Uncharted 4: A Thief's End (2016, PS4)

By Manu / May 17, 2017

I've never been much of an Uncharted fan. I'm not sure why though: I've played 1-3 and, while I thought they were really good games with some great production values and setpieces, they always left me with an empty feeling, and I never got what everyone else seems to love about them and makes them GOTY material. Maybe because the climbing is dumb and automatic, maybe because I don't like the combat that much and the games are 75% combat, maybe because the "puzzles" just spell out the solutions for you in Drake's journal. I don't know. I loved TLoU for what it's worth, I thought it was worth the praise. But not Uncharted.
   I always liked the stories though, and I thought they were the best part of 2 and 3, and that's how I at least got some enjoyment out of them. The writing is funny, the characters are likeable, and overall I thought the game was better when it wasn't throwing wave after wave of bullet-spongey enemies at you (and that's also why I didn't like 1 at all. Fuck 1.)

   Cue Uncharted 4. I heard the stories about how it was a disappointment for a lot of people because it had less setpieces and combat and such, so I figured I was going to love it. And boy, I was right. This is easily my favorite Uncharted game, by a wide margin.
   I mean, it's not a perfect game and has its share of problems (mostly pacing-related), but overall I think Naughty Dog did the right thing by having less combat in the game. It was always the weakest part of the previous games for me. But the combat that's in there is the best the series has ever had. I loved the large arenas, the movement. Even the stealth mechanics were fun, if pretty basic. It's a shame that the one Uncharted game where I feel they nailed the combat is the one that has so little of it. I'd replay fucking Uncharted 1 if the combat was like this.
   I liked how they tweaked some of the series' mechanical staples too. For once some of the puzzles required me to actually think so that was good. I still hate characters telling me what to do if I don't figure it out myself in 30 seconds though. The climbing was still mostly automatic, but I liked the more open approach with optional routes and how there was less reliance on dumb "shit gets broken" during climbing.
   And the graphics. Good lord.
   Every single frame has so many things going on.
   I'm not usually impressed by graphics, and I never got all the "OMG Naughty Gods" stuff from the previous Uncharteds, but this one looks absolutely amazing. Almost CG at times. Every new location was jawdropping. The cloth effects. The way the sunlight goes through the vegetation. Seriously impressive stuff, especially considering most of these levels are absolutely huge. I've seen free-roaming games take place in maps smaller than some of them. And the consistent framerate during everything. I did notice some drops at times but it was during scenes that didn't look as graphically intensive as others that did run at a perfect 30, so that's kinda weird.
   The Madagascar section is quite easily the best part for me. Working through the busy marketplace crowds, climbing the old church, shootout in the market, tank section, chase section. It was Indiana Jones level of amazing. It's probably just me but I enjoyed populated areas more than exploring jungles and finding lost stuff. There's a type of anticipation familiar with the works of Hunter S. Thompson/Hemingway in the air which is felt. All that's missing was a local lass who rebuffs Drake's advances.
   I liked the more grounded story this time. Character dialogue was on point, as expected from ND. I liked the character of Sam, but I don't think he really benefited from having been voiced by Troy Baker. I think any competent actor could've done the job. Nadine and Rafe were really nice additions to the cast too, although Nadine wasn't as important to the plot as I had expected from the pre-release material. Rafe was a great villain though, and I really enjoyed his character.
   I'd totally watch a sitcom about Nate and Elena's day-to-day life. I love them. Probably the best couple in gaming history.
   I still think the game has some big pacing issues though, especially in the first half, and takes too long to get going. I think I was three hours into the game, on chapter five, and had actually played for half an hour. The rest of it was either cutscenes or walking. The game would've benefited from more action in the first half, that's for sure. But the second half was pretty much perfect and I really enjoyed the downtime because it allowed me to bask in the beautiful scenery and pay attention to every detail, instead of being funneled from setpiece to setpiece.
   tl;dr: I never liked Uncharted that much, but I loved Uncharted 4, probably for the same reasons a lot of people hated it.

Uncharted 4: A Thief's End is runner-up to Insomnia's 2016 Game of the Year.