Review: Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End (PS4)

2016 Golden Minecart Awards:

  • Best Multiplayer (PS4)
  • Best Action/Adventure (PS4)
  • Game of the Year (PS4)

Formats:

  • PlayStation 4

Format/Hardware Used:

  • PSN Download
  • PS4
  • HDTV

Extras:

  • DualShock 4 Required (1)
  • Move None
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Title: Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End
Format: Blu-ray Disc / PSN (47.4 GB)
Release Date: May 10, 2016
Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment
Developer: Naughty Dog
Original MSRP: $59.99
ESRB Rating: T
PEGI: 16
A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.
PS Nation Review Policy

Audio Review:
The audio review for this game is available on Episode 473 of the podcast at 109:50.

Gameplay:
At E3 in 2006, the world was introduced to Nathan Drake and the Uncharted series, though neither were named as such at the time. This was a very new direction for the development team at Naughty Dog who, up to that point, had been more well known for Crash Bandicoot and the Jak & Daxter series.

When Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune was finally released in November 2007 it was lauded for its amazing visuals and the very well written story. Prior to its release, many people were knocking the game as a Tomb Raider rip-off, derisively calling it “Dude Raider”.

The strong writing from Amy Hennig, Neil Druckmann, and Josh Scherr, along with the high production values led to a critical and commercial blockbuster, and a franchise was born.

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Naughty Dog has made no secret of the fact that this will be their last Uncharted game. Whether Sony hands the franchise to another developer for a future installment is still up in the air, but for now, this is the end for Nate and his friends, and they’re going out on a high note.

Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End is mainly a story about brothers. And while Amy Hennig very publicly parted ways with the studio during production of the game, Druckmann, Scherr, and Tom Bissell have done a fine job at creating the quintessential Uncharted story for this final go-round.

As mentioned in my preview from a month ago, the story revolves around Henry Every (or Avery, as it is in the game), a real-life pirate from the late 1600’s who pulled off one of the biggest heists in the world and then vanished without a trace.

… stealth is now a real and viable option …
Fans of the series will love the game and the story. The developers really wear their hearts upon their sleeves with nostalgia taking center stage a number of times throughout the engaging and wonderful tale. And that’s all I’ll say about that.

As to the gameplay itself, this game, much like the recent Ratchet & Clank, takes everything that came before it and refines it into the best possible experience the series has to offer. Because of the additional power the PlayStation 4 affords, the different areas are much bigger and encounters can be approached in multiple ways.

Drawing heavily from the Assassin’s Creed franchise, stealth is now a real and viable option. And it’s exactly that, an option. If you want to play this game the same way you’ve played the rest of the Uncharted series, you’re free to do so, running and gunning your way from encounter to encounter.

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For me, the stealth option is a long overdue and very welcome addition to the game. In the first three installments I found myself frustrated with at least three or four encounters per game. I’d always run out of ammo and I’d be stuck playing the same encounter over, and over, and over, and over, just trying to move the story forward.

It didn’t stop me from completing the first three games, but it always took me out of the story, the fun, and the adventure of it all and made it a chore. Sure, you could sneak up on the odd enemy in the past and take them out from behind, but it was never possible to get them all. And if you were spotted, forget about it.

Now, there’s plenty of cover to hide in while you plot your assault. You can tag every enemy that you can see, allowing you to keep tabs on where they all are as you move around the environment.

… catch your breath and try again …
If you’re spotted, a white indicator above the head of your enemy will start to fill. Once full it turns to yellow and they will become more curious, sometimes coming to investigate what they think they may have seen.

If you’re exposed for too long, the indicator will turn to orange, they’ll call for help and everyone will start to converge on you. But here’s the best part, get away from the area without being killed and they will lose track of you. This allows you to catch your breath and try again, maybe from a different approach to the area.

The new grapple mechanic comes in handy here and can even be used to surprise an enemy, landing on top of them before they can alert anyone else. Because of the size and layout of the new environments, you really can make each encounter unique.

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The other nice tweak is with your companions and how they can assist you, especially while in stealth mode. When you start to hide in the tall grass and sneak around in cover, anyone with you will follow your lead.

They won’t expose themselves or stand out in the open “unseen” like Ellie sometimes did in The Last of Us. That mechanic has been refined to the point that any enemy that gets within range of your companions will be taken down quickly and quietly without you having to lift a finger.

Your buddies will even vocally alert you to any guards you may have missed that may wander nearby and potentially spot you, triggering a mark above their head allowing you to keep track of them. It adds to the flow and realism in the game making stealth work really well if you want to go that way.

… you may want to wander off the obvious path …
Now, with all that in mind, be aware that you won’t be able to Deus Ex your way through the game, killing no one. You will still come upon encounters, or more precisely, ambushes, that will force you into combat Uncharted-style.

While you can jump back into any chapter once completed, you can also jump directly to any encounter. This way you can hone your stealth skills or just try out a few different ways of approaching the situation without having to play through the entire chapter again.

There are also driving sections in the game but don’t expect the same linear affair you’ve seen in the past. You still have to get from Point A to Point B but you now have a little more latitude in how you do it. The areas are much bigger and if you like finding collectibles, you may want to wander off the obvious path a bit.

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As to those collectibles, the Treasures make their return along with Drake’s Journal. The Treasures are for the Trophy hunters out there and the Journal Entries will typically come as you move the story forward, but not always.

Optional “Journal Notes” help flesh out the story a bit and can be found throughout the levels if you happen to go looking for them. If not, they won’t show up in the journal. Because of this, any two people playing through the entire story could end with very different looking journals.

Another new addition to the franchise and one that helps flesh out the characters a bit more is the “Optional Conversations” mechanic. Previously seen in The Last of Us, you’ll have an opportunity at different points in the game to continue a conversation with another character.

… I’d suggest purchasing Mirror World …
Doing so won’t change anything in the story, but it will give you more insight to the characters themselves and what they’re thinking. It’s always handled in a natural and seamless way and I’d urge you to take part in them when you can.

All that optional stuff also gives you points that can be spent on a number of fun things. You can buy different Render Modes and play the entire game with a cel-shaded look, chalk dust, black and white, rainbow, even 8-bit – though that one’s better in theory than it is in practice.

You can also purchase a number of different outfits for each of the characters and play through the game like that, among other things. For fun, I’d suggest purchasing Mirror World and then playing through the game again for a whole new experience.

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Visuals:
We’ve all seen what the developers at Naughty Dog can do. They’re technical wizards, and their prowess is on full display in Uncharted 4. Lighting is the key, and the power of the PlayStation 4 is put to good use making the world come to life.

The incredibly detailed backgrounds and settings in the wildly varying environments easily make this the best looking PS4 game to date. Everything about the game is impressive, right down to the little details in the characters faces and clothing.

… the beauty of it all …
It’s those moments in dark, damp places with sunlight coming through an open window, shadows dancing with the sway of vegetation in the wind, dust hanging in the air, that made me just stop and soak in the beauty of it all.

That’s not to say it’s completely perfect. I did run into some minor graphical glitches further on in the game. No major issues, but enough to take me out of the experience and remind me that yes, it was just a game. That, coupled with the enemy that got stuck near the side of a vehicle were the biggest glitches I ran across.

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Audio:
The dialogue and acting have always been strong points for the Uncharted games. The actors have a deep understanding of their characters at this point and the bonds they’ve forged over the years comes through here.

It’s amazing how easy going, natural, dramatic, and funny the banter is between all the actors, even the newcomers. Knowing that this was their last turn at these characters, at least under the direction of Naughty Dog, everyone brought their A game.

The music has also been one of the most important parts of the series, remember, high production values, and they’ve done a stellar job here. The theme gets reworked and changed a bit for the most important moments of the story and all the new music just shines.

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Online/Multiplayer:
Building on their previous offerings, the multiplayer in Uncharted 4 is the most well designed set up to date. The first time you go online you’re given an introduction. This gives you the basics of multiplayer and introduces some new concepts.

Once complete you can jump right into a match or go to the Trials section where you’ll be able to try out all the different weapons, gear, Mysticals, and Sidekicks. I strongly urge you to do so as learning these things can give you a real competitive advantage.

… get all the cool loot without ever spending a dime …
You’ll also earn Relics for every Trial you complete and the can be played on different difficulties to earn you more rewards. The Relics can be used to unlock items in the in-game store including, characters, outfits, weapons, and skins. Relics can also be earned by completing daily challenges and completing matches. This way, you’ll be able to get all the cool loot without ever spending a dime.

Naughty Dog has also stated that all future maps and modes (including co-op) will be available for free to the entire community. There should be no fragmenting of players or competitive advantages with people buying their way to the top.

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You’re able to pick from pre-set or custom loadouts as expected. During each match, pick up all the treasure you can find. You’ll be able to use the D-pad to purchase upgrades for your gear, a sidekick, weapons, or Mysticals. There’s a nice variety to the Sidekicks and they can come in real handy when trying to keep the other team off balance.

The Mysticals can change the course of a match by allowing you to revive close groups of teammates in one shot or take out any nearby enemies with ease along with a number of other options.

… the twist comes with the Team Captain mechanic …
Right out of the gate, you’ll be able to start with the Warm Up Playlist. This will help get you accustomed to the new mechanics before you dive into the more competitive matches.

Other modes include Plunder, which is essentially Capture the Flag with an idol, Team Deathmatch, which is pretty self-explanatory, and Command which requires some explaining.

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Command may feel familiar at first. You need to capture and hold areas on the map to gain points but the twist comes with the Team Captain mechanic. Whoever contributes the most in gaining points is automatically appointed the Team Captain. If the other team kills the opposing Captain, they’ll gain a ton of points for their team, getting them closer to a win.

Captains receive in game bonuses that can help their team. They can revive teammates faster, they have more health when downed, and they get cheaper in-match store items. Their level also increases as they survive and complete objectives.

… a beautiful and fitting send off …
This comes with a cost though. As the Captain’s level increases, their point value to the other team goes up as well. They also become visible on the radar to the other team making them an easier target. An entire match can turn on the death of a high level captain so keeping them safe is a critical matter of teamwork.

Ranked Team Deathmatch is also available which also has a bit of a twist. Ranks increase by winning matches but will also decrease by losing them. You’re trying to gain enough points to get into the Qualifiers. Once in, you need to win a set number of matches or you get knocked out and have to earn the points all over again.

I played the Trials, Warm Up, Plunder, Team Deathmatch, and Command, and all of them felt really tight. The maps had plenty of cover, some nice verticality and a number of spots to strategically use the grapple. Fans of the Uncharted multiplayer should be happy with this to start and be even more thrilled with the added content planned through Spring 2017.

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Conclusion:
I have completed the game and I am thoroughly satisfied. Some people might not like how everything plays out but I sure did. It all makes sense and really works within the context of the four console games in the series.

The Last of Us is still my favorite Naughty Dog game to date, but Uncharted 4 really gives it a run for its money – think of them as 1 and 1-A. The stories are very different obviously but the writing and acting is as strong as ever.

There’s a bittersweet finality to this game, but Naughty Dog has filled it to the brim with everything we love about Uncharted and they’ve given the series a beautiful and fitting send off.

Score:
9.5

* All screenshots used in this review were provided by the publisher.

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