Years ago, when I was a kid, I would have given anything to be Indiana Jones.
I was enamored with the world of archeology and that sense of adventure. When Naughty Dog released Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune in 2007, I immediately gravitated to the franchise and Nathan Drake’s journey. Nathan became a staple of my gaming life, and I went on each Uncharted experience yearning for my childhood sense of adventure. Naughty Dog captured it all, and made me love what gaming could do on an emotional and personal level.
Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End brings about all of the past joy and fun I had, while expanding on the narrative and making nostalgic and meaningful choices to Drake’s journey.
If you’ve never played a Naughty Dog game, the studio prides itself on making story-driven narratives that leave the player lingering on dialogue, enamored with setting, and emotionally drawn to the characters. They fulfill all of this in Uncharted 4 to a spectacular level and even bring in new mechanics that make the game more accessible for players.
You follow Nathan Drake on his last adventure, and in doing so, the studio has taken ample strides to really showcase that this is the end. There are no bits of treasure left undiscovered, nor maps to be followed. This is the end, and it feels refreshing to see a studio who acknowledges this and gives us the most heartfelt send-off to an iconic character. Uncharted 4 displays it’s usual sense of adventure and intrigue, while showing us that Nathan is not an invincible video game icon. He is human, he is flawed, and he is, as always, that quick witted hero – now facing the realities of his decisions at the twilight of this journey.
It wouldn’t be an Uncharted game if you didn’t start with a cliffhanger [ quite literally in Uncharted 2: Among Thieves ]. In Uncharted 4, we’re given a glimpse into the life of Nathan Drake that we haven’t seen before. His personal life comes under a microscope, and it’s an emotional wave of happiness, sadness, and struggle. We get to see Nathan engage with Elena, Sully, and now his brother, Sam, in a way that past Uncharted games didn’t give.
They strip away the mysticism, the folklore, and the over-arching paranormal that usually pervades the Uncharted series. They give us a meaningful story about the people Nathan loves, and the chemistry between all of the characters is impressive to say the least. The journey this time isn’t some paranormal means of finality, but they simplify it to a simple search for buried treasure. That’s it. A lost city of pirate treasure, begging to be discovered by Nathan’s long lost brother, Sam, thought to be killed 15 years ago.
Uncharted 4 explores what it means to be drawn into a passion with unbridled obsession, enough to even make a man forget what is truly important in life. Are you still going about ruins and exploring exotic locals, laying waste to countless mercenaries on your way to an undiscovered treasure? Absolutely. Are there still tombs and puzzles for me to solve? No doubt! Does it mean more, and are the relationship deeper than before? Yes. They are. What matters is that Uncharted 4 really provides depth where past iterations were merely scratching the surface of what it means to be Nathan Drake.
Mechanically, the game functions just as beautifully as it’s past predecessors. It focuses on that stealth cover and shootout gameplay that veterans of the series will love, but they’ve made the mechanics and ease of use seem simplified. It felt more fluid than ever before to be Nathan Drake, and with small additions to mechanics, it didn’t overbear the user with a whole new set of tasks to undertake. In fact, Uncharted 4 gives the player a list of options to make ease of use and access to entry much easier from an accessibility stance.
Upon opening the game, beyond the opening music that always gives me chills, I investigated the Accessibility Options menu. Yes, the game has it’s own Accessibility menu. I was blown away by the plethora of options that gave more ease of use, even to players who have full functionality. If it’s modality you’re worried about when asking yourself, “Can I play Uncharted 4?” the answer is, “Yes. You can!” They’ve identified trouble areas from past iterations such as:
- Repeated Button Presses – Player to hold button vs. pressing in QTE’s [ Quick Time Events ]
- Camera Lock On – This allows you to use the Lock On function with just one stick.
- Aim Lock On – This allows for the gun to snap to an enemy automatically.
- Vehicle and Camera Assist – To allow ease of use by moving the camera around the player.
- Subtitles – Detailed subtitle settings for deaf/hard of hearing players.
- Colorblind – Minor changes in color setting for Multiplayer teams.
All of these features made the game accessible, and even for an able-bodied player like myself, I found them useful and helpful in regards to experiencing the journey at it’s full potential. I got to experience new mechanics, like the grappling hook, without feeling overwhelmed. I wasn’t bogged down with mechanical hang ups, which allowed me to focus intimately on the story that unfolding in front of me. I laughed, I cried, I shot thugs in the face – and it was magical.
My journey with Uncharted 4 has been a long one, but one that I feel has come to one of the most satisfying conclusions in the history of my gaming life. There are countless fan service easter eggs tossed about this journey, and the fact that Naughty Dog went about making it so that these moments could be accessible to more than just the able-bodied community is a blessing in and of itself. Thank you Naughty Dog. Thank you Nolan North. Thank you to everyone who has been a fan of this series, and who has been given the opportunity to be the most bad-ass, charismatic, and memorable treasure-hunter since Indiana Jones.
There are no cheap sells of a half-assed prequel or sequel on the horizon. Naughty Dog gave a memorable story, combined with accessible use, exquisite storytelling, and characters that breathe. They actually have goals, fears, obsessions, and for me – that’s what sells a game. A game where I can FEEL the story. A game where I’m not restricted to my real life, and I can view myself as Nathan Drake for at least a few hours more… and that’s all I can ever ask for.
Thank you Naughty Dog. These past few years have been a blessing. I look forward to the next story you write, as I watch Nathan Drake fade away into treasure-hunting retirement.
I am fulfilled, satisfied, and damn it – I want to go treasure hunting now.