Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End will not redefine the gaming landscape like its predecessors, but Drake’s latest adventure is undoubtedly his greatest yet. With this PlayStation 4 exclusive voyage, Naughty Dog has once again raised the bar for what’s possible in the cinematic action game space. And while, in its fourth instalment, Nate’s globe-trotting trip will struggle to surprise those who’ve grown weary of the Californian studio’s set-piece laden stories, it’s still a significant cut above practically every other narrative driven experience on the market.
That’s not immediately obvious, however. A Thief’s End takes a little while to get started, with the opening exchanges extended in order to lay the groundwork for Sam – the protagonist’s long-lost brother, who’s never been mentioned in previous editions. The developer stops short of retconning the story, but by squeezing the secret sibling into the existing property’s plot, you do have to suspend your disbelief; it does a very good job of ensuring that the main character’s silence makes sense, but as with anything, intense scrutiny will leave you questioning a few things.
Mute your ponderous personality, though, and you’ll come to the conclusion that the older Drake is an excellent addition. We learn more about Nate’s upbringing in this 15 or so hour campaign than all of the three previous titles combined, and the complexity of his relationships with Sam, Sully, and, crucially, Elena form the backbone for a fiction that’s both grounded and relatable. This, juxtaposed against a backdrop of pirates and untold riches, results in a real page turner-type pulp plot, where you’ll be desperate to uncover the next twist.
Uncharted’s always injected fiction into fact, but its spin on Henry Avery’s long-lost Libertalia is the series’ best historical backdrop yet. The title is practically brimming with sub-plots, many of which are discreetly inserted into the adventure through the use of Ish-esque collectibles. Again, the developer’s not inventing new ground, but it’s simply doing what it does best; the same is true of a flashback sequence which has all of the playfulness and exploratory interactivity of the Hallowe’en shop section from The Last of Us: Left Behind.
But while the pacing slows to a crawl in places, it’s an expertly assembled game – said lulls typically follow moments of intense action. Rather than upping the ante following the theatrics of Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception, the studio’s instead opted for set-pieces that are a little more personal. That doesn’t mean that they’re any less spectacular – you’ve probably all seen the bike chase scene by now – but they serve a greater purpose; the narrative hasn’t simply been written around technical feats that the firm wants to achieve.
And for that reason, this is the most consistent and cohesive Uncharted since Among Thieves – an impressive achievement considering just how much ground it covers. As is the case with past entries, you’ll be spanning the globe, and while we won’t outline 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 traipse off the beaten path with regularity, and the introduction of vehicles gives you much more freedom to explore.
It’s not an open world game by any stretch, but hidden journals and optional conversations are littered around these wider locales, giving you incentive to comb every last inch of the meticulously detailed play spaces. This all means that exploration is emphasised ahead of action, and while that may prove divisive among those looking for combat above character development, it does mean that the shootouts feel distinctly more meaningful when they eventually arrive. In fact, unlike in older games where you’ll be dreading wave after wave of antagonists, you’ll be looking forward to the gunfights here.