The Last of Us will go down as one of the most important games in Naughty Dog’s history. It gave the studio clout and free reign to do just about anything they wanted. Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End may be the fourth Uncharted game by them but in many ways, it is unlike the trilogy that were born on the PlayStation 3.
A Thief’s End’s wasn’t afraid to take its time building towards its action scenes or allowing quieter moments enough room to breathe. It wasn’t deterred by the fact that I haven’t shot someone in X amount of time. The game felt like an adventure game punctuated by action instead of an action game broken up with exploration. It takes a strong and confident studio to make that kind of shift and I was happy they were able to do so this time around.
Some will undoubtedly find the slower ramp up plodding and boring but I loved it. I soaked up every scene with Nathan Drake living the civilian life. Many games go down the path of the “retired” character falling back into his old life but it’s usually handled as a quick prelude before the action ramps up to full speed. There were set piece moments and firefights but they didn’t dial it to 11 until late.
Not since Drake’s Fortune has Naughty Dog introduced a new character as well as they did with Nathan’s brother, Sam. Chloe, Cutter and the cast of villains in previous games were always seen as the flavor of the game and were treated as such. They gave just enough backstory to frame the situation but the players never spent the time to witness the nuances and subtleties of a relationship.
I didn’t expect to spend as much time with Sam as I did. They showed how they interacted with one other and how much Nathan looked up to Sam. I even got answers to questions that I never questioned like how and why Nathan was so driven to hunt down treasures. I simply assumed that’s just what he did for a living.
A Thief’s End was a very reflective title. Nathan and gang spoke in reverence to their previous adventures but Naughty Dog also pulled from popular touchstones from the studio’s early history. Less overt but more important were the lessons and inspirations taken from The Last of Us. A more deliberate pacing and much less fantastical scenario for our heroes to face up against grounded the series like never before.
Make no mistake, the action and platforming was still patently Uncharted. It was unbelievable, bombastic and just the way I liked it. Time was very kind to Nate and company; they still had unbelievable upper body strength and all the luck in the world on their side. Nate did learn/recall a new trick though: the ability throw a hook shot and swing across giant chasms. Unfortunately he and his brother did not learn to use the rope to help one another up from hard to reach places so they continued to rely on pushing over bookcases, boxes and other platforms.
The last cover based third person I played was the Division and it allowed me to become complacent — I hunkered down behind cover for too long. Since I chose to play A Thief’s End on Hard difficulty, I witnessed many deaths as cover deteriorated quickly and the enemies weren’t afraid to lob grenades to flush me out into the open. New tricks like the ability to swing from up high while unloading a clip from midair were rendered ineffective due to the fragile nature of Drake on this difficulty.
I should have played the game on Moderate difficulty but then I wouldn’t have engaged in the stealth options as much as much as I did. Repeated deaths in these encounters weren’t frustrating because there were so many options and avenues of available to me. Being able to mark enemies like in Far Cry 4 made it easier to track enemies but it was still a bit tricky to find the ideal moment to strike. Naughty Dog teased rolled out these kinds of encounters in Drake’s Deception but they were few and far between. Now, nearly every encounter was setup with the mindset that I could tackle it in numerous ways.
For the first time in the franchise, the venerable jeep was used to do more than engage in fire fights — it was also an exploration and puzzle solving tool. Nathan wasn’t stumbling across the series’ trademark room scale puzzles on foot any more. He was exploring islands and vast spaces that required other modes of transportation. It was the closest Naughty Dog has come to an open world game and I liked it. Everything remained intricately detailed as I’d expect from them but it was in a much bigger space.
Naughty Dog wrapped up the Uncharted franchise in such a tidy bow and I would be perfectly content if we never see another title in the franchise again. There are still holes to be filled like how Sully and Nathan met but with how much Naughty Dog acknowledged in A Thief’s End, it would be incredibly difficult to shoe horn a title in without it sticking out like a sore thumb.
I’ve rarely felt old when playing a game. When I played Call of Duty: Black Ops III, it was just another game in a franchise that didn’t really age or mature per se. I felt differently while playing Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End. It resembled their PlayStation 3 games but it felt older and more refined. This game was the culmination of nearly a decade of world building, character development and stories in the Uncharted franchise. And as a tough a task as it was, they absolutely nailed it.
I love it