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Forget the pirate’s life. Yo ho, yo ho, it’s a Nathan Drake life me.
Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End brings the digital adventurer to the PlayStation 4 on May 10. Developer Naughty Dog has said that this is the last installment in the franchise, which has become one of Sony’s most popular exclusive series (and now Uncharted 4 is one of its most important exclusives ever).
After the incredible trilogy on the PlayStation 3, which rocketed the standards for digital acting and action sequences in gaming, fans (including me, because I really do love this series) had some high expectations. Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception came out in 2011, and a series of delays for Uncharted 4 didn’t exactly bring out gamers’ patience.
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Is A Thief’s End worth the wait? Well, does Sully like cigars? Do ancient cities have a bad habit of imploding soon after someone discovers them? Does Nathan Drake have the grip of a world-class arm wrestler covered in super-glue?
I’m trying to say that I like Uncharted 4.
What you’ll like
It’s the best-looking console game ever
Uncharted 4 looks so good it’s actually kind of confusing — like, what is everyone else’s excuse? I haven’t seen any other PlayStation 4 or Xbox One that can compare. I don’t know if any have even come close. A combination of incredible animation, great acting, and detailed models make each character appear convincing and real.
The environments are spectacular. Outdoor locations are dense and full of color, always giving opportunities to enjoy the scenery. You’ll often see views that stretch out, showing vistas of islands, cities, and oceans worthy of postcards. Even indoor locations, such as catacombs to even laundry rooms, have fun details to discover. Nothing feels copy-and-pasted (OK, I think I saw the same painting hanging in a few different locations).
This game looks so good it stands as an argument against Sony’s rumored PlayStation 4 Neo, a supposed new version of the system with more powerful hardware. If Uncharted 4 can look this pretty, why do we need something that can handle better graphics? Of course, no one else seems to be able to make a game shine on a console as well as Naughty Dog does. I’m beginning to wonder what horrible Well of Souls that studio dunked itself into in order achieve these graphics.
A thrilling, well-paced adventure
I often describe Uncharted as a third-person shooter. Even with all of the climbing and jumping, shooting is the core of the series. Uncharted 4, however, is a better paced game. It still features plenty of adventuring and exciting set pieces, but fewer of those moments happen as you’re trying to pop people in the head. I shot at people less than I had in the series’ other games.
You can even skip a lot of the gun sections completely if you’re good enough at stealth. The large, dense areas that enemies patrol give Drake plenty of room to maneuver, so you can climb and duck your way past encounters. If they spot you, you’ll suddenly find yourself in the middle of a rough gunfight. Uncharted 4 sometimes stacks the odds against you. It’s hard to go by unnoticed, which makes sense. Drake is a treasure-hunter, not a covert agent. However, you will probably be able to quietly eliminate some enemies before all hell breaks loose. You might even be able to take out enough of them that you can afford goons to see you as you make a mad dash for your escape.
The pacing’s great outside of combat as well. It scatters plenty of quiet moments between the louder action sequences. You can engage in option conversations with your companions if you want to linger a bit longer before furthering the story. And even all of those action moments can feel different. Some are gunfights (many avoidable, some of them mandatory), others are brawls, and some simply have you running for your life. You’ll also have other sections devoted to exploring, climbing, and solving puzzles. Each activity is fun, and the variety means you never really know what’s coming next.
Smooth melee combat
Animations that are more fluid and contextual attacks improve Uncharted’s brawling. The basics are simple: one button attacks, while another helps you escape if an enemy grabs you. However, it’s amazing how well fights interact with their surroundings. Attacking someone who’s next to a wall plays out differently than punching someone who’s out in the open. Your friends will also join in if they’re close enough, creating these awesome team-up attacks that flow in-and-out of the mayhem of the brawls. It all helps to make Uncharted feel even more cinematic.
Drake’s new tool
A lot Drake’s adventuring involves climbing, but a new item helps to break up the monotony of shimmying across edges. Nate now has a grappling hook that enables him to swing from certain points. While this helps with getting around, you can also use the rope to quickly swing around a battlefield or save yourself from a deadly fall. Plus, swinging around makes you feel like Tarzan, so that’s fun.
Multiplayer still feels like Uncharted
Uncharted 4 feels like the kind of game that doesn’t need a multiplayer component. However, it’s online competitive modes are fun. It’s familiar to anyone who’s played team deathmatch-based shooters like Call of Duty, Halo, or Gears of War on a console: It’s all about leveling up and earning new weapons and abilities.
The hook rope also makes an appearance here, and it helps to make the multiplayer feels stand out from other games (and it’s a lot of fun to kill someone by attacking them from a swing jump). You’re also earning money during every match that you can use to unlock certain abilities depending on your build. These include extra grenades or mystical abilities that can create a bubble that slows down all enemies. Again, they help make Uncharted’s multiplayer stand out in a way that makes sense for the franchise.
What you won’t like
The multiplayer feels a little shallow right now
As fun as the multiplayer is, it’s needs more. The maps are pretty, but I miss the more dynamic levels from Uncharted 3’s multiplayer (for example, one map would start on a plane midflight and then end in an airfield). You also don’t have access to a lot of modes. You’re stuck with variations on team deathmatch, capture points, and capture the flag, which are about the three most standard forms that you find in many other games. These are also all competitive types, so you can’t play any cooperative modes right now. You can engage in some challenges that help give you practice with different abilities, but they don’t make up the lack of variety in multiplayer.
Now, at least Naughty Dog has said that more modes and maps are coming (including co-op), and that they will all be free. I just wish that more was ready for launch. As it is, I don’t see myself playing Uncharted 4’s multiplayer for a long time.
I can’t imagine why anyone would own a PlayStation 4 and not get Uncharted 4. It’s the greatest adventure you could ever have on your couch. I didn’t want to get into the story too much, since I don’t want to spoil anything for you, but A Thief’s End is an exciting, emotional journey for a group of characters that we’ve come to love since Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune came out for the PlayStation 3 back in 2007.
Sure, the multiplayer isn’t as excellent as the campaign, but it’s still a fun component of a package that would have easily been worth $60 without it.
Uncharted 4’s journey is gorgeous and thrilling. It’s full of surprises and callbacks that fans of the series will love. It manages to pay tribute to what came before while offering a satisfying conclusion to Drake’s story. If this series truly is done, Uncharted 4 ensures that it’s a tale we’ll never forget.
Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End comes out for the PlayStation 4 on May 10. Sony provided GamesBeat with a copy of the game for the purposes of this review.
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