Naughty Dog had a console generation formula: A new IP, two sequels, and then a fourth, different game. The first PlayStation had the three Crash Bandicoot games, then a kart racer. The PlayStation 2 had the three Jak and Daxter games, then a kart racer. The PlayStation 3 had the three Uncharted games, then wacky kart racer The Last of Us. So for consistency’s sake, I wasn’t sure there needed to be an Uncharted 4. Especially since the third game seemed to wrap a bow on the franchise. Well, I was wrong: Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End is a bow-wrapping masterclass.
The leap to the much more powerful PlayStation 4 is immediately noticeable – Naughty Dog has always had a knack for getting the most out of Sony’s machines, and Uncharted 4 is one of the best-looking games I’ve ever played. Sure, that’s superficial, but given the type of game this is, it ends up meaning a lot. The exotic locations are gorgeous to look at and explore, it makes the adventure more alive and dangerous and the destruction of ruins more tragic. And when the characters are this detailed, the motion capture so good, you get one of the few games where watching cinematics is a genuine pleasure.
Like all great franchises eventually, Uncharted 4 is about family; specifically, Nate’s long-lost brother Sam, who was presumed dead at the very beginning of Nate’s adventuring career. Now Nate, after the insanity of Uncharted 3, has done his best settling down with Elena, but he’s getting restless living a normal life. So when Sam resurfaces and explains that he needs to get the greatest pirate hoard in history, it doesn’t take much convincing to get Nate on board. But like all lost treasures, it’s stayed lost for a reason, and the brothers are far from the only ones looking for it.
Most of the game is played with Sam at your side, doing his best to help take out enemies and get boosted up ledges by you. You don’t really have to worry about protecting Sam, The Last of Us this is not, and giving the game constant banter from beginning to end is definitely a net positive. It is kind of like that other game in that Sam is played by Troy Baker, the guy who played Joel in The Last of Us and one of the most prolific video game actors today. But, you know, he gets a lot of work because he’s good, and he and Nolan North are pretty great together in this game.
But this is a game and I play Uncharted games because I’m looking for the epic set pieces. This one has a ton of them, many of which built atop some of the new abilities added to the game. Nate has a grappling hook now, which he can you to swing or climb on certain points of the world. He also has learned how to drive cars, which is used both in action scenes and puzzle solving. This all comes together in one of the game’s high points, when Nate smashes through a city in a jeep, then proceed to grapple between various cars and motorcycles as he chases his target. It’s nuts.
There’s also a multiplayer mode but I didn’t really care. There’s some coop stuff that I’d like to check out, I guess, if someone I know ever buys this game. Really, though, it doesn’t matter. I came for a new Nathan Drake adventure and I got maybe the best one yet. My biggest complaint is with the villains, who both are pushed in unfortunate directions at the end of the story, kind of ruining them for me. But I loved me all that family togetherness. Uncharted 4, you’re great! Never make another one.