Warning: Spoilers contained below.
Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End goes on my list under “I’m not doing anything else until I finish this game.” The story was rich and satisfying and the characters as memorable as they have always been. Much of the gameplay is familar to those who have played any of the previous entries in the series: Nathan Drake and his kung-fu grip leaping from cliff to cliff and from one ledge to another in impossible fashion in another round of Climbing Simulator 3000. There is the urge to explore every nook and cranny for pieces of treasure scattered about the game world. Eventually you will have to run towards the screen while sudden death bears down upon you. Sometimes it’s groan-worthy, and developer Naughty Dog knows that, but you take what the overall game gives you.
It is not a game that you play for an hour or two and move on. If you’ve played the initial trilogy, you want to find out what happens to Nathan’s wife, Elena, his long-time partner in crime Victor Sullivan, and now Nathan’s long lost older brother Sam. Throughout the series, the writing and characterization of these people makes you actually care about them. You throw out the questionable morals and the scores of dead bodies they leave behind because they are so much fun to see interact with each other. You wonder if any of them will survive to lead a happy life (of course they do). It’s bittersweet once you reach the destination because you know the series will be over (or will it, Cassie?). While the game has some amazing set pieces (the reveal of the towering mountain where Henry Avery’s ship lies beneath) and thrilling sequences (the Jeep and motorcycle chase in Madagascar, many of my favorite moments of the game are its slowest and quietest ones.
In a game that can often be thrilling and frenetic, Naughty Dog has learned that sometimes the most effective thing to do in a game is to just slow down. In Naughty Dog’s Last of Us Remastered and Last of Us: Left Behind (PS4)., silence and stillness and taking the time to pull you into that world and make it feel like it is living and breathing while also feeling claustrophobic because of the horros that lie in wait. There are parts of those games (the arcade sequence in Left Behind, for example) that will stick with me forever. If you haven’t played these titles, don’t let them pass you by.
In Uncharted 4, we get to watch Nathan and Sam as youngster’s searching a mansion for the last tangible memories of their mother. You can take it at a leisurely pace, peeking in every corner for something informative or playful, like trying on various helmets and masks. Would Nathan’s betrayal of Elena’s trust have had the same impact if we hadn’t spent so much time in their home, watching them eat Chinese food and enjoying a competitive bout of Crash Bandicoot on their old school PlayStation (Naughty Dog loves running towards the player)? Was Nathan being protective of Elena, or was he just scared to reveal that he still wanted to be out there exploring and risking his life over treasure versus living the mundane, ‘safe’ life he had become accustomed to living? Nathan comes clean with Elena towards the end of the game, while also revealing his family’s actual surname that was hinted at in Uncharted 3. Nathan and Sam Morgan overcame years of pain and sorrow (it could be argued that if a character were not to survive the game it would have been Sam) and maintained a relationship for years to follow. In the game’s epilogue, Nathan and Elena are living a happy life on the beach with their young teen daughter Cassie. Through her discovery of what her parents used to be up to in their younger days, that opens the door for future Uncharted adventures down the road if Naughty Dog chooses to go down that path, outside of the planned DLC coming down the pipe. While I will no doubt play the new content, I would be fine with leaving the series where it ended. The story of Nathan Drake/Morgan for me ended in a satisfying way, riding off into the sunset as one of the great games of our time.