Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End – A FORTUNE-NATE Review
…I am a man of fortune, and I must seek my fortune…
Five long years have passed since Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception hit shelves. Five long years fans have been itching and craving for another adventure with Nate, Sully and the gang. After waiting this long, albeit, not-so-patiently, the next exploit for our fortune hunter friends finally begins in Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End. And what an appropriate end it is.
Much like our waiting, A Thief’s End also plots itself some time after the events in Drake’s Deception. In this case, it has been three years. Within those years, as you can imagine, Nate and Elena are finally together and actually quite happy. Though, while they wouldn’t admit it, the two settled into careers that fill the void of their adventuring days: Nate, a salvage diver, Elena, a world journalist.
The scene feels so natural, as does their relationship. However, their–shall I say–distaste for their comparatively boring lives is clearly evident. Prior to the screens below, we see Nate relive his glory days; Players can inspect key treasures found on earlier expeditions as well as take down familiar enemies with a toy gun. Elena’s complacency is not nearly as direct; she delves into a story regarding her newest edition, but not before stating she isn’t too pleased with the story’s delivery. Her tone definitely suggests she needs an adventure.
As per usual Uncharted fanfare, the narrative flows through chapters via present time and a series of flashbacks. More than any other installment, these flashbacks are an even larger insight into Nate’s past. In (aptly named) Drake’s Deception, Marlowe first introduced us to his (anddd here comes the titled pun) deception by letting us in on a tiny sliver of his childhood. Mother commits suicide, father–for reasons left unknown–drops young Nate off at an orphanage. Nate somehow becomes Nathan Drake. (For want of keeping this review spoiler free, this is all you’re getting!) In A Thief’s End, we find out Nate wasn’t alone. Delinquent brother Sam joined him at the orphanage, but was removed for his talent of trouble-making. It was Sam who introduced young Nate to the dangerous life of hunting treasure and through the years, they unearthed many lost wonders together.
Through events I will not mention in this review, Nate does not see Sam for 15 years, until one fateful day when the elder Drake arrives at Jameson’s Salvaging office where Nate is employed. This is really where A Thief’s End begins–and now that I have filled you all in on backstory–so does this review.
The narrative takes the Brother’s Drake (also a chapter name) on a globetrotting trek, this time in search of infamous pirate Henry Avery and his amassed lost riches. Again, for want of a spoiler-free review, I will just say that this treasure is particularly and intrinsically important to both Nate and Sam. This is one instance where our fourth adventure with Nate shines; each character is so well-developed, it’s difficult to believe they aren’t real people. The chrysalises of each characters’ motivations shed their cocoons to become the underlying theme of the entire narrative.
A little story regarding themes of motivation:
I was asked which Naughty Dog game was my favorite, The Last of Us, or Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End. Anyone who knows me, understands that Naughty Dog is my favorite developer and–at least as a standalone–The Last of Us took the mantle as my favorite single-player game. That was until A Thief’s End arrived.
They asked me this question, because–and I will get to this in a minute–similarities abound between the two titles. However, I could not compare them. The characters’ motivations differed too greatly, and subsequently, as did each game’s theme; In The Last of Us, Joel is motivated by the loss of his daughter. He sees Sarah in Ellie. Its theme–loyalty borne from necessity then from familial love–delivered a very emotional performance, and the theme for A Thief’s End–Nate’s lifelong motivation to recreate the family he never had–was just as visceral. Each theme was sired by character motivations and sum up two major facets of the human condition. Speaking from an author’s perspective, that is one way to craft deeper characters.
Now, onto those similarities I mentioned. As most are aware, the masters of The Last of Us–Neil Druckman and Bruce Straley–took over for Amy Hennig on narrative and creative direction of A Thief’s End and as such, one would expect nods to their previous blockbuster hit. The most obvious of these consist of environment interactions and optional conversations. The triangle button has triple, contextual purposes: first-and-foremost, reload, inspecting objects in the environment, and triggering those optional conversations. The latter two were most present in Last of Us.
Another similarity, perhaps a little less obvious, is narrative direction. Almost going unsaid, Druckman and Straley thrive on the darker parts of the human condition and as such, parts of Nate’s tale follow that trend as well. However, the two have proved their flexibility with A Thief’s End, because Nate is as quippy as he ever is, adding that typical Uncharted flair to its base narrative.
Now I’m going to change this up a bit. Rather than discussing the technical prowess everyone has come to expect from Naughty Dog, I am just going to leave you with some screenshots I captured on my own PS4. After all, a picture is worth a thousand words. Something to note: all of these shots were taken in-game.
For sake of space, I’ve thumbnailed these. Please click the picture for the full-sized image.
A glimpse into the myriad of locales in the game:
It’s very clear to see A Thief’s End pushes the PS4 to do exactly as it was created: look beautiful. That’s not to say there weren’t minor technical difficulties. One section on the island, I was monkeying around on a cliff edge and Nate’s arm clipped through, giving him the appearance of a broken arm until the next cutscene. Only once did I run into frame-rate drops, and that was pre-patch. Note, I haven’t played the multiplayer yet, so this only applies to the single-player campaign.
Speaking of the island, that brings me to world building. The level designers completely utilized every space in each chapter. Not that they haven’t before, but this time every set piece–from the most deadened trees to the craggiest of rocks–has a purpose, especially now that we have a new traversal item at our disposal. It almost seems the levels were designed around these pieces, rather than the pieces added post-rendering. Level design can make, or break games and Naughty Dog’s team are masters of their craft.
The ONLY criticism I have is pacing. While I could play an Uncharted game forever, the pacing during chapters can sometimes seem lopsided. One early chapter, the set-up appeared to take quite some time and there seemed to be more cutscene than gameplay. While it was necessary narrative, it dragged the series’ usual pacing down a bit. Now, this can be a yay-or-nay situation with some players, but it really didn’t irk me too much because the narrative is so enthralling, it eclipsed any gripe I had.
A Thief’s End, as Naughty Dog’s talent for clever titles go, is a most fitting one indeed. I am omitting discussion of the boss fight and final scene for obvious reasons, but take heart: as one of the biggest Uncharted fans, the end does the saga proud and I couldn’t have been happier when it came time for curtains. To summarize, Uncharted: A Thief’s End sends the series off with a bang. From grandiose set pieces and scenes to amazing character development, the game capped Nathan’s journey with a fancy hat and its suit coat tucked nicely. There is not a single thing I would change. And for that, I give it a whopping
And remember…Sic parvis magna…