Finally, a video game franchise that knows when to quit while it’s ahead.
“Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End” pulls hero Nathan Drake back into the fray for one last adventure. Such stories often run the risk of sullying earlier entries, but have no fear about this one.
The story picks up a few years after the events of “Uncharted 3,” released in 2011. Drake has settled down and married longtime love interest Elena Fisher. His escapades these days are relegated to salvaging shipments in scuba gear and reminiscing in the attic about the good ol’ days.
It’s a mundane existence that he’s trying to enjoy, but hunting treasure is in Drake’s blood. So when his long lost (and presumed dead) brother Sam shows up in need of Nathan’s help to hunt down pirate gold to repay a debt to a drug lord, it’s with grudging relief that Nathan joins the mission.
As usual, Drake and his buddies — including surrogate father Victor Sullivan — are in competition for the hidden treasure with rich boy Rafe Adler, a former partner in crime of the Drakes, and a private military force led by tough gal Nadine Ross. As far as adversaries go, Rafe and Nadine are among the most formidable in the series.
The strength of the “Uncharted” games remains the balance between storytelling, character moments and gameplay, and the fourth and (supposedly) final iteration does not disappoint.
That’s especially true of the in-game mechanics, which add a few new wrinkles to the already tight systems. A new grapple system that creates adrenaline-pumping, rope-swinging opportunities fits perfectly. Areas are littered with steep hills that Nathan can slide down, and sometimes are incorporated into the traditional “Uncharted” environmental puzzles.
The superb parkour/climbing sections, frantic gunfights and thoughtful puzzle sections are broken up by a few chase sequences and some vehicular navigation areas. “Uncharted 4” never feels like a rinse-repeat slog.
Developer Naughty Dog has raised the visual bar with this PlayStation 4 exclusive. The level of detail in the character models alone is a feat, with Nathan looking the part of a man in his mid-to-late 30s in a more realistic way than any game on the market. Stunning vistas are everywhere, too, when one takes a moment to soak them in. That, plus the understated musical score and superb voice acting make this one of the most polished game experiences available.
Even its online multiplayer component is well-executed. While there aren’t a ton of modes, the addition of powerful Mysticals and Sidekicks makes it stand out from the competition.
If this truly is the end for Drake, it’s a mic-dropping sendoff for the “Uncharted” series.