Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End debuted this week as the fourth and final installment in Naughty Dog’s Uncharted series. The original game, Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune, debuted on the PlayStation 3 in 2007. A Thief’s End is an excellent game, as you see in our review by Mike Minotti and my own impressions.

The third-person shooter stars Nathan Drake, an adventurer who named himself after Sir Francis Drake, the English explorer from the Elizabethan age. It is one of the most popular series that is exclusive to the Sony PlayStation consoles, and this new version looks gorgeous on the PlayStation 4.

We’ve created this set of tips and tricks for players who are new to the series, as well as veterans who want to get more out of it. We played the full campaign on the hard difficulty for about 18 hours, but there’s still a lot of content to be uncovered. As an example, we’ve only come across a small percentage of the 190 treasures, journal entries, and bonus items that you can find. Like the past games, Uncharted 4 begins “in medias res,” or in the middle of things. Now, if you haven’t played the previous games, you’re not going to be up to speed. But that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy Uncharted 4.

Catching up with the story

Uncharted 4: A Thief Ends is about Sam (left) and Nathan Drake.

Above: Uncharted 4: A Thief Ends is about Sam (left) and Nathan Drake.

Image Credit: Sony

Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune debuted in 2007 and introduced us to protagonist Nathan Drake, an explorer (supposedly descended from Sir Francis Drake) who seeks the lost treasure of El Dorado in South America. He meets the journalist Elena Fisher, who isn’t afraid to pick up a gun when she loses her video camera. We also meet Victor “Sully” Sullivan, Drake’s mentor and an expert thief himself. One of the obscure references in this game is that Sully is named after the obscure 1942 film Sullivan’s Travels. That film has an argument about the clash between pure entertainment and “message” films. The protagonists in Drake’s Fortune have to deal with pirates led by Eddy Raja and mercenaries led by Gabriel Roman and Atoq Navarro. They find that some of the secrets are supernatural, and El Dorado is cursed. The heroes walk away with their lives but little treasure.

Uncharted 2: Among Thieves debuted on the PS3 in 2009. The game represented a big step up in the quality of the graphics, gameplay, and story. The story once again follows Nathan Drake and his old friends Sully and Elena. But a new thief, Chloe Frazer, competes for Drake’s affections. When Elena meets Chloe for the first time, she quips, “I’m Elena, last year’s model.” The game introduced cinematic moments, like when Drake hangs off the end of a derailed train, hanging over an abyss, and when an attack helicopter tries to shoot him off a moving train. The heroes try to find the lost city of Shambhala in a race against mercenaries such as villain Zoran Lazarević.

Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception came out on the PS3 in 2011. Drake and Sully search for a mystical city, Iram of the Pillars, while competing with a shadowy organization run by villain Katherine Marlowe. The journey takes them to a medieval French chateau, a Syrian citadel (which has now been destroyed in the Syrian Civil War), Yemen, and the lost city itself. It had one heck of an opening scene. The gameplay got a little repetitive, but it was a big game with lots of cinematic moments, like Drake jumping off a flaming cargo plane. At the end, Nathan proposes to Elena.

In Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End, we learn that Nathan Drake has an older brother, Sam. The game traces their early years, their work together as treasure hunters, and their reunion after Nathan mistakenly believes that Sam was killed in a Mexican prison 15 years earlier. Nathan and Elena are married and lead a boring life. But Sam shows up and pulls Nathan away for one last adventure. Sully joins in, and eventually Nathan has to deal with deceiving Elena.

Come for the gameplay, stay for the story

Uncharted 4

Above: Uncharted 4

Image Credit: Sony

A Thief’s End takes place across 22 chapters. It starts with a speed boat battle in the middle of a storm. Then it jumps to the past, moves forward, flashes back in time, and eventually gets to the present. That may seem confusing, but it lets you get a feel for the characters.

The fun of Uncharted isn’t just in the shooting or solving puzzles. There’s a good story that goes with it, and the story in the new game is the best one yet. It sets up a palpable tension between Sam, Nathan, and Elena — who are some of the most interesting characters created in video games.

Uncharted 4’s story goes to the heart of the choice we all make from safe, boring lives or ones with more adventure and excitement. You don’t have to find every treasure on the island, but you don’t want to miss the major plot points or the really cinematic moments, which will remind you of Indiana Jones movies. You should also kick back and admire the views of the landscapes as the draw distances are huge and the scenery if beautiful. The facial animations of the characters and motion capture are also top-notch as the characters really do look like real people.

Getting started

Elena and Nathan lead a boring life at the outset of Uncharted 4: A Thief's End.

Above: Elena and Nathan lead a boring life at the outset of Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End.

Image Credit: Sony

Uncharted is also about exploration. It’s a third-person shooter, but the maps are pretty large. You don’t always have to follow the linear path that takes you right through the enemies. In fact, if you go off the trail, you are rewarded periodically with treasure loot. If you get stuck, a “hint” eventually appears (the Up button on the D-pad) to tell you where to go next. Your companion will often stand in front of the place where you are supposed to go next as well.

When in doubt, just look for the climbable surfaces. These are ledges that are often dull white bars that Nathan can jump to. You can also use a spike that you can drive into the wall in order to create a handhold where none exists. And you can also use Nathan’s rope to hook on to places so you can swing to a new place. You can activate the rope in mid-jump by hitting the L1 button. The first level — which shows Nathan and Sam when they are young — teaches you how to do all of this.

You can also drive the jeep. You’ll be driving through a lot of mud and river beds where it’s hard to tell where the trail goes. If you see some flat rocks or tire tracks, that’s a pretty good hint that is where the road goes. And the jeep comes with a winch — something that Nathan keeps talking to Sully about — to pull the vehicle up steep inclines.

The trick to driving is to take it easy on the turns and stay calm. You’ll find that it’s not nearly as hard to maneuver even in the chase scenes, where driving through jungles or cities seems absolutely insane.

Solving puzzles

Solving puzzles is part of the routine in Uncharted 4.

Above: Solving puzzles is part of the routine in Uncharted 4.

Image Credit: Sony

Puzzles are a staple of action-adventure games like Uncharted, and they are usually key to getting past a barrier. You have to get them right as guessing wrong usually leads to some kind of death trap.

It pays to keep a pencil handy so you can write down a pattern on paper. You should also look at the images in your journal as they often offer big clues about how to recognize a pattern and solve the puzzle. Fortunately, the game designers don’t torture us with incredibly complex puzzles. Rather, everything you need to solve them is usually available either in the journal or in the immediate surrounding scenery.

Using stealth

There's a fierce firefight at a party in Italy in Uncharted 4: A Thief's End.

Above: There’s a fierce firefight at a party in Italy in Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End.

Image Credit: Sony

The previous games didn’t make use of stealth. But the PlayStation 4 enables some pretty cool effects, such as tall weeds and giant vegetation where Nathan can hide. In many levels, you can sneak up on the bad guys and take them out one at a time quietly. That can be very important in levels where there are tons of well-armed enemies. It doesn’t work all of the time, but sometimes you can take out every single enemy this way. You have to be behind the goons in order to pull this off as they will sound alerts if you confront them face-to-face.

Combat

Uncharted 4

Above: Uncharted 4

Image Credit: Sony

You can turn on the “auto-aim” if you really need to. This game doesn’t have as much combat as some of the previous games, and it usually provides you with access to the weapons you need at any given stage. For most of the game, you can get by with a pistol and an assault rifle. You may need to pick up and use some grenades, rocket-propelled grenades, shotguns, and sniper rifles. But these are usually available in the scenes where you need them. If you find one, you can pick it up for that encounter, but you probably don’t need to take it with you.

The enemies on the “hard” difficulty are pretty unforgiving. If you stick your head out, you’ll get shot. If you take time to aim at someone in front of you, someone on your flank may take you out. You learn that you have to use the Circle button to go into cover.

There are some rare, tougher enemies. Later on, you run into armored guys with thick helmets that come at you with shotguns or high-powered machine guns. Avoid them as much as possible. If you shoot them in the helmet, it will fall off. And if you hit them again, you can kill them with a headshot. But this is hard to do, and they may close on you in the meantime. In that case, you have to find cover or be ready to scramble out of the way. A grenade or shotgun can be more useful against these targets.

The good thing about the combination of climbing, grappling, jumping, fighting, driving, and stealth is that there’s an awful lot of variety in the gameplay.

Multiplayer tips

Uncharted 4

Above: Uncharted 4

Image Credit: Sony

Multiplayer requires a step up in skill level. Real human players aren’t quite as dumb as A.I. characters. So you have to be a little more careful in your tactics. You should try to use the larger map sizes so you can try to flank your enemies and take them out from the sides.

You should also go for high ground to get a good view of the whole battle and get the drop on enemies down below. You can even execute some flying jumps, where you can kill the enemy in one stroke from above, and use your grappling hook to swing around and drop down on the enemy.

The ending

We won’t spoil the ending, though we might say that we don’t entirely agree with the path that it took. This is not one of those endings where you have to watch through the entire credits to see something hidden or cool at the end. There is a nice thank-you message to Amy Hennig, the former creative director on the series, from Naughty Dog. That’s pretty classy, but there’s no hidden messages that we saw. In this case, the end is the end.

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