"Uncharted 4: A Thief's End" is the sendoff to which every video game franchise should aspire. Nathan Drake's final adventure is a big, bold technical juggernaut of a game from Naughty Dog. The developer proves, once again, that it is among the best in the business in crafting extraordinary video game experiences. It's sad to say goodbye to Drake, but we're all looking forward to what's next for Naughty Dog.
"Uncharted 4" picks up after the end "Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception." After another adventure, Drake has settled down into domestic bliss. Married to Elena Fisher, Drake works in salvage, recovering legal loot from the bottom of the ocean. It's not quite the glamorous life of finding treasure in lost cities, but it pays the bills. Fisher continues to be a dogged reporter who always is always digging deeper, even if it's supposed to be a fluff piece about Bangkok. The two are happily in love, but there's something missing. You can take Nathan out of the adventure, but you can't take the adventure out of Nathan. He longs for another exciting quest, but does not want to risk everything he's loved and worked so hard to get after years of dodging bullets.
Luckily, his long-lost brother reappears. Sam Drake has new clues that could lead the brothers to the lost treasure of famed pirate Captain Henry Avery. It's not long before the boys recruit Victor "Sully" Sullivan for another globe-trotting adventure. They are not alone in seeking Avery's fortune, believed to be worth $400 million. The Shoreline Company, headed by Nadine Ross, is also after the treasure.
That plot summary provides enough context for what you will be getting in "Uncharted 4." In terms of gameplay, the last chapter reveals a whole new set of tricks that players will come to love. Nathan Drake still can't jump higher than a bunny hop, but he can slide, swing and climb with the best of them. Sliding down a cliff before launching from a precarious ledge carved out of the rock face is immensely satisfying, as is the new vehicular exploration of Madagascar. These new abilities really push where "Uncharted" can go in terms of the map or just how Drake moves around a new area. "Uncharted 4" is the most expansive game yet, which means even more time spent looking for little treasures hidden throughout each area.
The rope mechanic is a fun addition, but the stealth mode provides the most immediate impact for players. Prior games in the "Uncharted" series were about firefights or quick hand-to-hand combat. With the tall grass, players can sneakily move around enemies for a quick kill. Stealth also gives players a chance to reset the action. Instead of jumping into a situation where you are completely overwhelmed, players can hide to regroup. Even with the new wrinkles, you'll never forget you are playing an "Uncharted" game.
"Uncharted 4" is very much about Nathan Drake's legacy, but also Naughty Dog's. Losing Amy Hennig was a big blow to the development of "Uncharted 4." Hennig served as the head writer and creative director for "Uncharted" prior to her departure to Electronic Arts, Visceral Games, where she is the creative director on a new "Star Wars" project.
Her absence surely weighed heavily on everyone at Naughty Dog, but the studio couldn't ask for better successors than Neil Druckmann and Bruce Straley, longtime studio vets and the team behind "The Last of Us." That game was widely praised as a pinnacle of storytelling in video games, so it's not too much of a surprise that they delivered with Nathan Drake's final adventure.
Never venturing into becoming too serious — this is, after all, a swashbuckling adventure starring a wisecracking team of thrill-seekers searching for pirate treasure — there is a dramatic weight within "Uncharted 4." It's a beautiful game that will be a showcase for the PlayStation 4. The cinematic set pieces are awe-inspiring in terms of scope, but anchoring this is a human tale.
At times, "Uncharted 4" gets bogged down by a bit of bloat. But the team can be forgiven a bit for taking a bow after years of working on the series. In some ways, it's like a big slice of cake. It's indulgent, but completely worth it after the last bite.
"Uncharted 4" impressively navigates spectacle and story to deliver a satisfying experience that highlights just what games could be in 2016. It's similar to the Marvel era of blockbusters at the cinema. From "The Avengers" to "Guardians of the Galaxy" and now "Captain America: Civil War," each film delights audiences backed by smart storytelling. Each film is being crafted by writers and directors working at the top of their game to create blockbusters that can be more than mindless fun.
Leading up to the release of "Uncharted 4," Naughty Dog emphasized that it was the definitive last chapter for Nathan Drake. It does feel that way, but the conclusion is far from a disappointment. In many ways, it's the beginning of a new journey. "Uncharted 4" was the first game from Naughty Dog for the PS4. Considering its mastery of the console, it's exciting to see what it can do with a future that includes the release of the PlayStation VR.