"Uncharted 4: A Thief's End" is the Best PS4 Game Yet

Uncharted 4: A Thief's End
Sony

Forget “Captain America: Civil War,” “Suicide Squad,” and “Ghostbusters,” the real blockbuster action experience of Summer 2016 arrives on Tuesday, May 10th, when Sony and Naughty Dog release the highly anticipated “Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End,” a game that has held players in thrall since the company announced it in conjunction with the announcement of the PlayStation 4 itself. It’s been touted as the very justification for the system, the game that will show what the PS4 can truly do.

Everything else has been a mere warm-up. Add to that the fact that it’s from the same team that created the award-winning masterpiece “The Last of Us,” plus months of delays, and could any game possibly live up to the hype surrounding “Uncharted 4”? I had my doubts. You shouldn’t. “​Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End” is a masterpiece. It’s not only the best game released yet for the PlayStation 4; it’s one of the best games ever made, both paying homage to classic gaming (and adventure film) experiences and showing us the future of video games. It is wildly entertaining, narratively enthralling, fascinatingly challenging, and, quite simply, as much fun as you can have with a controller in your hands.

The Return Of A Legend

For the fourth time, you step into the shoes of Nathan Drake, legendary treasure hunter cut from the same mold as Indiana Jones (the series as a whole owes a massive debt to the same action-adventure serials that inspired Indy in the first place).

With the history of three games behind it—and you really must play “Uncharted: The Nathan Drake Collection” to fully appreciate this one—“Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End” carries a lot more thematic weight than we typically expect from action games. Clearly, the success of “The Last of Us” proved to the Naughty Dog team that gamers wanted emotional resonance and character development, and so we get more of that this time than ever before.

Without spoiling anything, “A Thief’s End” is about family (brothers in particular) and the point in our lives when the people were connected to become more important to us than the things we do.

To that end, Nathan Drake (brilliantly voiced by Nolan North) has put behind his treasure-hunting days for good, settled down with Elena (Emily Rose), his wife. He works at Jameson Marine, helping fish cargo out of the river. We see a few formative flashbacks in early chapters, including one in which Nate and his brother Sam were on a mission to find treasure near a prison. Partnered with a third man named Rafe, Nate & Sam made a break for it, but Sam was killed. Or was he? It turns out he’s been in prison all these years, taken back into custody, and now has been released only because a crime lord knows that he’s the only man who can find the treasure of a notorious pirate named Avery. To save his brother’s skin, Nate gets back into the game, and the bulk of “A Thief’s End” consists of finding Avery’s treasure, hidden away in a legendary settlement of pirates, a colony where bad people tried to form a society of their own; a hidden land filled with pirate riches.

A Game That Plays Like A Summer Action Movie

The basic structure of the fourth “Uncharted” game is identical to the first three in that the majority of it consists of either climbing or shooting, with some puzzle-solving thrown in for good measure.

The best graphics I’ve ever seen (yes, ever) on the PS4 add a stunning degree of realism to the climbing scenes. As Nate traverses mountaintops or jumps across rooftops, there’s a three-dimensional quality to the gameplay that we’ve never seen before. And the addition of a grappling hook, which allows Drake to swing across chasms and down mountainsides adds another level of heart-racing action. Just the construction of the climbing sequences in “A Thief’s End” would warrant a recommendation on their own. They’re a master class in gameplay, owing to platformers of the past and showing us how much is possible with the deeper picture quality of the next generation.

Then there are the action set-pieces. Like a Summer blockbuster, “A Thief’s End” occasionally explodes into what can only be called action sequences, and they are as breathtaking as anything you’ve ever played. There’s a centerpiece one—you may have seen the video—that goes from a crowded market to a car chase to a rope hanging off a truck to a shoot-out and beyond. It’s one of the few times that I literally felt my heart racing while playing a video game, and it’s not the last time in this specific game. As “A Thief’s End” unfolds, it becomes more ambitious in its gameplay and narrative, building the difficulty at just the right speed for you to play along. By the end, you’re jumping, diving, shooting, and fighting like an expert, and the game also introduces a new stealth mechanic that works better for a franchise that has included a lot of explosions than one might expect.

Putting It Altogether

In the end, it’s a combination of all of these elements that make “Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End” a masterpiece. The jaw-dropping graphics, the incredible voice work, the detailed storytelling, the perfectly refined gameplay, and the addictive action. There has yet to be a game for the PS4 that has balanced all of these ingredients with such entertaining results. And I haven’t even mentioned the multiplayer, which features standard modes (Team Deathmatch, a Conquest- esque mode, etc.) across eight maps, with more maps and customizable downloads to come not for the extra cost of a Season Pass but included with the purchase price of the game.

It’s essentially the side dish to what is already a perfect meal.

My hope is that other studios look at “Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End” as they’re working on their own titles and ask how they can make their games more exciting, more consistent, more unique, and just more fun. I want to say this is the future of gaming, but it may be too high a bar to set.

Note: Since people seem obsessed with game-length-for-their-dollar lately, I’ll mention that this one took me about 13 hours, although I moved quickly to get the review filed and did a horrible job of finding the hidden treasures (16/109). If it’s more difficult for you or you just want to explore, it could easily be 15 or 16.

Disclaimer: A review copy of the game was provided by the publisher, Sony.