Thursday, February 2, 2017

Uncharted 4: A Thief's End


   Naughty Dog delivers a stunning conclusion to the Uncharted franchise with A Thief's End- a game that is a fully realized and truly epic swan song for the saga of Nathan Drake. I could end the review right there and I'll have said all I really need to say, because this amazing game really does speak for itself. Nevertheless, I don't pour a ton of hours into something and then not write about it. Anyways, the Uncharted series is special to me in a way that few are, and Uncharted 4 is, quite simply... the best one yet. Zero hyperbole there, seriously.

   Getting my PS3 was a mind blowing moment, and one of the first the games I got for it, was Uncharted: Drake's Fortune. It was a thoroughly fun game, but one that (in my opinion) never quite escaped the shadow of Indiana Jones comparisons. Nevertheless, while most if not all of those comparisons were meant as genuine compliments, it also highlighted one of the things that always bugged me about these games. See, Indiana Jones is grade A pastiche. No, it is. Really. Lucas and Spielberg leaned hard into the B movie genre and threw every cliche they could think of in there. Raiders' is a great movie, but it is literally just a massive shameless homage to a bygone cinematic era of dashing heroes, booby traps, and buried treasure.

   Uncharted was in turn, a massive homage to the whole concept of an Indiana Jones-style adventure. The most unique thing it had going for it was that it was set in modern day- otherwise... Yeah. Uncharted 2 did a little more to distance itself from the shadow of Indy comparisons, and Uncharted 3 took a huge step in the right direction, but I never fully felt like they had that 'it' that would fully make Uncharted its own beast- until this one. That 'it'? That ended up being Elena. Not to put too fine a point on it, but Elena and Nate's relationship has really anchored the storytelling of this game. It's something that iconic adventurer Henry Jones Jr. never had. Sure, he had Marion- but lets face it, she was an archetype.

   Her character, as awesome as she was, never had any permanent weight in Indy's life. She was a glorified sidekick. But Elena is a legitimate partner to Nate, a complete equal, and someone who is more important to him than anything else. The first game had her as the plucky romantic interest, and the second game, she was an old flame, but beat me over the head- I can't remember if they did anything significant with her in the third game. Yet Uncharted 4 realizes that Nate is not Nate without Elena, and they realized that so well, that for the first time I really felt like I was engaged in this story, through and through. The stakes were emotional as well as physical.

   Of course, I'm not saying the previous games didn't have good stories, but the storytelling in this game is on a whole 'nother level. It helps that the character models are insanely realistic looking, and that Uncharted 4 has probably the best graphics of any game out for the PS4 right now. There's a mind blowing wealth of little details to a degree previously unseen. I can't stress that enough. Even with perfectly immersive, responsive, and engaging gameplay- sometimes I just couldn't wait to get to the next cut scene because the bits that advance the story and the characters were just so damn engrossing. The dialog in particular was incredibly well written.

   The game's main story focuses on Nate's long lost brother and their dynamic over time, but make no mistake- the real emotional core of the story is Elena and Nate. Naughty Dog leans hard into their own characters, legitimizing them as original creations and not just genre archetypes. I needn't really speak of the gameplay, because that was always the absolute strong point of the franchise. Uncharted 4 continues the trend, delivering hours of intense shootouts, car chases, fist fights, and all manner of action packed set pieces for which there are no adequate adjectives.

   In short, you really can't go wrong with Uncharted 4. It's a masterpiece of a game.

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