With a name like A Thief’s End looming over it, Naughty Dog’s new game, Uncharted 4 feels destined to fail, likely to fall into a trap of predictability. Director and Writer Neil Druckmann (The Last of Us) takes over from Uncharted series creator Amy Hennig in Uncharted 4, and delivers a fantastic sendoff, one that shows a real progression throughout Naughty Dog’s games.
The Uncharted series centers on the story of Nathan (Nate) Drake, self proclaimed heir to the historical figure Sir Francis Drake. After abandoning his former life of adventure and treasure hunting following the events of Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception, Nathan Drake has fallen into a normal life with his wife Elena Fisher. When his thought to be long dead brother, Samuel (Sam) Drake, comes back, he asks for one last adventure. Sam is indebted to a drug lord and must find the treasure of infamous pirate Henry Avery located in the commy pirate haven Libertalia . Nate, being the noble man he is, reluctantly gets thrust back into the dangerous life of a thief.
The game does a fantastic job at showing Nate’s apathy towards his new life, and his longing for his old life. Even though he insists that the search for the treasure is only to save Sam, there are passing moments, sometimes in optional conversations, that suggest strongly otherwise. Nate’s 4th main adventure is as much about the thrill of finding treasure as it is about trying to get away from the life in which he has chosen. Sam’s return gives Nate the catalyst necessary to restart his adventures.
When he embarks on his adventures, Nate often has a companion, thanks to Naughty Dog’s existing AI companion system, and the stellar cast of voices, (Nolan North as Nathan Drake, Troy Baker as Samuel Drake, Emily Rose as Elena Fisher, and Richard McGonagle as Victor Sullivan) Nate as a character is improved regardless of who he interacts with. Companions will mark enemies if you are playing stealthily, or will shoot people if you go guns blazing. It’s refreshing to see a game that gives functional AI and makes them entertaining.
The gameplay of Uncharted 4 is similar to the other games, climb obstacles, shoot people while in cover, solve puzzles and have quicktime like action sequences. Shooting feels good, and the variety of guns is nice. Uncharted has never really been about stellar gameplay, it’s been about the presentation. The idea behind Uncharted is that the player gets an interactive, beautiful Indiana Jones like adventure. In that respect, Uncharted 4 feels like a pinnacle.
The graphics are the best on Playstation 4, lighting, water, and small details reign supreme. While driving a 4×4, the mirrors actually reflect the surroundings in real time.
New to Uncharted 4 is the rope gameplay mechanic, it’s thrilling to use the rope to get behind enemies or swing from the rope onto an enemy. Open environments are also more prevalent, but don’t mistake Uncharted 4 for a open-world game. Another new and good edition are the, albeit scarce, choices in conversation. Naughty Dog has a story to tell, so the choices in conversation aren’t story significant, but they do give more agency to the player.
Remnants from The Last of Us (TLOU), Naughty Dog’s previous game, are visible. There is a lot more finding crates to stand up on than previous games, and the tone of Uncharted 4 feels darker, and somber. Surely the introduction of Neil Druckmann had a lot to do with that. While the darker story feels apt, it’s the environmental storytelling that is lifted from TLOU that is extraordinary.
Never before has there been a game that rewards finding journal entries so well. As Nate makes his way to Libertalia, we are met with adventurers who gave up everything, including their lives, to find Avery’s treasure. Only by reading the notes they left behind does the story reveal itself. The main motivation for finishing the game is to finish Nathan Drake’s story, but the subplot of Henry Avery’s story is in and of itself compelling. The story of Libertalia is surprisingly deep, and meant to parallel Nate’s story.
The motto of Sir Francis Drake is “Greatness from small beginnings”, Nate’s story is supposed to reflect this, and in similar fashion to Uncharted 3, we learn more and more about Drake’s small beginnings. Henry Avery’s motto is “I am a man of fortune, and must seek my fortune.” For Drake, Uncharted 4 challenges both of these assumptions, questioning whether Nate must really seek his fortune, or is his greatness already achieved.
Nate is a character that is witty, and was made to feel like an everyman, this makes it all the more perplexing that Nate kills dozens, if not hundreds of people on every adventure. This time around there is a greater option to get through the game stealthily, and the gameplay surrounding stealth is executed well, supposedly the idea behind more stealth is that Nate doesn’t kill as much. I just wish Nate would have to acknowledge, or reckon with being a murderer. His kill count has always felt out of place considering his character.
In the pages of Drake’s trusty notebook lies something written by him. It reads, “There must be a beginning of any great matter, but the continuing onto the end until it be thoroughly finished yields the true glory.” Uncharted 3 could have been the ending of Nate’s story, but in Uncharted 4 Nate’s story is thoroughly finished. The ending will surprise people, it makes Nate’s story undeniably over, but does so in a great way, one that is deserving of Nathan Drake.