Un­charted 4: A Thief ’s End

COVER-BASED LOOTER

Empire (UK) - - REVIEW -

THE RE­TURN of charis­matic, ad­ven­tur­ing mass-mur­derer Nathan Drake has been long awaited. It’s four-and-a-half years since Drake’s De­cep­tion — an age in video games. No doubt aware of this, Sony re­leased a re­mas­tered ver­sion of the pre­vi­ous three last year — part stop­gap, part ed­u­ca­tion. Un­charted is its flag­ship fran­chise and this game needs to de­liver.

Given that, it’s oddly slow to get started. The game be­gins with Nathan as a kid, break­ing out of his or­phan­age with his older brother, Sam, then shows them as young adults on a mis­sion that ends in Sam’s “death”. Skip for­ward 15 years (past the events of pre­vi­ous Un­chart­eds), Nathan’s in scuba gear and the ad­ven­ture proper is ready to be­gin. Ex­cept it isn’t. He’s work­ing for a sal­vage com­pany. Job done, he goes home, rem­i­nisces, eats din­ner, plays Crash Bandi­coot (se­ri­ously — you play level four, ‘Boul­ders’). It’s an ap­proach that ei­ther dis­plays im­pres­sive con­fi­dence or enor­mous self-in­dul­gence.

Stick with it, though, be­cause these sec­tions add emo­tional weight to what fol­lows. It’s no doubt in­flu­enced by the di­rec­tors Neil Druck­mann and Bruce Stra­ley’s ex­pe­ri­ence on The Last Of Us. Fi­nally, scene set, Sam is re­vealed to not ac­tu­ally be dead and the ad­ven­ture starts for real. And what an ad­ven­ture it is — first with a heist in an Ital­ian man­sion, then the ex­ca­va­tion of a pi­rate grave in Scot­land, and so on, across the world.

That world is still mostly lin­ear in its way­points (and not averse to de­cid­ing a small drop would kill you if it takes you too far off path) but that isn’t a neg­a­tive — there’s a lot to be said for a series that plays to its strengths, while at­tempt­ing to re­fine them. A Thief ’s End suc­ceeds in that goal. It still de­liv­ers spec­tac­u­lar ac­tion set-pieces (in­clud­ing a plunge over a wa­ter­fall and a knuckle-whiten­ing bike chase) but its emo­tion­ally en­gag­ing tale is a clear leap for­ward in in­ter­ac­tive sto­ry­telling. Nathan Drake — it’s good to have you back. JONATHAN PILE

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