Hello all! For this third ceremony of our Hall of Greats, I bring a game I feel many critics and fans alike consider the best of its franchise:
Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End
Uncharted receives a lot of complaints for a variety of things: “Ludonarrative Dissonance!” “There’s no stakes when climbing!” “Gunplay is terrible!” “Drake is a boring and uncompelling wiseass!” and many others. But for me, as a massive fan, I feel A Thief’s End is the series’ best in response to these areas and more. For this presentation, I want to talk about gameplay, graphics, characters, and story.
To start with gameplay, I feel it can be broken down into two areas: Combat and exploration. For combat, the guns and grenades are better refined and interesting to use as opposed to the rest of the franchise for two reasons: Weapon variety and improved settings. There’s quite a suite of armaments in Uncharted 4, from assault rifles, shotguns, handguns, grenade launchers, etc., and each feels different from anything else. Plus, thanks to Uncharted 4’s Aim Assist for those who want to have their weapons snap to enemies (and even hyper focus on a specific body part) and unlockable cheats (one-shot kills, infinite ammo, and others), it allows anyone to tailor the combat just how they want it.
But what’s fantastic about A Thief’s End’s combat is (my perception), there’s actually fewer “large” combat encounters than any other Uncharted (with maybe the exception of Lost Legacy). This allows for a greater emphasis on puzzle solving, exploration, and character development. In addition, with the introduction of the awareness icons and tall grass/foliage, it makes stealth more viable and productive to tackle groups of enemies than ever before in Uncharted.
Exploration is at its most freeing thanks to the most open level design (again, 2nd to Lost Legacy’s one “open-world” esque area) and the ability to drive a vehicle at several points in the adventure. Sure, the main collectibles are still Treasures and Journal drawings (which in their own right are all varied and interesting little artifacts/pictures), but roaming around the wilds of Madagascar in a jeep or getting around small islands in a boat to find small caves, wells, shacks, and other points of interest with excellent environmental storytelling give the world itself more life and character, especially considering the dynamic conversation system.
Graphically speaking, even six years later at the time of writing, Uncharted 4 looks phenomenal. I still remember being absolutely blown away when in the first chapter of the game having to sneak by a nun, I found a piece of paper and the game allowed me to “wave” it in real-time. The fluidity of the animations in books, magazines, documents, and other interactable items, plus the overall art design, character models, stunning landscapes, and captivating views when looking at various horizons lends this to being one of the most beautiful games to date.
And while Uncharted is about treasure-hunting in long-forgotten ruins and getting into shootouts with mercenaries, for me, Uncharted is so much more about its narrative and dynamics with all of its main characters. Uncharted 4 is one of those rare games where long-time fans and new players alike can enjoy the story throughout (though I argue it’s still more beneficial to have played the prior games to have the additional context). By the time Uncharted 4 starts, Nathan Drake is not in the treasure hunting business, but it’s still a part of him that he can’t ever really let go, which is best exemplified in Chapter 4.
I want to take a moment to gush about this chapter, as it’s my favorite in the whole game. There’s no combat (unless you want to count the imaginary shootout in the attic), and it’s all about the tone, the setting of Nate’s and Elena’s house, the homage to past Uncharteds, Nate and Elena’s dynamic at that time, and it all culminating in one of the most delightful Easter Eggs (which this game has a few, but it’s the only one you can’t miss). The amount of detail put into the house, from bathrooms being a mess, laundry needing to be finished, office desks being disheveled, and notes/pictures on the refrigerator all give the house a completely believable “lived in” space that leaves me fully immersed every time I play. It allows for the two main characters to really shine and it’s a segment I greatly appreciate.
This isn’t to say this is the only great character moment in the game. Sam is an excellent opposite to Nathan, stoking the bad influences to hunt for Henry Avery’s treasure. I absolutely LOVE the fact you
play a lie of the prison break with Hector Alcazar
and he’s a perfect example to Nathan of what happens when he becomes too dedicated to the lifestyle. How the obsession of finding the lost treasure and making mega-millions isn’t truly worth it. This is best exemplified when the crew of Nate, Sam, and Sully return to the hotel after all the craziness of King’s Bay and Elena is there, catching Nate in his lie.
Elena is easily the BEST character, as EVERY scene she’s in is the storytelling at its strongest, from the aforementioned house and hotel, to the conversations she and Nate have in Libertalia. The difficult talk on the elevator, plus the long silence in the jeep afterwards as you drive to your next destination... Sublime. By the time I reached the epilogue, how the game and the larger narrative of the franchise wraps up so beautifully, makes me swell with bittersweet emotion every time I play.
The McGuffin you’re chasing is also my favorite, because there’s no surreal aspect to it. It’s all about greed undoing the “pirate utopia” for all who sought true freedom from oversight.
Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End is an incredible game, with the “Uncharted formula” perfected. Compelling characters, refined gameplay, and being stunning looking all combine to be worthy of the title, “Great.”