Many Playstation fans have spent almost a decade living vicariously through famed adventurer Nathan Drake. We were there when he met his wife, the hard-hitting reporter named Elena. We were there when he hallucinated for the better part of an afternoon in the lost city of the damned, also when he sank a cruise boat, fell off a dozen ledges, and we were there when found a green-eyed minx named Chloe Frazer.
Now the story of Nathan Drake, Sully and Elena is coming to an end, and Drake’s swansong offers almost everything that has made the franchise so enjoyable in the past, even with a few missteps.
Most Sony fans have been patiently awaiting the launch of “Uncharted: A Thief’s End” since it was teased two years ago at E3. The game suffered quite a few delays since then, but after all of the beta testing and waiting, the final installment plays out as the perfect sendoff for the everyman Nathan Drake.
When we first met Drake back in 2007 he was salvaging the ocean for lost coins. Now a much older Drake has returned to undersea salvaging, only this time it’s not for buried treasure. Drake has given up the life of an Indiana Jones substitute, instead choosing to live a quiet life with his wife Elena Fisher. Drake’s adventuring, like his treasures, are now kept in storage as keepsakes of a different time.
All of this domestic bliss is shaken when Sam, a brother that Nate has never talked about before, shows up at his door asking for Drake’s help. Drake thought Sam died over 10 years ago, and we learn that Sam is still searching for the very same pirate treasure that almost killed hi. Sam needs Drake to get to the treasure, and Drake has to decide if he’ll give adventuring another go.
Obviously he does, or this would have been the most beautiful salvaging game ever created.
The story isn’t perfect, even by action-adventure standards. The writers frequently solve Drake’s issues with weak cliches or bizarre twists. The brother is a great example of this. The Uncharted games in the past have always introduced new characters, but it wasn’t until the third-installment that it became apparent who was just a one-off character, and who was a mainstay. Now when a new character is introduced, it’s hard to become invested in anything they want, or care about.
Adding the brother in the final installment I think was a big mistake. The game had to take a lot of time filling out his backstory, his character arc and his connection to Drake. That would have been time better spent with the characters we already cared about, even bringing back a character would have been better than the long-lost-brother scenario.
If you consider the game also had to do this with the other four main characters that were added to the story this year, you start to get an idea about the time wasted on less important arcs. If this wasn’t the final installment, none of that would be an issue, but in the closing chapter of a story, you want to stick with the core group.
Adding a new character is a great way to mix things up, change motivations or introduce new challenges, but it’s often times a lazy way to introduce drama or adversity. In the final set piece the focus shouldn’t stray from the main-cast. That being said, the game doesn’t fail to create an emotional connection between Drake and Sam, and the new characters do offer a few key moments that allow Drake to shine through.
Unlike the new characters, I wish the game would have spent a lot more time utilizing the new gameplay mechanics. Drake has gotten a little bit more stealthy over the years, but you won’t be going “Big Boss” through the entire game.
Drake started using a grappling hook, which isn’t used very often, but is a wonderful tool when it’s showcased in puzzles and hidden locations. The hook will also let you get to higher ground in a firefight, but it’s not something that is shoehorned in or put at the center of the gameplay, for better or for worse.
While every good story utilizes motivation, motivation and obsession are also key points in the actual plot of Uncharted 4. The game often times makes you question why each of the main characters are searching for this buried treasure. Each character has the monetary reward, a personal stake in finding the treasure, and a sort of hidden reason why they are obsessed with finding fame and glory. The fun in playing through the game is finding out which motivation wins in the end. This being the final installment, I won’t give away the characters or plots.
Uncharted still has gunfights, but fewer battles than we have seen in the past. The ridiculous body count that this “everyman” Drake has racked up in the Uncharted games has always been one of the problems with the series. That and that problem when you want to jump to a ledge but instead jump off in the wrong direction and plummet to your death.
The game has a faster pace than previous installments, but it’s missing those cinematic moments that made the franchise so memorable. The cruise ship that we mentioned earlier, the train falling off the cliff in the second game, or the plane going down in the third, were all wondrous moments that became a staple in the series. This game doesn’t exactly follow that same structure, but it’s emotional notes are far more crafted than those previous games.
“Uncharted 4” strives in its emotional moments with Drake, Elena and Sully. The gameplay offers more choices, the animation is much more fluid and the game overall is a gorgeous addition to the franchise.
The story at times can be hit or miss depending on your tastes, but all of that boils down to an opinion and structurally it’s a great game to play through. The game does a terrific job setting up the idea that each treasure hunt will cost Drake something he cares about, and you spend the game wondering how much this final expedition will cost Drake in the end.