'Uncharted 4' a fitting farewell to a favorite hero

'Uncharted 4' a fitting farewell to a favorite hero

If I had to list a relationship status on Facebook explaining how I feel about “Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End,” it would say “It’s complicated.”

I’ve played the series from the start, so I’ve been hanging out the main cast of characters for quite a while, and they’ve long since grown on me.

So now that developer Naughty Dog says it’s time to say goodbye, that this will be my last journey with Nathan Drake, Elena and Sully, I can’t help but feel melancholy.

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I’ve been at Nathan’s side through thick and thin, from the time he was hunted by mercenaries while he hunted for the legendary El Dorado, city of gold (“Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune”) to the time he was hunted by mercenaries while looking for the mythical paradise Shangri-La (“Uncharted 2: Among Thieves”) to the time he was hunted by ... I think you get the picture.

In many ways, it feels like we’ve grown together. Just as I’m not the same man I was in 2007, when the series debuted, Nathan is not the same man either.

In the beginning, he was a lovable, quick-witted rogue in the same vein as Han Solo, obsessed with riches yet plagued with a moral compass that compelled him to do the right thing, albeit somewhat reluctantly. (And I was ... a mild-mannered copy editor and video game columnist. Hey, I also scuba dived regularly and jumped out of perfectly good airplanes. OK, OK. Our lives aren’t exactly parallel.)

But as we find him at the start of “Uncharted 4,” traumatic realizations, time and the love of a good woman — his wife, Elena, who he stupidly separated from once before — have mellowed him. Oh, he’s still a bit of a rascal, sarcastic and sardonic. But he’s seen the tragedy that obsession creates, and finds too much happiness in his marriage to risk it again in pursuit of treasure.

Until the brother he legitimately thought 15 years dead shows up at his doorstep. The brother he never told his wife about. The brother who says he’s deeply in debt to a murderous drug lord who saved him from a third-world prison. The brother who says he needs a big score to save his skin.

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Thus, it’s time for a madcap journey to find lost pirate gold, dogged by an angry former partner from 15 years before and his heavily-armed mercenary hirelings, all while doing something infinitely more dangerous — trying to hide what’s going on from his wife. Yeah, that won’t go well.

Probably the best thing about “Uncharted 4” — and really the series as a whole — is how the story’s told. And I’m not talking plot. It’s the characters, it’s how they speak, how they interact, how they worry and gripe and feel joy, sorrow, the whole gamut of emotions. It’s how some of them may seem to act nonsensically at times, but by the end their motivations are starkly clear and their actions perfectly sensible, at least from their point of view.

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And, I’ve got to say, few games are as visually appealing. “Uncharted 4” blows away the competition in presenting a world of living color, with exotic locales so picturesque and lavishly detailed they call out to your inner wanderer. It’s a world of weight and substance, where a long-abandoned village is so replete with the cast-off accoutrements of daily life that it bears every mark of a real existence.

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However, in terms of gameplay mechanics, “Uncharted 4” is almost identical to its predecessors.
It’s still the same mix of climbing, jumping, shooting and puzzle solving — sometimes all at once. They’ve added a grappling hook for swinging, a piton to assist climbing, slides and some mild puzzles involving a jeep winch, but overall, the basic mechanics are unchanged.

But they were never broken — and honestly, the pacing of the adventure is wonderfully done — so why “fix” it?

All said, the single-player portion of the game — the main adventure, as it were — while nothing new in many senses, is still ultimately satisfying. A perfect denouement for the series.

Then there’s the multiplayer aspect.

Thank god it has an extensive tutorial.

While the controls build off the single-player experience, so players won’t have any issues with the basics of movement and combat, there are so many extras that it’d be easy to be completely confused without the basic introduction and a separate “trials” to explain the ins-and-outs of using certain tools, summoning sidekicks to fight at your side and using mystical objects to affect the battlefield.

It would be nice if they’d designed the trials so that pop-up messages didn’t constantly interrupt and sometimes sabotage the experience, but that’s a minor quibble.

The real multiplayer game breaks down into three main modes: traditional team deathmatch (ranked and unranked); plunder, a version of capture-the-flag; and command, which melds capturing territory while defending a team leader.

A wide assortment of possible roles to play, differentiated by equipment, keeps the action pleasurably fast-paced and chaotic, and the maps you play on are diverse and well-designed. All the tools are there to have a fun game. That said, as with all multiplayer experiences, whether you have fun or not will depend almost entirely on who you’re playing with. It doesn’t matter how well the game is built if your teammates don’t have a clue.

“Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End”
PlayStation 4
T for teen


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