Published on May 23rd, 2016 | by Ian Goodwillie0
Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End
Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End may have a few annoying pieces, but it is enough fun to convince us to come back to this franchise.
Console exclusives can be a mixed bag. Some are great. Others less so. But more than a few big franchises including Halo and God of War have come out of the exclusive system, even though limiting sales of a game to one console seems odd to me. Do many people choose a console simply based on the games they can’t play on it anymore?
All of that being said and leaving that digression behind, I freely admit that I was never a fan of the Uncharted franchise, as PlayStation exclusive.
When the first iteration came out years ago, I gave it a shot. The gameplay was sketchy. The controls awkward. And the main character was like Indiana Jones and Lara Croft had a highly unlikeable child. There just wasn’t enough there to hold my attention or convince me to try the next couple of sequels. But it was hard to ignore how amazing the fourth game looked so I thought maybe it was time to give this franchise another shot.
First off, this is one of the best looking games out there today. It bounces around the world between a variety of locations, from Panama to Italy to Scotland to Madagascar. Each place looks distinctly different and beautifully rendered. The green in the grass. The ambient noise. Everything is absolutely on point.
Then there’s the story. This might be one of my favourite adventure stories ever in a video game. The search for lost pirate treasure is so classic a plot device that it’s perfect, particularly the race against a greedy, vile opponent. And Drake’s penchant for finding lost cities continues in spades. The personal narrative also works, following Nathan’s choices with family, friends, and enemies. Some of the plot is obvious and quite on the nose but it’s still engaging because it’s so well executed. A big part of that is playing as Nathan Drake. He’s coy, self-effacing, and honestly likable, a far cry from the character I met in the first game.
One the downsides, depending on your gameplay inclinations, is that the game is exceptionally linear. For a game about an explorer, there is surprisingly little exploration. The game consistently goes from A to B to C with little variation. So when in doubt, just keep moving forward. And frequently up. It’s a simple but effective rule. But if you can accept the linear nature of the gameplay, the story is worth it.
There was some discussion leading into the release of Uncharted 4 that there would be more agency in this game, specifically in interactions between characters. While there are conversations that allow you some control over how they play out, said conversations seem to have little or no impact on the outcome of the game. Maybe if you play through on the hardest setting that plays out differently. That seems unlikely, though.
As an experiment, I played through a conversation between Nathan and his brother multiple times. It gives you three options when it comes to which story you want to tell him about your adventures. Regardless of which option you pick, the end result is virtually identical and has no impact on how things progress from there.
It is the illusion of agency rather than being actual agency.
The end of the game leaves much to be desired, as well. The “final boss fight” is surprisingly tedious and quite anti-climactic. And the mechanic is a strange combination of overly simplistic and surprisingly difficult. Given the build up through the game, this moment feels rushed and is a bit of a disappointment.
Beyond that, there is a completely unnecessary epilogue that happens after the game is complete. It brings the story full circle from where we pick up with Nathan early in the game, waxing nostalgic in his attic about the good old days. But why is this epilogue necessary? Where we leave Nathan just before that would have been a perfectly fine place to end the game. This extra step adds nothing and, if anything, detracts from the character’s legacy. Again, it’s a little anti-climactic.
Unless it’s setting up a new character for the next Uncharted and a new generation of Drakes. Then maybe it serves a purpose. Maybe.
Ultimately, this game is about closing the loop for Nathan Drake. His story appears to be done, though the developers could always create a new story that happens in the midst of the existing ones. And though it is quite linear it’s also a blast to play. This PS4 exclusive even gives you multiple opportunities to play one of PlayStation’s first big exclusive franchises, Crash Bandicoot, in game. Once again, it waxes nostalgic. And if nothing else, Uncharted 4 has inspired me to go back and take a better look at the previous games in the franchise.
Except the first one. I still don’t like that game.