First Impressions: ‘Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End’

Editor’s note: This is only a preliminary review of the first several hours of game. The full review, which will cover the rest of the single-player story and the multiplayer elements, will follow shortly.

‘Uncharted 4’ continues a stellar tradition of excellent video gaming

The last chapter (supposedly) in Nathan Drake’s worldwide treasure-hunting escapade is meant to come to a close in “Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End.” With a title like that, it bids an unwelcome sense of foreboding. What will happen to our rascally hero? Will this tale be his last, after all he’s done and seen and survived? Even if that comes to past, which is simply a tangent at this point, it’s hardly the worst thing that can happen. This chapter is meant to be Drake’s last. How developer Naughty Dog goes about doing that is part of the surprise (and angst) that surrounds the release of a sequel to the one of the most acclaimed video game series of all time.

But, let’s not get too philosophical just yet. This is a First Impressions, after all, and the game hasn’t been played all the way through just yet. For now, let’s focus on what we do know.

The opening cutscene throws us back “Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune”-style, to our hero (voiced by Nolan North — surprising, right?) trying to avoid being shot while out on the open sea. This time, however, he’s not with wife Elena Fisher (Emily Rose), but his brother, Sam (Troy Baker; can’t anyone else voice act in the gaming community?). The big surprise here, of course, was spoiled by trailers for the game months ago: Sam, his virtually unknown brother long-thought dead, has returned, healthy as could be.

But his return kicks of the type of globetrotting treasure hunt that Nathan had sworn off, instead turning to a more domestic setting: marriage and a 9-to-5. But Sam is in trouble, and Nathan is compelled to help the only family he has left. Which required the two (with the help of longtime mentor, Victor “Sully” Sullivan, voiced by Richard McGonagle) to track down the insanely lucrative bounty left behind by famed pirate Henry Every. (According to Wikipedia: “Every was the most notorious pirate of his time; he earned his infamy by becoming one of the few major pirate captains to retire with his loot without being arrested or killed in battle, and also for being the perpetrator of what has been called the most profitable pirate raid in history.”)

What’s followed so far is typical “Uncharted” fare: lots of puzzle-solving, lots of jumping and parkour, lots of gun fights, almost all of which performs seamlessly. A few control issues pop up now and then. (As with previous “Uncharted” games, the movement controls can be a bit stiff during normal gameplay.) While infinitely more fluid, a few times a sense of “Resident Evil”-style tank controls could be felt. It didn’t happen, which made the few times that it did stand out even more. Still, a minor quibble.

The story so far is engrossing on both a personal and more sweeping level. The hunt for Every’s treasure, solving puzzles and piecing together the mystery, is addicting, as is to be expected, but it’s the history between the two brothers that more fascinating here. It’s the fourth installment, and we’re just now getting to meet a crucial character in Nathan’s life, one who, like Sully, clearly shaped his future. His return isn’t warm and cuddly, and to be honest, it shouldn’t be. That wouldn’t fit the narrative the previous three games established. Nathan’s past is more mysterious than some of the mysteries he’s solved, so the tension that pops up upon Sam’s returns is mood-perfect.

Speaking of mood-perfect, the graphics push the PlayStation 4 to its max potential, showcasing yet again how beautiful a video game can truly look. From a frothing ocean to scurrying rats in a dust-filled catacomb, the visual aspect of “Uncharted 4” is nearly unparalleled. The details shine through again and again, and it’s clear a fine-toothed comb was used over every scene. Nothing pops in unexpectedly, characters don’t clip into the scenery and you don’t get shot from behind cover. Small things, you may think, but they happen in far too many games.

On top of that, the music so far has been on point. Rather than even noticing it most of the time, the score accentuates whatever mood the game is trying to convey. Action? Pulse-pounding bass and a quick tempo. Puzzle-solving in an ice cavern? Calmer, but with a tense undertone. So far, there hasn’t been a missed note.

Only being several hours into the game, Nathan and his cohorts have traveled from Panama to Scotland to Madagascar, trying to solve the pirate’s puzzles while not being outsmarted (or outgunned) by ferocious rivals seeking the same treasure. It’s been chaotic, action-packed and intriguing from the start. There’s little proof “Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End” won’t finish in the same glorious fashion.

Still, hopefully the final tale of this treasure hunter won’t leave us at a dead end. No treasure would be worth that.

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