It’s been five years now since Uncharted 3 came outand capped off an absolutely stellar trilogy of games. A trilogy that is now a quadrilogy, thanks to the latest instalment, Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End. Did it live up to the quality bar set by the last two?
Uncharted 4 takes place in three different points in time, all of which focus on Nathan Drake’s interactions with his brother, Sam, a new character to the series. The earliest point in time shows how Nathan was pushed onto the path of thievery by Sam, a midway mission has them escaping a prison prior to the events of Uncharted 1, and the rest, the bulk of the story, is about Sam returning into Nathan’s life after the events of Uncharted 3, having married Elena and replaced his criminal treasure hunting life with a steady and legal job retrieving cargo from sunken ships.
There is so little wrong with Uncharted 4 that it’s not even funny, but let’s start with the graphics. The game looks mind-blowing. It’s stunning quality-wise. Furthermore, nearly every chapter introduces you to a completely different setting – from forests, to mansions full of people, to dilapidated castles, to caves, to boats in the middle of the ocean, to muddy island gulches, and everywhere inbetween – and nails everything on the head.
The attention to detail with how Uncharted 4 is presented is breathtaking. If you slide down a stony hill, you can see all of the rocks you dislodged form a tiny rock slide. You can see your footprints in the snow. The car you can drive, because you can now drive in Uncharted, will get splattered with the mud you drive through. All of the effects are the kind of detail the series was famed for on PlayStation 3, but with the extra heft of the upgraded console behind it.
None of the graphics would matter if Uncharted 4 wasn’t fun to play, but – surprise! – it is. If you weren’t keen on the original trilogy, number 4 probably won’t be your cup of tea either. But it takes the familiar shooting and obstacle traversal of 1-3 and splashes in new, neat touches, all of which work really nicely. You have a grappling hook which can be used in set places to swing yourself around. You receive a makeshift climbing pick around halfway through the game which can be planted into soft cliff faces to aid in climbing. There are now even pushable crates and other objects which you can freely manipulate in order to reach higher paths or unblock lower ones. Tall grass that can camouflage you in enemy encounters is another neat addition to the game.
The story and presentation then complement everything else beautifully. Uncharted 4’s story isn’t of the calibre of a high-end film plot, sure, but it does its job beautifully. It features some wonderful throwbacks to the original trilogy (if you haven’t played those, I’d recommend playing them first – they will enhance your experience with U4) without affecting how their events played out, it adds extra dimensions of depth to Nathan, Sully and Elena from the pre-1-3 events, lets you see the continuation of their story post 1-3 and Sam’s inclusion makes complete sense.
And, as you’d expect from Uncharted, the presentation is great as well. Sam accompanies Nathan for the majority of the game, and the two will bounce dialogue off each other at everything they see, do, and experience. It never actually gets grating, and some interactions will be genuinely funny. I got particular fun out of driving into, and destroying, all the cairns in the gulch level – Sam will berate Nathan for doing it, but as he does, reveals that he dislikes the word “cairn”. Nathan naturally plays on this, and the dialogue between the two keeps escalating the more you find and destroy them.
And of course, even with the game being as long as it is, there’s plenty to go back to. You can jump back to the start of any chapter you’ve already played and find any treasures, optional conversations (new to the series) and journal entries (also new to the series, essentially little mostly-optional clues to proceeding through the game). Also new to the series, you can jump to any enemy group encounter and replay those too.
If I have one issue with the game, it’s that some of the enemy encounters in the late game become a little grating. One sees you standing on top of (or dangling off the edge of) a car elevator as waves of enemies attempt to kill you, the person you’re with, and the car. They can pretty quickly destroy the minuscule amount of cover on top of the thing, and pretty quickly you’ll find yourself out of ammo – but it’s difficult to get to a vantage point on solid ground without at least one angle having enemies with a clear shot at you, as it’s an open area and enemies appear a full 180 degrees around you.
There are a couple of other encounters after this that are frustrating as well, including one where two minigun-toting heavy units both absolutely wreck you if you don’t have a full arsenal of grenades and access to an RPG – they also appear after you’ve already mowed through several enemies, and if they defeat you, the respawn point makes you redo the grunts. All of this while Nathan reels off the same lines of dialogue again.
But they’re such a tiny fraction of Uncharted 4, a game that is otherwise absolutely stuffed to the brim with memorable moments and incredible fun. I can’t recommend this enough to anyone, and really hope that this isn’t the end – they could make Uncharted 5 and 6 and have them essentially be expansion packs to 4, and I’d still pay full price, and I’d still love them – it’s one of those few games where I really, really wanted more when the credits rolled.