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Uncharted 4: A Thief’s Review

Uncharted is one of the most iconic franchises in PlayStation history. Hell, make that video game history. Nathan Drake has yet to disappoint in his eight-plus on the market. But the variables have certainly shifted this time around for Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End. New directors, new release window, and new console. Not to mention this is Naughty Dog‘s closing chapter to the Uncharted series. It’s been doing well if this accolades trailer is anything to go by.

Uncharted 4 doesn’t deviate too far from the series’ flagship gameplay. There isn’t much new to see from that aspect outside of several new mechanics. The format of story-telling, however, is remarkably new to the franchise, and Naughty Dog has messed around and created the most narratively engaging Uncharted game in the series.

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The Story

Nathan Drake has called it quits from his life of treasure hunting and settled down with his wife Elena Fisher. After promising Elena that he’s given up on dangerous living, Nathan is pulled back into action by his long lost brother Sam, who was thought to have died 15 years earlier. This sets up our hero for one final voyage to find Captain Henry Avery’s long-lost pirate treasure.

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Even with A Thief’s End keeping the adventurous spirit of Uncharted well intact, there are several very noticeable similarities to The Last of Us. First off, the story-telling styles are damn near identical. While the first three Uncharted games were fast-moving, with the occasional cutscene being the only break in action, Uncharted 4 paces itself, taking time to flesh out the story and build on the relationships between characters. Amidst the bang bangs, “no no no”s, and near misses, the game takes the time to make Nate and company more personable than ever before. This steady burn lends itself well to Uncharted 4, especially considering that there’s an entirely new character being introduced in Sam.

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Speaking of Sam Drake, not only was he the catalyst for Uncharted 4‘s story, but he also resembled another frank similarity between Uncharted 4 and The Last of Us. It damn near felt like a re-skinning of Joel and Ellie’s companion system, which is by no means a bad thing. Just like Ellie, Sam will small talk with you during the game’s calmer moments, help you take out groups of hostiles, provide assistance in traversing different environments, and aid you through the game’s puzzles. Though this isn’t the first instance that Drake has traveled with a party in the series, never before has it been this engaging.

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It will always be arguable which Uncharted game ranks as the greatest, but I feel this game’s story is the most important of the series. It is, after all, Nathan Drake’s final adventure, and closure can be a hell of a plot device. Many of the striking questions and mysteries surrounding Nathan Drake are answered and unraveled by this game’s conclusion–in quite elegant fashion. That’s not to say Uncharted 4 was without its plot holes–the conclusion to the games third and final act felt extremely rushed. But for the most part, I ended the game with an enormous of gratification.

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Gameplay

Part of that pacing switch up is due to the addition of open and explorable sections to the series. These easily add a couple of hours to the game’s total playtime. You have the option to continue down the game’s obvious and linear path or deviate so that you can appreciate the game’s gorgeous environmental design. These open areas also include outposts that are crawling with hostile enemies. More of that The Last of Us influence came through in these sections, allowing me to choose between a stealth approach to dispatching enemies or the guns blazin’ method.

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Uncharted 4 wins in the category of seamless and intuitive controls. The basic control scheme you’ve gotten comfortable with has been polished to near perfection. In addition to that, however, is the introduction of a brand new tool to the series– the grappling hook. Drake can use the hook to ascend or descend tall structures, pull heavy items, and swing across large gaps that are impossible to jump across. When you hold L1, Drake readies the grappling hook by twirling it and throws it upon your release. In multiplayer, the grappling hook doubles as a melee weapon that delivers a one-hitter quitter blow to opponents.

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Naughty Dog continues to excel in the visuals department with Uncharted 4. This is easily the most gorgeous-looking PlayStation title since The Order 1886. The frame rate does switch when going between single player and multiplayer, from 30fps to 60fps respectively, but this never detracts from the overall experience. Uncharted 4 will be regarded as a flagship title when it comes to showing off the PS4’s visual capabilities.

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A Thief’s End

And here comes the bittersweet paragraph. Nathan Drake is phoning it in! We may very well receive another Uncharted title somewhere down the line, but this is officially the end of Naughty Dog’s run on the franchise. The amount of joy Uncharted has brought to the masses over the years cannot be put into words. This is truly the end of an era. Though I thoroughly enjoyed the first three games, I believe Neil Druckmann and Bruce Straley’s style of story-telling couldn’t have been topped for concluding this franchise. Packing such a large quantity of Nathan Drake’s back story into one last game was a stupendous feat.

Outside of the weird press and parameters surrounding this game, from the delays to the changes to the game’s dev team, what we’ve got at the end of the day is an exceptionally viable contender for 2016 Game of the Year.

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