Uncharted 4: A Thief's End is probably the biggest game of 2016, and certainly the biggest platform exclusive. Naughty Dog garnered enough attention prior to the release of its last game, The Last of Us, but since releasing that instant-classic it has become one of the world's most revered game development studios.
A Thief's End is touted as an end for the series. Crucially, that's "an end" not "the end" because it may well prove to be the end of protagonist Nathan Drake's story, and/or the end of Naughty Dog's involvement in the series, if not the end of Uncharted entirely.
As the game releases worldwide, exclusively on PS4, here's everything you need to know about what is sure to be one of the year's most talked about titles.
What is it?
Uncharted 4 is the latest in a line of swashbuckling adventure games from the development studio behind Crash Bandicoot and Jak and Daxter. It all began in 2007 with the release of Uncharted: Drake's Fortune, which was celebrated for its lovely visuals, fun script and wild gameplay – which combined elements of exploration, platforming, puzzling, stealth and third-person combat.
The sequels – Among Thieves and Drake's Deception – built on the formula, slowly improving the combat, greatly increasing the sense of scale and quality of the writing. Uncharted 4 arrives on a new system (for the series), and perhaps revolutionises the series' gameplay more than any other thanks to its more open-level design.
It's recognisably Uncharted, and a lot of that is down to the characters – who with their actors are as much to do with the series' success as any mechanical or design aspect. Nathan Drake is a charming lead, and his supporting cast is comprised of company as delightful as Victor "Sully" Sullivan and Elena Fisher.
What's the story?
In A Thief's End Drake has settled down to start a life with Elena. He daydreams about his days as an adventurer, but insists they are behind him – turning down risky opportunities. That is, until the brother he thought to be dead turns up out of the blue, revealing his life is in danger unless he can hunt down some long-lost pirate treasure. It doesn't take long for Nate to get dragged back in.
Uncharted is a very story-orientated franchise, so to say any more about the broader themes might be encroaching on spoilers.
What's different this time around?
The obvious visual upgrade comes with general improvements to gameplay – including improved auto-aim and better AI for friends and foes alike. The bigger changes are to the vehicular set pieces, with Drake now given greater control of the bikes, trucks and boats he drives, and the introduction of dialogue options – which don't appear to have a huge bearing on the game early on, but which do engage the player a little more with the story being told.
Behind the scenes there have been changes too. Amy Hennig, the most instrumental player in Uncharted's success having led the three games to date, left the company during development of A Thief's End. Her departure coincided with the arrival of Bruce Straley and Neil Druckmann, who joined the development following The Last of Us (which they directed and co-wrote). Some believe Hennig was forced out by the pair, who wanted a new direction for A Thief's End and scrapped eight months of work.
Hennig is now at Visceral Games working on its new Star Wars title. Uncharted 4's credits come with a very special thank you for Hennig, so it seems the hatchet has been buried.
Is there multiplayer?
There certainly is. The series has always been focused on its single-player stories, and that hasn't changed with A Thief's End, but since Uncharted 2 a multiplayer component has been introduced and built upon. Uncharted 4 offers a multiplayer component unlike any other on the market – one that transfers the best of the main game's combat into an online arena. With The Last of Us Naughty Dog made their best-ever multiplayer, and it seems they've learnt a thing or two from the process.
Uncharted 4: A Thief's End is out now on PS4.