Uncharted 4: A Thief's End is the perfect send-off to the journey of Nathan Drake. It's a Hollywood blockbuster in the form of a video game with a remarkable accomplishment in deep story telling & graphical fidelity. Its clashing themes, self-referential script, accomplished cinematography and dynamic characters tell a profoundly human story. We all await closure here, taking in our last feats as each chapter draws us nearer to the end of a long journey. It's not uncommon for characters to comment on the stunning views or to lament their aching backs as we pull ourselves forward. They as well as the player sense the finale of their adventure.
Set 3 years after the events of Uncharted 3, Nate has settled into an almost uncomfortable pedestrian life, though he still finds himself flirting with his exhilarating past. It's a relief, I realise, that he is as reluctant to let go as I am. This hope is answered upon the arrival of Samuel Drake, who is an even more reckless version of Nate, needs his little brother and partner-in-crime to hunt down a long forgotten pirate treasure. His desperate call for help coaxes Nate away from his boring life which is perhaps less fun than he is willing to admit. It takes you to explore the bonds both nurturing and dark between these two and Sam's arrival unearths a past long buried—holding up a mirror to our hero's destiny. He is addicted to the call of fortune, discovering its siren song alongside a brother who is learning to forget it. Two sides of a coin.
This is the pinnacle of Uncharted's gameplay. Action seamlessly fuses with scripted cinematic time and again. Jumping and grabbing has been fine tuned well enough to prevent a lot of the old, random leaps in the wrong direction. Combat is cleaned up with the removal of some aged mechanics – no longer can you toss grenades back at foes or roll to collect ammo. Sluggish melee sequences are a thing of the past. Most foes go down with a few jabs plus the occasional struggle and fighting with a teammate will often yield special duo-melee moves. Shooting feels more intense than ever and the accurate players will appreciate the satisfying headshot crosshair animation. Uncharted has never been much focused on gunplay, but this is the first title where it doesn't feel antiquated against a backdrop of stunning content.
The level designs for Uncharted 4 are top-notch as always. Drake finds his route amidst what appears as a dauntingly open setting. Combat zones themselves have evolved, built with a focus on mobility and many structural complex layers of architecture spattered with tall grass, giving Nathan ample room to remain undetected between his acrobatics. In addition to this, his new ability to tag enemies in his sights, make stealth a surprisingly viable option and players who can manoeuvre out of view once caught will be able to throw off encounters completely. Furthermore, Nate now carries with him a roped grappling hook and an affinity for sliding down treacherous slopes. Virtually no level goes without the crafty use of this new tool.
Uncharted 4's relentlessly gorgeous world plays a large part in the story's grandeur. It seems to have expanded in every direction with landscapes stretching for miles with incredible detail. It both benefits from and supplies the handful of new mechanics, for there's no better way to utilise a sprawling field than by wildly swinging and sliding through its strata. Our characters have grown just as impressive. The charming dialogue and flawless voice acting is matched by advanced facial animation. This cast feels more alive than ever before.
The dialogue options, although only a handful in content, strike as a newcomer to the series. Players will have their choice between which unbelievable discovery to share with his brother first or which snarky line to hurl at an adversary. Not certainly a feature the game required and its scarce implementation signals it as more of a playful nod to the series' long history than an integral part of play. Similar are the various optional conversations in each level triggered by approaching an ally at the right place and time. Both additions, though inconsequential, are peripheral bonuses lightly steeped in choice. Between the massive levels, new traversal techniques, dialogue liberties & everything else seems to reflect a sense of freedom, whether for rejoice or a snide contrast to its looming departure.
“I am a man of fortune, and I must seek my fortune.” The ambiguous words of Captain Henry Avery seem to echo through time for our heroes as they decide what is most valuable to them; refusing or unable to settle into the ways of average society.
Whether you find Uncharted 4's conclusion the proper one is an endless calculation of spoilers and motives. As for myself, I'll always long to see more of Uncharted but having known to bid farewell to Drake, it's an honour to have witnessed an unforgettable end to a monumental legacy.
As I stare for so long at the glowing hillsides, watch foliage blowing dozens of yards in the draw distance, thousands of individual leaves weaving in and out of the sunlight – all while Nathan Drake waits patiently, hanging from a tower ledge by a quarter inch of his fingertips to put the armed mercenary up in the cliff out of his misery, I look beyond them and a ruined cathedral overtakes my sight. None of us mind. We both relish these moments, knowing they are among the last. Fairly certain many of us will remember a fictional Nathan Drake a decade or two from now, a two-bit thief, risking it all for some pirate treasure...but that's not all who he was.