Like every Uncharted fan worth their salt — salt as in moxie, not the mineral of stupidity the kids currently deal in — I played through A Thief's End twice. The first run on Hard was jaw-to-the-floor amazing. The return? Teeth-grinding annoyance.
You'll have to play it twice because you can't access the highest difficulty, Crushing, right off the bat. It's an aptly named challenge, swearfans; the blatantly unfair battles in Act III will trample your self esteem. You'll throw your Dualshock 4 into the floor and punch it into a fine dust. Marketing could have shipped this as Uncharted 4: At Wits' End.
But Crushing wasn't the problem. I love a good skill test (except actual Skill Tester machines, with the claws, they can piss right off). Using sheer brute force and ignorance, I unlocked that trophy, and undid a lot of expensive, post-Dark Souls III therapy sessions. No regrets. I still love this game to death. Buy it.
That said, Naughty Dog managed to tap a dormant rage-well inside of me. Possibly the oldest and deepest one I have as a sufferer of third-child syndrome: younger sibling rivalry.
Thanks to Sony's extensive pre-release material, it's not exactly spoilerish to mention that Sam Drake, Nathan's heretofore unmentioned older bro, reappears for this new adventure. His long absence is explained by a vague hint of having “done hard time for Drake”. The two quickly fall back into the rogue life of robbing pirates of antiquity whilst massacring a small army of their modern day equivalents. So far, so standard.
But here's where jimmies get rustled. Despite Sam being in the slammer for decades, there are a bunch of moments where he displays abilities greater than that of Nathan Drake, seasoned adventurer extraordinaire.
A minor example: in an early infiltration-style mission, Sam challenges you to snag a distant grapple point with Nate's “new” throwing rope. The first time you play, you're pretty unfamiliar with it. You've used it exactly once before, and it went off without a hitch, despite your inexperience. When you try and fail here, you'll most likely shrug your shoulders, and older bro will have his little smirk moment. Lovable wanker that he is.
The first run through, I figured I choked by mistiming the little wind-up mechanic that occurs when the overlarge “L1” prompt appears. Nope. Shit is hard-scripted in there. No matter what you do, Nate goes “ehhh” and that rope flops out like a limp noodle. You suck balls, and the points go to big bro. Cue: small eye-twitch.
Not much later on, it's Sam's turn to have a dig with his rope. “It'd suck if you missed this,” quips Nate. Sam nails the anchor with Batman efficiency and retorts: “I never miss”. Yeah, Sam, because you probably had sooo much time to spend honing your advanced spelunking skills in solitary confinement, you smarmy sack of sh–
I'm sorry. Where was I?
Oh, yeah. Bullshit scripted events where you absolutely cannot win, even when armed with prior knowledge. Without spoiling too much (if anything) there are many moments where you and Sam will enter a puzzle room and need to snoop about for a trigger to proceed. Two or three times, I knew EXACTLY which object in the room was the golden switch to success. But, no, the contextual icon wouldn't appear over it, because Naughty Dog wanted me to bumble around on other red herring interaction points until – ta-daaaa – Sam would find the thing and talk a little trash.
Later still, Sam's counsel must be sought because he has a much deeper knowledge of pirate paraphernalia. Plot-twist, you filthy pleb: Sam mentions he's been boning up on history in the apparently Harvard-level library housed within that third-world, urine-soaked hellhole of his. “Nate, I'm honestly surprised you don't know about [insert insanely obscure historical fact]” becomes the regular joke. Cue: lips tightening into a small snarl.
Dude. While you were doing your best to not drop the soap, I found El Dorado and rediscovered Shambhala AND Iram of the Pillars, you shitbird motherf–
…Apologies. I-it's…it's my problem. I'll deal with it.
Maybe you'll feel the same thing as you play through Uncharted 4 when it releases on May 10. Maybe you won't. But I really do think there's a case to be made here for Naughty Dog providing us a means to keep – at minimum – an even score with trollbro. Particularly on the second run that they basically already *know* their biggest fans will undertake.
I get that the Uncharted series has always been a heavily-scripted rollercoaster ride, but it doesn't have to be so in this small facet of the game. ND has already shown a desire to open up player agency in the combat and exploration spaces, thanks to larger “avoid-or-engage-how-you-like” areas. It wouldn't have taken much coding or additional VO to achieve similar latitude in the puzzle and NPC interaction side of things, too.
As it stands, they haven't. It mars the experience a little tiny bit for me; lessens the magic, when you do finally spot those strings that were making you look like a schmuck. Next time, Naughty Dog, don't just add in optional dialogue moments that let me cherry-pick which of Nate's impressive exploits I can mention to his older sibling. Give me the means to really put this firstborn fuckwit in his place. That's some power-fantasy DLC I'd shell out doubloons for.