Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End
“It’s not my first lost city,” protagonist Nathan Drake says to his brother somewhat late in the game. Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End is a beautiful, but safe sequel, bringing familiar set pieces, locales, and characters: it’s a game that tries very hard to marvel the player, who will nonetheless feel like they have seen it all before.
The game, after a brief action sequence, opens with a flashback that shows the relationship between a young Nathan and his brother, Sam. The protagonist appears to admire his brother, who encourages him to sneak out of his orphanage and even teaches him parkour moves while they climb the roofs of the place. Sam doesn’t appear to be just an inspiration to Nathan, someone the boy looks up to, but actually acts precisely like Nathan would do later. When the boy asks his brother if he knows where he’s going, the answer couldn’t be more Drake-ish: “Eh, more or less.” Their relationship is shown to be built around trust, but also around abandonment and loss.
Today, Nathan is living a normal life together with wife, Elena. However, he still yearns for adventure, and it’s no wonder that, when she is talking about her day, his mind drifts away when he looks at a picture of an island. So, when he brother comes back from the dead and reveals that he’s in big trouble, Nathan must embark in yet another adventure to save Sam’s life by searching for the lost treasure of the pirate Henry Avery.
A Thief’s End’s story is well told, but very simple in structure and plot. The protagonist travels to a lot of places in search of Avery’s hidden treasure, finding only clues to next place where it should be hidden. And players will soon become very acquainted to some of the elements of that search, since they are repeated often – after this game, they will certainly be able to recognize the statue of St. Dismas, for example.
Meanwhile, Nathan lies to Elena about his adventures because he was supposed to have retired, living a common, safe life. The game shows a lack of trust in their relationship. Nathan hasn’t the guts to tell Elena that he has all this time hidden everything about his lost brother from her, and one lie starts to stack on top of another: Nathan may be fearless when it comes to exploring dungeons and climbing steep cliffs, but he’s a coward when it comes to relationships.
For this reason, for most of the time the protagonist will be stuck with his brother. Sam, however, is a not an interesting character for a very simple reason: he is just Nathan Drake 2.0. When they are adventuring together, both will say the exact same things and react the exact same way. He is practically Nathan’s double. They both love what they do, and after each incredible and dangerous stunt they will tell each other how they thought that was amazing and exhilarating: “That’s was fun, right?” So, in practice, it is like watching two copies of the same character talking to each other the whole time.
Near the end, there is a plot twist involving Sam, but one that is utterly predictable and – which is much worse – doesn’t change their relationship for long. They will still love each other, protect each other and, sometimes, abandon each other: that is how their relationship works. Elena is the character that stands out the most: if at first she appears as loveable obstacle in Nathan’s true path, later she demonstrates that she understands his wild nature, but still never lets him of the hook for his lies and deceits. The villain, on the other hand, acts precisely like the previous ones: he is one dimensional, seeks the treasure because of “fame and fortune”, will kill everyone on his path and so on. There is a mercenary called Nadine, who appears to have more common sense than her partner, but she ends up being just a wasted opportunity, with little time to shine.
The gameplay remains almost the same. Sliding sections were added and they function almost the same as the ones in God of War: Ascension, with the protagonist avoiding debris on the way down and jumping when the time is right. Besides that, there is a hook, which provides more interesting moments: it can be used to push objects, jump over huge gaps or slide down mountains. The rest remains the same: Nathan will climb mountains; some things will break – making him fall briefly to somewhere a bit safe – and he will shoot bad guys or take them down stealthily and things like that.
The level design, however, is much more open, affording even driving sequences over some big landscapes. Most of the times there will also be more than one ledge you can jump to, and there will be caverns and optional buildings to explore.
The places that the protagonist visits sure are pretty, but they are not awe-inspiring. The problem is that the designers decided this time to take a much more realistic approach not only to the story – there are no more supernatural undertones, for example – but to the environments as well. There are no more impossibly huge statues to climb this time around and the lost city looks just like a lost city would: just a huge amount of forgotten ruble. There are some eccentricities along the way – like an enormous revolving puzzle beneath an island – but these are few and far between. Make no mistake: A Thief’s End is a beautiful game, but it has purposefully lost its magic.
Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End marks Nathan Drake’s last adventure and it is a good one. It has interesting set pieces, some good character development and a very impressive presentation. It just feels this has all been done before.
January 04, 2019.
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Bruce Straley and Neil Druckmann
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