It has been a long time since I have gotten on a controller and parked my butt on the couch. The last game I played was Kojima’s swan song, which probably explains why I have been so reluctant to start the console up again-—that was a tough act to beat.
I have, however, finally been forced to dust off the console to play the fourth installment of the Uncharted series, A Thief’s End. The game, brought to us by Sony and Naughty Dog, the latter being the group that gave us the critically acclaimed title The Last of Us, is a master class in storytelling and a great game to boot. I’ll try to give you a spoiler-free review as I can manage, but be warned, some might get through.
The game starts with Nathan Drake, some decades prior to when we first met him in the Uncharted series. A young Nathan is receiving a scolding at what will later be revealed as an orphanage for getting into a fist fight. From there, it smoothly transitions into a sneaking and movement tutorial. After this, it’s a quick leap into the more recent past, where you find Nate in an old-fashioned prison brawl and the mandatory combat tutorial. A quick story element, gunfight, and chase sequence later, and you find yourself back in the current time, with Nate running a salvage operation at the bottom of some body of water. You then learn that Nate has left the treasure-hunting business behind to put his skills to use in a legitimate cargo recovery company.
Things change, however, when a surprise walks into Nate’s office, and the game really starts to get rolling. From there, you head to various locations all over the world in search for what might be the largest pirate treasure ever amassed. The story is paced well, with some extremely tense sequences placed neatly in-between quiet, even heart-warming scenes. While not as emotionally powerful as The Last of Us, it’s still the videogame equivalent of a page-turner. More than the characters, who are as interesting and charming as ever, it’s their story that makes you want to keep playing.
Movement is very straightforward. Climbing, clambering, vaulting, and leaping all happen more or less hassle-free. Climbing in particular is mostly automatic. Handholds are very easy to spot, and a tap on the Square key launches you in the appropriate direction if you can reach the next hold. Really the only way you can plummet to your death is if you hit the Circle button at the wrong moment, which causes Nate to drop to the next lower hold. If there happens to not be one, however, you’ll pick up shortly before you kicked the bucket. It’ll actually take some effort to fall to your death, since the game lets you know when you can make a particular jump, so unless you’re stubborn, you can make sure you have a place to go before making a leap. Nate and his various companions also give clues via dialogue once the game sees you’re stuck, just like a companion might in real life, making it a functional way of helping you out without breaking the experience.
Combat is another matter. I’m not really a console gamer, and while moving and shooting aren’t all that hard, doing both concurrently while trying to evade gunfire, sneaking, or climbing can be a little difficult. The game helps you out a whole lot by having a very useful auto-aim feature in the menu. The game gets you to shoot early on, so you can gauge whether or not you’ll need a hand aiming. My advice is that if you have the slightest problem with hitting your mark, take the hit and enable it. Gunfights can be long and furious, so unless you’re a fan of replaying certain segments repeatedly, this’ll help you not feel stuck. You get to handle a decent number of weapons as you move along, and while you’re going to find that different classes work better in different situations, weapons of the same type don’t really feel all that different from each other.
Fortunately, the points where you actually do have to fight are very evenly spaced, and while intense, they’re short enough to not be a pain. The same goes for action sequences. Uncharted does a great job at making you lose a handhold, slip on a rock, or slide flailing and screaming into an action sequence. It’s all very calculated though, and manages to be more fun than frustrating. Think of it as the rock climbing equivalent of a horror movie jump-scare, just not annoying. I would also mention the puzzles in the game, but they’re all very simple and straightforward, and feel more like a matter of course than frustating hurdles.
Once you’ve taken to the controls, have gotten into the story, and are on your way to finding the treasure, the next thing that will hit you—and hit you hard—is just how gorgeous the scenery is. I mean, seriously. It looks like a series of beautiful photographs. The PS4 has more than enough muscle to do this, and it does so in grand fashion. From jungles, to abandoned villages, and the ocean, you’re going to find yourself stopping to admire the view whenever the game chooses to show off. I would have appreciated more opportunities to appreciate Uncharted 4, but the game is a little on the short side. If you have the Cheetos and Mountain Dew to tide you over, you could possibly finish it in one sitting.
I really really want to go into how the game puts the series to an end, but I just can’t do that without ruining everything, so you’ll have to go with the standard “it closes the saga beautifully.” Really though, it’s a great game that is worth the time you’ll be putting in. If you’re a fan of the franchise, please, get on it right away. If you haven’t picked it up before, don’t worry about it. It’s a game that can stand on its own legs. Five out of five.
Also published in GADGETS MAGAZINE July 2016 Issue
Words by Ren Alcantara
Developer: Naughty Dog | Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment | Platform(s): PS4