Nathan Drake represents many things, both hero and human alike—flawed, yet valiant; adrenaline-junkie, yet logical; Indiana Jones, yet Thelma and Louise; if I had to sum it all up in one word, legacy. Likewise, the Uncharted series has lived in the sun for Naughty Dog and Sony for near a decade, and his final fore into the jungle caverns and neck-breaking danger is both his finest and most intense journey ever, but I really do hope it’s also his last.
There’s little argument that Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End is the truly fitting finale to Nathan Drake’s epic conquest of all things treasure-related, but the commitment to emotional narrative and personal impact is what truly kept us wanting more year after year. Mired by only a few technical caveats and a slightly underwhelming final act, Uncharted 4 is the definitive reason to finally, finally pick up a PlayStation 4, and to play one of the best games in recent times.
Our hero Nathan Drake’s (Nolan North) prerequisite obsession this time around is the treasure of a mysterious 17th century pirate said to have escaped with over 50 million of today’s money and disappeared somewhere around Madagascar. Cue travel, exploration, and punching masked men from behind walls.
Nate’s retirement is interrupted by the return of his brother Sam (Troy Baker), a former accomplice who was seemingly killed while on a job 15 years prior. Sam’s life is in danger, he explains, and the only way he can be saved is if he and Nate pick up that job where they left off. Nate acquiesces, and, under questionable pretenses, sets off on his final adventure.
Uncharted 4 has the most cogent campaign of the series. There are no warlords seeking ancient weapons of mass destruction, no sunken cities with immortal mutant guardians — there’s just the lost pirate colony of Libertalia and a literal boatload of treasure hidden within. It’s a straightforward bounty, but it’s refreshingly grounded, focusing more on the parties chasing you than some mystical MacGuffin waiting at the end of their quest.
On the technical front, there really is little to evolve or improve on when it comes to the Uncharted formula, but Naughty Dog did their homework well, fine-tuning the mechanics already in place. Stealth is made more tempting by the sheer number of enemies you face. You can go all guns blazing pretty much whenever you like, but at many times you’ll find yourself too heavily outnumbered to survive, which makes the sneaky approach far more tempting. Areas are designed with greater width and height, so moving around, above or below enemies is much more feasible. Naughty Dog has also introduced areas of long grass that you can use to hide yourself in before you pounce on an unsuspecting enemy and take him down with a stomach-churning crack of the neck.
While the combat in Uncharted 4 is undeniably great, the series hasn’t done away with the climbing and puzzle-solving for which it’s so well known. Right after the auction it’s off to Scotland for some literal tomb raiding. Here there are some excellent climbing sections that make your destination clear but not the route to get there, leaving you to figure out a path that involves working your way sideways or even backwards. In this Uncharted game the climbing is often a puzzle in itself.
Where Drake’s life goes from here is up to Sony and the minds at Naughty Dog, as Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End does nothing but remind fans how much fun it is to play another Uncharted iteration, but also serves as a proper finale for the character. I can only hope that business heads pay due respect and let Nathan ride off into the sunset this time around, as I think it is the perfect opportunity for Naughty Dog to move on to other tales worth telling. But for all the adventure these past years, I end with this: Thank you, Nathan Drake.