grappling hook and sliding are utilized. They can also be utilized during combat to quickly traverse an arena. Without a doubt, Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End has the best level design of the series in this regard. The combat sections usually have multiple buildings and a plethora of ways to traverse the arena. This was mostly done to accommodate the new emphasis on stealth. While stealth did exist in previous entries, it was never a viable option other than taking out a single enemy at the beginning of a fight. Now, you can hide in tall grass to take out adversaries, climb up a building to sneak up behind a sniper at the top, and there are far more walls so that you can navigate a battlefield without being spotted. Even if you are spotted, you can often run away and hide so that enemies lose track of you.
The levels were obviously designed with that stress on stealth in mind. The developers wanted the player to have many options to sneak about an arena. Each encounter feels more contained, as you can glance over it before engaging the enemy. You can see where the enemies are located, how many there are, which ones you want to prioritize, and you can begin to plan a route to stealthily take out as many as possible. Of course, the option to go in with guns blazing is always available if the player so desires. The new stealth mechanic adds a new dynamic to combat encounters, and that paired with the level design makes for the most enjoyable combat in the series to date. It feels like guerilla warfare as I constantly dipped in and out of stealth to take out a couple of unsuspected enemies. It is a shame however that once an all-out shootout begins, the gameplay reverts back to the dated systems of its ancestors.
Being able to stealthily takedown enemies is a great way to make combat more strategic. However, it can be a bit slow as you have to constantly wait for opportunities where enemies are not looking. My bigger issue however is with the standard gunfights. While levels were designed to be easier to navigate without getting pelted by bullets, there still is little reason to ever risk leaving cover. Trailers of the game have Nathan swinging from a rope while shooting, or sliding down a slope to wallop enemies waiting at the bottom. The problem is these tactics are wildly ineffective in the actual game.
Unless you are playing on the easier difficulty levels, then you are going to get absolutely torn apart by swinging, sliding, or running around during a gunfight. I don’t think the game needs to approach DOOM levels of run-and-gun action, but I wish you were a bit safer when performing action hero maneuvers. Perhaps have the player take reduced damage while moving quickly. That way, if you are swinging or sliding you won’t get killed before you can finish. It makes sense too; a moving target is harder to hit than a stationary one.
The Uncharted series is known for its elaborate set pieces and action sequences, and Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End is no different. There are some extremely fun chase sequences and scenes where Drake is hopping from car to car to take out a convoy. This is all displayed beautifully as this game is an absolute visual masterpiece. The moments of over-the-top action is what I have come to expect out of the series, and Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End delivers in spades.
Now that I have played through the entire series, I feel like I should include my general thoughts on these games. The Uncharted games are technically revolutionary due to their high-fidelity graphics. They drive the industry forward in that regard. Moreover, the well-written characters, witty dialogue, and spectacular acting performances are some of the best in any game. Personally, I felt like the gameplay across all four games was underwhelming. Third-person cover based shooters are pretty ubiquitous, and the Uncharted series does nothing to stand out among an abundance of similar games. The puzzles are similarly simplistic, and the climbing is downright noninteractive.
I equate the Uncharted series to high-budget action flicks, they focus on spectacle and want to appeal to as many people as possible. They probably wanted gameplay to be simplistic, so that players of all types could enjoy the series. Any sort of innovative gameplay always runs the risk of driving players away. I’m not the biggest fan of the series as I place a lot of value into games being creative and pioneering. I think that the games are fine for what they are, and a lot of people definitely enjoy them. Uncharted is the video game equivalent of movies like Indiana Jones or The Avengers. They are enjoyable movies where you can turn your brain off, listen to the witty dialogue, and watch some entertaining action.
Overall, I think Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End is debatably the best in the series. While it has the best combat, visuals, and story in the series it is too bloated with an overabundance of climbing sequences. You could go for hours at a time without any significant gameplay happening. It’s a shame because the gameplay is by far the most refined it has ever been. Uncharted 2: Among Thieves and Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End are without a doubt the pinnacle of the series. It is for these reasons that I give Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End a 7/10. While it doesn’t do anything innovative in the gameplay department, Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End still has fun combat and insane action.