(May 11, 2016)After withstanding several launch delays and months of anticipation, I have beaten Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End. By far, U4 is the most graphically impressive PS4 title (and probably the best overall looking game on both consoles) to date. Between the graphics and solid story, it isn’t hard for me to imagine that U4 could easily be game of the year as it is undeniably a very strong contender.
At its core, U4 is a story of obsession. Nathan Drake may be living a relatively “normal” life with his wife, but he is deeply unsatisfied outside of his relationship with Elana (not that there aren’t a few issues with this aspect of Nathan’s life either). This dissatisfaction and seeming emptiness leads Drake on an outrageous adventure when his once thought dead brother, Sam, reappears after fifteen years. I won’t go much further into the story, but I will say that it has emotion, danger, mystery, and, more importantly, heart.
Nathan’s incredible abilities as a bullet sponge and acrobat aside, U4 tells a mostly believable and human narrative of love, recklessness, and unhealthy desire. Drake’s final tale not only questions and demonstrates the consequences of testing and crossing the boundaries of relationships and legality, but it ultimately reshapes them into a balance for the protagonist and those he loves. At its end, U4 is a happy story.
U4 takes players on a journey with an engaging character. I saw Nathan’s strengths and flaws. I felt for him and cheered him on. Refreshingly, his story isn’t solely about violence and outrageous explosions. And while the game contains both of those mainstays of first-person shooters for dramatic effect, they are secondary and momentary elements of Nathan’s overall narrative.
Graphically, the game blew me away. I knew the game would look more than decent from the early screenshots and footage, but the game is breathtakingly gorgeous. Not only does it blow all previous PS4 games out of the water, but it rivals some PC titles as well (even if it does run at 30 fps). I am excited that console games have come this far. As you can see from some of my screenshots, the game even includes a camera/editor feature for players to mess around with and share that perfect shot.
I was also excited about how seamless the game felt as I was playing. The transition from cutscene to gameplay was so natural and, well, seamless. I love that games are at a point where the graphics of both regular gameplay and cutscenes match on a realistic level to allow for such natural flow. The game really is eye candy for the appreciative player.
The gameplay, level design, music, and voice acting are all standouts that combine to make this exciting and fresh adventure game a success. While U4 does not offer an open world, its “wide-linear” approach was welcoming. The first nine or so chapters are fairly straightforward, while the game’s last half is slightly less guided. While players will all end up at the same endpoints, the design of each level and set piece felt open enough at times that I at least had the illusion of choice and flexibility.
My one relatively minor complaint concerning the game’s design has to do with the amount of time my feet were off the ground. U4 has players spend significant amounts of time climbing the sides of mountains and buildings (a bit like Assassin’s Creed), and this became a bit tedious for me during the last half of the game. Thinking back on the Madagascar level really made me wish the game was a bit more open and afforded players with more opportunities on the ground either by foot or vehicle. I really enjoyed the earthy red soil of Madagascar and its lush greenery. It seemed like the perfect environment to let players run loose just a little bit especially considering how much fun I had driving the Jeep through the mud. I would purposefully run over rocky terrain and drive off hills just to see the character animations and mud fly off the wheels.
The animations! Frankly, the animations in this game are sexy. When Nathan moves from ledge to ledge, he leans in, his weight shifts, and he reaches out with grasping hands. Nathan bounces in his seat when the Jeep jolts, and he even puts up his arm if you try running him into a wall. The developers cared so much about the little details that even the rope at Nathan’s side sways with his movements. These details and animations combined with the graphics make for a highly immersive experience.
After a playthrough of 14 hours and 13 minutes, I can say that Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End is one of the must play single-player titles of 2016. It even deserves a spot on my top 10 video game list, which I will now need to adjust. If this really is the end of the road for Nathan Drake, I cannot think of a better finale for such a beloved treasure hunter.