Uncharted 4: A Thief's End Reviews
There are few studios in the world that are as prestigious as Naughty Dog, especially in the past decade. Despite having been around for nearly 30 years at this point, it wasn't until Uncharted Drakes Fortune that they started to be regarded as one of the most technically and artistically capable studios. After three very successful games in the series, and a detour to make The Last of Us, Naughty Dog is returning to the franchise that put them at the top of Sony's stable. But after so many striking successes in a row, how can they possibly up the bar again with Uncharted 4 A Thiefs End?
Which thief? Which thief!?
One hour, 59 minutes. It's one of many stats that fill the page in Uncharted 4, but it's potentially the most interesting. That's how long that I spent staying stock still out of the 14 hours playing the main story. There's a reason for this, and it's because Uncharted 4 is a stunningly beautiful game. That is time spent looking around dusty rooms, taking screenshots of beautiful vistas, and gaping at the knowledge that the distant mountaintop is not only a part of the game, but only one of many destinations. With most games this is usually one of the first things to come up in casual conversation, before diving deeper into plot or gameplay mechanics, but in this game it's vital to the experience.
I've got dozens of images I'd like to show you, but I don't want to risk spoiling the adventure.
Uncharted 4 is not just a blockbuster action game. It's an adventure game where the reward for almost everything you do revolves either around discovering a beautiful new location or a fun conversation between characters. It'd be easy to chock it up to sheer spectacle, but that's doing a disservice to what it really is. When a hilltop is crested, there's a brief moment where the brain kicks over and says, "I can't believe I'm here", before remembering the borders around the TV screen. In that way, it captures that sense of adventure potentially better than any game before it.
This is reflective of many aspects of the game, where the bar is set so high that, despite the game's obvious lack of believability in parts, it is completely immersive. The voice actors, for instance, are some of the most prolific in the industry but it's easy to forget who is playing these characters by being absorbed into the narrative. Both the voice acting and motion capture performances are so deft that character drips from every interaction. With just a few facial expressions, it's possible to convey a mixture of emotions. At times, a given character might be showing both excitement and confusion, or skepticism and acceptance. The depths of these characters, both new and old, are handled with a nuance that many live performances struggle to capture.
Where did your mind get off to, Nate?
Not all aspects of the game are as lofty. The gameplay in Uncharted 4 is more of the same, for the most part. There are some additions to the gameplay, such as a rope that allows for better traversal. This does add a little to proceedings as the quick nature of its deployment allows it to be used on the fly during a series of parkour moves to prevent falling to your death, or to aid in a flanking maneuver during combat.
Unfortunately, there's just too much of it. Wondering how much further it is to the top of a cliff might be almost humorous considering that's probably also what the character would be thinking. When this question crops up over and over throughout the game, it becomes a slog that weighs down the narrative and almost discourages the exploration that is so key to the enjoyment of the game.
Kill number 394...
Many combat encounters have the same issue. There are a lot of simplistically designed encounters during the first half of the game that drag on a little too long. Once in a while, an awesome move can break up the monotony, but it's not until the late game that the level design really comes into its own. These sections feel more like an arena, meaning that mobility is the only way to keep enemies from getting behind you. The mechanics at work are all functional and fun to use, but there's little incentive or opportunity to make use of them until the end.
New stealth mechanics are scattered throughout the game as well. Many combat encounters start out with stealth, allowing players to thin the herd a little before engaging. It's almost basic to a fault since there's no mechanism to attract enemies away from their post. Instead, it's more about finding the loose end enemy and simply unraveling their defenses like a ball of yarn. After clearing an area of enemies for the first time without firing a shot, the system loses its luster. It's a fine system, and it provides an option for those who wish to use it, but it ultimately provides a slower method of getting through a group of enemies, which is a particularly curious choice for a franchise so beloved for its pulse-pounding gameplay scenarios and narrative.
Stealth. To kill, or not to kill? That's the only real question.
The gameplay is not bad so much as it overstays its welcome, and environmental design limits its scope. Multiplayer is the real proving ground for these mechanics. A few things change, such as being able to charge up a melee attack for a one hit kill or not being able to jump quite as high, but the fundamentals that made the late game combat great live on here. Being able to quickly get around the map by using the game's climbing and rope mechanics is hugely important for the very tactical gameplay. All modes are team based, whether they be deathmatch or objective gametypes, and being able to flank or take the high ground is imperative. Missing a handhold in the main game never gives the same concern as it does during multiplayer where those vital seconds may spell the doom of your team.
While the core of this gameplay is simple and generally well understood for anybody who has played through an Uncharted campaign, there's still plenty going on under the hood. There's an entire progression and loadout system to dive into. It's not as dense as the more dedicated multiplayer games, but there are unlockable mods for many of the game's items and weapons, allowing for a fair amount of customization. Being able to use gear, mystical items, and purchasable AI support units effectively is just as important as being in the right spot at the right time.
It doesn't heal your allies, but it sure gets rid of your enemies!
Running through Uncharted 4's trophy list shouldn't be too hard, though it could be time consuming. There are nearly 200 collectibles in the game, whether they be actual items, journal entries, or basic destructibles that could take a fair amount of time. Several trophies revolve around game completion under certain circumstances, but it seems realistic based on early attempts to knock out the 70% accuracy, 6 hour completion, and Crushing completion trophies in a single playthrough since almost all of the trophies allow the use of cheats enabled after the first playthrough. Since Crushing difficulty is unlocked after the first completion anyway, it seems feasible to knock these all out in two story completions. Other trophies include some that require certain actions, such as taking out 100 enemies without dying or alternating between melee and gunfire for every other kill, but none of these are too difficult. A set of multiplayer trophies round out the list, but none require you to win against human players, opting instead for match completions, gear usage, and the completion of a set of trials that serve as an optional tutorial.
SummaryWhile no game is perfect, Uncharted 4's storytelling approaches that limit. The sheer graphical prowess is every bit as important to the wonderful sense of exploration as it is to the compelling acting. A simple but enjoyable online suite is the best use of the game's fun mechanics as much of the gameplay can grow stale from too much exposure or limiting environmental design during the story. While this tale could have used a little trimming, it's still an awesome adventure filled with riches and rewards, not the least of which is a digital photo album of your adventure that justifies the inclusion of the share button on your controller.
- Beautiful vistas
- Charming dialog
- Expressive motion capture
- Fulfilling multiplayer
The reviewer used a personal PlayStation 4 copy of the game for the purposes of this review. He played for roughly 20 hours in order to finish the campaign, take pictures, and experience the multiplayer. During this time, he unlocked 22 of 56 trophies and can't wait to go back for the rest.
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