Ever since E3 2014, a hype train has been travelling at full speed from Naughty Dog HQ carrying precious cargo, but finally, it’s come to a stop, arriving at my humble PlayStation to deliver an experience of truly epic proportions. That’s right, Uncharted 4 is here, and it’s completely, totally, utterly and undeniably worth the wait. This is the first piece that I’ve ever written, where I genuinely think that I am going to run out of superlatives to describe just how good A Thief’s End has turned out. Grab yourself a hot drink, and sit back, as this is going to be a big one, and apologies in advance for excessive use of the word awesome and the expression EEERRRRMAGEEERRRDDD.
Let me preface this piece with a little history. Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune was the first game that I ever platinumed, and as such the series will always have a special place in my heart. But that first jingle is irrelevant, in fact when Uncharted first hit shelves, the PS3 didn’t even have trophy support. At it’s launch, it was dubbed the game that PS3 had been waiting for, and it was right. Since Uncharted, the bar had been raised for gameplay and story telling, it set Naughty Dog on a meteoric trajectory, that has since brought us such greats as \<strike>my favourite\</strike> what used to be my favourite game Uncharted 2: Among Theives and The Last Of Us. Naughty Dog have long been setting the standard of gaming experiences, and it’s a tradition that they continue with Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End.
If you remember, I described Ratchet and Clank as the Pixar movie you could play. In that case A Thief's End is the fully fledged, sell out blockbuster that at some points you could forget is even a game. Trust me, it's that stunning.
I love this series. Because of this love, I went old school with A Thief’s End, and filtered it out of the internet. I didn’t watch any gameplay videos, I stayed away from details about the story, in fact I think the only thing I watched was the announcement trailer which was enough to give me my first EEERRRRMAGEEERRRDDD moment. Therefore, in many ways, I didn’t know what I was going to get with A Theif’s End, and I stand by my decision, that is the way that this game
deserves needs to be played.
Before you do play however, I implore you to go back and play the first three entries into the series. There are so many beautifully crafted throwback references to the previous games, that you will only experience a fraction of what Naughty Dog has intends you to if you have missed out on the previous games. I mean, there’s even a tilt of the hat to the Vita entry Golden Abyss. The remastered Nathan Drake Collection is an absolute bargain on PS4 so you have no excuses. It’s an extra three platinums to so you know, behave.
With that out of the way, let’s get stuck into this beast. I’ve given this a lot of thought, and there’s no way to talk about the beauty of this game spoiler-free, so if you haven’t played it, and don’t want to taint your experience (good on you fine sir), go away, play and come back and join us after the break.
A Thief’s End takes everything that was awesome about Uncharted 2 and The Last of Us to create an experience like no other.
Before Uncharted 4, the second entry into the series was my gold standard of games. In terms of a single player experience, it was probably at the very top of everything I’ve ever played. Naughty Dog’s The Last Of Us was a very close second, but because of the timing of Uncharted 2 and the way that it destroyed the bar and made a new one that was infinitely higher up, it took the biscuit. Well, step aside, as A Thief’s End once again reinvents the gold standard and sits comfortably at the top of the tree. A bold statement I know, but this is without a doubt the best single player experience I’ve ever had.
Part of the reason for this, is that The Last of Us is all over this game, meaning that Uncharted 4 is basically takes everything that was awesome about Uncharted 2, and combines it with the UI, stealth aspects and expansive environments of The Last of Us. It isn’t just a peppering of aspects of The Last of Us, I’m pretty sure that it even uses some of the same code, especially when you’re stealth-ing about with a comrade and they remain invisible to enemies even when in plain sight. It also brings in the optional conversation aspects too, giving deeper insight into the story, as well as additional collectibles such as journal notes and entries, that only add to the experience.
One thing to note however, is that there are 192 - I think - collectibles throughout the campaign, which I think is a little bit extreme.
At points, the game almost feels more like a Last of Us Game than the previous Uncharted titles, and again, I don’t think this a bad thing. Everything you would want from an Uncharted game is there, the climbing, the stunning landscapes, the humour, but as Nathan Drake’s last outing, A Thief’s End brings a level of story telling that wasn’t present in previous entries. This game is more about the characters, than it is about finding the elusive treasure or hidden city that is always at the forefront of the other entries in the series. This is why Uncharted 4 is so good.
If you think about the amount of time you’ve spent with these characters before starting this game, you’re playing to know what happens to them, if they survive, how their story ends. The pursuit of riches is definitely just a passenger this time around, and that’s the way that it should be. If you’ve played the first three titles, the vita entry, and then the remastered Nathan Drake Collection, I’d wager at least 130 hours have gone into the series so far - more if you’ve gone all the way to platinum. If I’m playing something for 130 hours (shout out to Skyrim) it’s because I’m invested in a story, not about reaching an endgame.
This focus on the story and interaction of these loved characters is evident throughout the Uncharted 4 experience. Of particular weight is the relationship between Elena and Nate. For the entries so far, they’ve been ‘will they, won’t they’ and it’s been infuriating. The only discussions they’ve had previously have happened in an ending cutscene. Uncharted 4 changes that, and Elena Drake scenes are some of my favourite in the game. The home life, after that incredible scene setting, nostalgia heavy attic scene, was great to see. But they really come into their own in the later story.
When Elena busts you in the Hotel, you can feel the tension and emotion between the two characters, and the awkwardness that moment creates later in the game. It shows a level of maturity in the story telling that no other series has come close to matching. The Last of Us was built around the relationship of Joel and Ellie, and A Thief’s End takes that level of intimacy and intrigue and applies it to known characters, creating a truly unique level of quality.
The Toughest Drake Jingle to Date
I don’t want to focus too much on the actual story of Uncharted 4. It should be played unspoiled, and where I’ve paid reference to a few stellar scenes, I want to leave the majority of it unscathed.
So let’s talk trophies. Every Uncharted game to date has had very similar trophy lists - complete the game on crushing, collect all the treasures and then get x amount of kills with weapon x. Well thankfully, A Thief’s End changes this.
Yes, the difficulty and collectible trophies are still there, but there are now some chapter specific trophies, as well as new challenges such as Sharpshooter and Charted - Speed Run. In these, you have to finish the game with above 70% accuracy and in under 6 hours respectively. To comment on these, Sharpshooter is really achievable if you turn on auto aim, you can zip in and out of targets this way, and barely miss unless your timing is awful. I finished my play through with 92% accuracy, and I wasn’t really taking that much care. For the Speed Run there is an exploit for this, but I did it alongside my sharpshooter run.
The chapter specific trophies are good, and there aren’t that many that will have you stressing. I want to pay homage to one here. I’m a marine biologist by day, so it was good to see a shout out to some dolphins in the trophy list. But god damn, I have never hated dolphins so much in my life. In Chapter 12, you have to get three dolphins to follow your boat. Be prepared to put the time into this one. Theoretically it should only take about 5 minutes, but I was sailing in circles for a good 30 trying to find the third pissing dolphin. Follow a video, but bare in mind even that isn’t guaranteed.
Finally, A Thief’s End does multiplayer trophies the right way. I hate games that give a trophy for reaching the highest multiplayer rank, particularly when the multiplayer isn’t very good. Crysis 2, you were awesome, getting to rank 50 was a pleasure. Assassin’s Creed just get rid of your multiplayer, it’s awful and no one really cares. In A Thief’s End all you have to do is complete a few online tutorials and then play five matches and ping, the platinum is yours.
What next for Naughty Dog?
As you can probably guess by A Thief’s End, this was Nathan Drake’s last adventure. Naturally, as this series has made Sony a lot of money, Naughty Dog have left the game open in one form or another. Don’t get me wrong, Nathan Drake’s adventure is well and truly over, but the franchise could continue with his daughter, or through his brother Sam. In case by any extreme luck someone from Naughty Dog ever reads this, PLEASE LET IT DIE.
The worst case scenario is that another studio takes over Uncharted and kills it. This shouldn’t be allowed to happen. Not only would be a crying shame, but I don’t think Uncharted exists without Nathan Drake. I know that playing another characters adventure would not be the same.
So with no more Uncharted what’s next for Naughty Dog? Well first off, people are crying out for a Jak and Daxter remake. To be crude, fuuuuuckkkk that. Naughty Dog are at the very top, to go back and make a platformer that - brace yourselves - was never that good in the first place would be a complete was of time and resources. While we’re on the topic of bad platformers, lets talk Crash Bandicoot. Just because Crash is old, every one thinks it was awesome. IT WASN’T. If the throwback to it via the PS1 in Uncharted 4 wasn’t enough to remind you, Crash played terribly. Where I enjoyed the nostalgia of that scene, it was awful to play. People need to learn to let things go, and leave things where they belong - Crash belongs in the 90s, and Uncharted belongs in the recent past.
What does that leave us with? Well, two things. Firstly The Last of Us 2, it’s happening, I can’t wait, it’s going to be awesome. Let Naughty Dog invest all of their time and resources in this. Secondly, new IP. If Uncharted has shown us anything, it’s how Naughty Dog have evolved since Crash Bandicoot. Allow this evolution to continue into fresh ideas and new projects. The only way is forward, and if one thing is for certain, it’s that the future of Naughty Dog can only be bright.