Have you ever felt like there’s more? Have you ever been swept up into a world that isn’t your own, one where you can do things that you’d never dream of accomplishing in real life? Where you can leave the 9-5 behind and instantly leave whatever is plaguing you in this life far behind?
I have. I have been filled with this sense of awe and wonder. For the last 10-years, the Uncharted franchise (among others) has been my vehicle to for such escape. Since I first picked up Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune back in 2007–likeness to the titular character aside–it immediately resonated and transported me to a place where I could be the me I’d always dreamed about. I suppose this is what the video game industry represents: a chance to live outside of the day to day, and escape into a world of adventure. To this Disciple, none have accomplished this better than Uncharted, and the stakes were very high for me going into it’s final installment, Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End…
Drake’s Fortune was a compete success that still holds up today, a console generation later. Recently playing through the Remastered collection on the PS4, I immediately got drawn back into that world where I felt one with the character, where I felt like I was controlling myself, and I feel like that is a major piece of the charm that is this franchise. Nathan Drake is fallible. He’s vulnerable. He’s an everyman; like most of us gamers, he’s just a regular guy that constantly finds himself in irregular circumstances and with a little bit of luck (often bad) — and a lot of wit and quick thinking — Nate is able to come out on top, just barely. He perseveres. He endures. He fights on. Even when the odds are a million to one, he still presses forward and that is something we should all try and emulate.
Uncharted 2: Among Thieves is, by far, the most critically acclaimed and beloved of the three previous installments. In fact, the game still tops many “Best of All Time” lists. For me it was a continuation of the adventure, and I must have dumped Skyrim-level hours into that game, easily the chief reason my first PS3 died an untimely death. Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception, was good, not great. How could it have lived up to its predecessor? Nothing could possibly follow that perennial masterpiece and be as good. Perhaps it was meant to be the final story in the Uncharted verse, but with an underwhelming response. With UC4, however, it seems the masterminds behind the franchise had something else, something far more grand in mind for Nathan Drake’s swan song– and, nerds, did it deliver.
Uncharted IV meets Nathan some time after the events of part III. Drake’s married to Riha.. err.. Elena, and he lives a normal, peaceful life managing a salvage operation. The memories of the adventures before still nag at Nate– and the player gets the sense that he, more or less, begrudgingly has accepted this new life of his at the behest of his loving wife, as to not lose her and also, most saliently, not to end up dead. A ghost from his past soon emerges and convinces Nathan to head out with him in search of the largest pirate horde in history, and adventure that would top all his previous forays into the unknown to date. Nathan agrees and keeps it all a secret from Elena, and our most ambitious, globetrotting adventure yet unfolds.
Through several different locales and breathtaking action sequences, we follow Nathan through every fall, every punch, every puzzle and every twist and turn so intricately crafted by its creators, that often I found myself needing to catch my breath. That is what this game is: one that makes the player invested, one that makes the player crave and yearn for more. To boldly take another step in the dark, or reach for that next hand hold, not knowing what awaits them on the other side. In a word, it’s exhilarating.
Always on the vanguard of cutting edge technology and graphics, developer Naughty Dog is nigh universally praised for its content, and Uncharted 4 absolutely lives up to the expectations here. From run down medieval catacombs, to the cliffs of Scotland, to the vistas of beautiful Madagascar, to intricately detailed undersea depths, and finally to a lush, hidden away jungle sanctuary, A Thief’s End stands head and shoulders above the crowd in its wonder. I often found myself just stopping for a moment and taking everything in, practically feeling the wind on my face, smelling the fresh air, and I was transported to these places. The varying destinations run the gamut of diversity, and really showcased the might of the developers and the attention to detail that the countless technicians worked their tails off for so long to achieve. This game is breathtaking, plain and simple.
Mechanically, not much has changed, except that the combat and movement mechanics have been slightly upgraded. Feeling more like Uncharted 2, shooting is a little smoother and more intuitive; the player can even utilize an auto aim feature, that would most assuredly assist in the higher difficulty settings. While I’m on a topic of difficulty, I’ll take a moment to talk about this game’s AI. Some of the series’ detractors have claimed in the past that enemies tend to be a little on the dumb side, and they do often follow similar and repetitive patterns. Not here. No way. Enemies, while not exactly varied, come at Nathan from all different angles and utilize smart tactics: suppression, grenades, rushers, and flanking maneuvers. Cover is also not as durable here, and the player has to constantly be on the move to avoid death. There are a few new traversal techniques that add new elements to the experience, such as a grappling hook and a spike of sorts to lodge into predetermined spots on walls. The hook also allows Nate the ability to travel fast around gunsfights and pull off some pretty unique stunts, kills and escapes; but beware, your enemies can do the same thing, too.
The Uncharted franchise has never really been known for it’s multiplayer mode, and since its addition in Uncharted 2, its consistently gotten better. While still a Division ‘Till I Die online multiplayer gamer, I found this iteration to come complete with everything I love about the single player story. As the main campaign dials down the combat a little bit from previous entries, its Multiplayer arena finds it in full force. Much has stayed the same; it’s basically Team Death Match or Capture the.. Treasure. While there are still many people who are just too damn good at it for their own good (seriously kids, get a life), Uncharted Multiplayer “Casuls” such as myself can still find plenty to enjoy, such as getting enough kills with a certain type of weapon to unlock the beast mode versions later on, or simply to buy enough credits to unlock the “Hotline Bling” dance for your character. (Drake doing Drake better than Drake)
Not since Metal Gear Solid 4, has an end to a franchise brought upon such an emotional response from this devout gamer. The series gets wrapped up so neatly in the best, most pristine bow this sentimental schlub could imagine. I laughed, I yelled out in anger, I cried. Yes, I cried. Happy tears, but tears none the less. To think of the journey that I’ve been on with this character–with all these characters–and to see it come to the most fitting end possible was an achievement that I can’t thank the developers for enough. Filmmaker Cameron Crow talks about moments where we are happy/sad: times when we feel both emotions simultaneously. And what we have here is happy that I experienced such a masterpiece, such a tour de force of excitement and thrills and unbelievably gripping story telling; and yet, what we also have is sadness that it’s all over, sad that I’ll never be able to step into Nathan Drake’s shoes again. Finishing with A Thief’s End is a bittersweet feeling as it ended so perfectly, I wouldn’t WANT there to be another.
Sic Parvus Magna… a callback to Uncharted 1: Drake’s Fortune that means “Greatness from Small Beginnings”. From Uncharted 1 all the way to 4, you’ve attained greatness Naughty Dog, and Nathan Drake will always be the perennial hero to this gamer. Thank you for the thrills, the wonder, the awe, and the feels.