Republished on Tuesday, March 24, 2020: We're bringing this review back from the archives after the April PlayStation Plus lineup leaked. The original text follows.
Uncharted 4: A Thief's End won't redefine the gaming landscape like its predecessors, but Drake's latest adventure is arguably his greatest yet. With this PlayStation 4 exclusive journey, Naughty Dog has once again raised the bar for what's possible in the cinematic action gaming space. And while, in its fourth episode, Nate's globetrotting journey will struggle to surprise those who have grown weary of the California studio's set-laden stories, it's still a cut above virtually any other. narrative market experiences.
It's not immediately obvious, however. A Thief's End takes a little time to get started, with the opening exchanges extended in order to lay the groundwork for Sam – the protagonist's long-lost brother, who has never been mentioned in previous editions. The developer stops short of retconning the story, but squeezing the secret brother into the existing property plot, you have to suspend your disbelief; he does a pretty good job of making sure the main character's silence makes sense, but as with everything, a closer look will leave you questioning a few things.
Cut your heavy personality, though, and you'll come to the conclusion that the older Drake is a great addition. We learn more about Nate's upbringing in this fifteen-hour campaign than the previous three titles combined, and the intricacies of his relationships with Sam, Sully and, most importantly, Elena form the backbone of a fiction that is both grounded and relatable. This, juxtaposed against a backdrop of pirates and untold riches, results in a veritable page-turner type dough plot, where you'll be desperate to discover the next twist.
Uncharted has always injected fiction into fact, but its spin on Henry Avery's long-lost Libertalia is the series' best historical backdrop. The title is practically full of subplots, many of which are quietly inserted into the adventure through the use of Ish-esque collectibles. Again, the developer isn't inventing new terrain, just doing what it does best; the same goes for a flashback sequence that has all the fun and interactive exploratory side of the Hallowe'en shop section of The Last of Us: Left Behind.
But while the pacing slows to crawl in places, it's a skillfully put together game – lulls usually follow moments of intense action. Rather than upping the ante following the theaters of Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception, the studio has instead opted for settings that are a bit more personal. That doesn't mean they're any less spectacular – you've probably all seen the bike chase scene – but they serve a bigger purpose; the narrative wasn't just written about technical feats the company wants to achieve.
And for that reason, it's the most cohesive and cohesive Uncharted since Thieves - an impressive achievement considering the area it covers. As is the case with previous entries, you'll traverse the world, and while we won't describe any of the locations by name for fear of spoiling things, rest assured that the variety of environments is impressive. These levels are also much bigger than they've ever been before: you can get off the beaten path with regularity, and the introduction of vehicles gives you a lot more freedom to explore.
It's not an open-world game, but hidden journals and optional conversations are littered around these larger locales, enticing you to comb every last inch of the meticulously detailed play spaces. All of this means exploration is emphasized before action, and while that may prove divisive among those looking for combat above character development, it does mean gunfights feel noticeably more meaningful when they finally arrive. In fact, unlike older games where you'll dread wave after wave of antagonists, you'll be looking forward to shootouts here.
This is mainly because they are light years away from previous games. The sound design has been completely overhauled, so guns crackle rather than parry, while bowls of action have been given The Last of Us treatment, letting you approach with a mix of tactics on the fly. spirit. Tall grass, for example, allows you to approach stealthily, while the new grappling hook allows you to traverse play spaces with speed. Limited ammo and destructible cover encourage you to keep moving, and excellent controls ensure that every encounter is as satisfying as the last.
The only real downside is the inclusion of the ultimate Naughty Dog cliche: armored enemies. While there are far fewer bullet sponges present throughout the campaign than in previous entries, the studio can't resist the temptation to throw in a few, and it's still frustrating to toss grenades liberally at the feet of a mailed mercenary just to watch. walk away unscathed. Those eyes, along with constantly collapsing gears and platform-pushing puzzles, endorse the developer's decision to leave the franchise on a high — it can't reuse some of those mechanics again.
That said, the aforementioned grappling and constant presence of companion characters truly revamp environment traversal – the script achievements are nothing short of sublime. Factor vehicles into the mix and you end up with some really enjoyable navigation; it's never difficult, but the title constantly finds new ways to ask you how to reach the next ledge. The puzzles too - which have been hit or miss in previous Uncharted games - are much better here; they're taxing enough to give a sense of accomplishment, but also entertaining to solve.
And we should probably spare a paragraph for the presentation, which is simply stunning from start to finish. The larger environments are no less dense, and the views are some of the best we've seen on a console. But it's the art direction that outdoes it: each environment is as distinct and important as the last, and even when you spend the last few hours in the same general space, the studio uses subtle lighting adjustments and the weather to change color grading and create different moods.
The multiplayer is the cherry on top of this complex cake, and while we'll reveal our impressions online in an upcoming post, we'll say we love what we've played. The lack of co-op will be a major source of disappointment for many, but Naughty Dog's has already confirmed it's coming later this year. So you'll have to settle for the competitive sequel for now, which is slim in terms of modes, but put together nicely.
Running at 60fps, the basic shooter feels even smoother than the single-player campaign, and the addition of the grappling hook alongside chargeable melee attacks brings something a little different to the sequel. It's the in-game unlocks that are the real unique selling point here, though; money can be accumulated to complete in-game goals and then invested in computer-controlled companions who will support you or help Mysticals.
These MacGuffin special moves can turn the tide of battle when used appropriately, but are obviously expensive to unlock and need to be in the right hands. It's a dense set of systems, with bot-based trials designed to help you master them all. The modes aren't any less complex either: Team Deathmatch is self-explanatory, but there's a ranked alternative that lets you move through leagues; The loot-inspired Capture the Flag will need no introduction, while Command – a twist on Chain Link that puts a bounty on the MVP's head – may take a little longer to figure out.
All of this is backed by a rich roster of unlockables - from weapon mods to cosmetic items - to keep things fresh. The downside for some will be the implementation of microtransactions: Chests can be purchased using an in-game currency called Relics, but you'll only unlock random items with these - if you want something specific, you will need to purchase Uncharted Points from the PlayStation Store. The upside, of course, is that all future updates and map packs will be available for free, which is always a good thing.
A fitting end to one of PlayStation's most celebrated franchises, Uncharted 4: A Thief's End sits alongside The Last of Us at the pinnacle of cinematic action experiences. Naughty Dog's ability to tell gripping stories is unmatched, with Nate's final chapter deftly balancing the bombshell against genuinely connected themes. It won't redefine the genre quite like Uncharted 2, but the developer's boundless ambition means it's a bigger, better, and more beautiful adventure than ever before.
Review of copy provided by Sony Computer Entertainment