- The Washington Times - Friday, May 20, 2016

Fortune hunter Nathan Drake comes out of retirement for one more desperate adventure in the visual smorgasbord Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End (Sony Computer Entertainment and Naughty Dog, rated Teen, $59.99).

This third-person action game, exclusively for the PlayStation 4 entertainment console, offers a satisfying conclusion to the popular and award-winning franchise while presenting a cinematic mini-series highlighting plenty of harrowing, blockbuster-style action.

The player controls Nathan during a high-speed boat chase, a fistfight with a thug and an escape from a orphanage and Panamanian prison, as he recalls a few dazzling flashbacks spanning decades.

Then, we find our unassuming hero in the present, happily married to fellow explorer Ellen Fisher.

Obviously bored, Nathan is reduced to diving to collect contracted junk and coming home to his trophy room (stuck in the attic) to shoot paper targets with a dart gun, get his wife a bowl of food and, wait for it, challenge her to a game of the PS2 classic “Crash Bandicoot,” a classic platformer from Naughty Dog’s early releases.

Life changes quickly when a supposedly deceased sibling returns in serious trouble and in need of his help to find a long lost pirate treasure.

The player directs Nathan in the roughly 14-hour-long epic through a gantlet of — often dangling for dear life — linear challenges spread out across the globe including a mansion full of elite criminals in Italy, a cemetery full of mercenaries in Scotland and combing through ancient ruins near Madagascar.

The series, known for Nathan’s parkour antics, continues to showcase his acrobatic survival skills as he literally reaches new heights.

Specifically, the rag-doll climbing and swinging techniques of the character has become part of his gaming legend, and the digital craftsmen do not disappoint this time.

They have refined nearly every aspect of his movements aligned to gravity as he uses some incredibly strong fingers to hang and maneuver on the sheerest of cliffs, precipices and building walls or pulls out a rope to scale and jump to hard-to-reach locations.

Along his perilous journey, Nathan also has plenty of stealthy attacks from enemies and firefights with small armies. He picks the occasional pocket, solves a puzzle or escapes environmental obstacle courses via vehicle or on foot. He even gets advice and help from his brother Sam, who is often climbing stone by stone next to him.

Taking cover is still a fluid and easy-to-execute maneuver, but within destructible environments, Nathan can’t hide long as bullets and explosives chip away at, and destroy, his positions.

However, throughout, the stunning locations and dense, non-playable character interactions can easily distract as enhance the game play.

I found myself caught up staring at many an active background as characters walked around and interacted (reference a prison yard, market square or a busy auction), making me forgot my ultimate goals.

The urgency of moving on from perilously hanging from a crumbling abyss was not so urgent as I was mesmerized by a panoramic view of a coastline complete with frothing waves.

In fact, a player can actually stop the action, go into a camera mode and carefully examine the three-dimensional space to admire the game designers’ meticulous work on every foot of the environment.

I was also really impressed by just the act of stepping into a snow pile as Nathan left footprints, never quite the same, or pushed up tufts of the compacted flakes.

An encounter with a gravel incline on the side of a hill was just as realistic as he kicked up the rocks and dust while sliding down and leaving a permanent indentation.

Additionally, I’ll mention that I very much enjoyed taking part in one of the best escape sequences I have ever manipulated in video gaming.

Surprisingly, I found the story as enticing as the eye candy. By about the third act, I was more intrigued on the plot resolutions between Nathan and his brother Sam, wife, aging companions and fellow grave robbers that I often attempted to breeze through the game play as quickly as possible to appreciate the cut scene narratives.

It’s also worth noting that besides the game play and design, the voice cast helps cement the excitement and emotional impact of the adventure.

The actors include Nolan North as Nathan Drake, Troy Baker as Sam North, Emily Rose as Elena Fisher and Richard McGonagle as Sully Sullivan.

However, as much as the game’s campaign dazzles, its linear plot line might signal the downfall of this type of gaming genre. Open-ended titles, such as “The Division,” “Destiny” and “Dark Souls,” afford much more complexity and time-sucking replayabilty.

Still, history has been served. With Nathan’s final chapter beautifully concluded with “Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End,” he can proudly take his place alongside Lara Croft and Indiana Jones as one of the most popular treasure hunters in the history of pop culture.

Gamers done with the hero’s saga can move over to a multiplayer mode featuring options to take part in a Team Deathmatch (team with most kills after a set time wins), Plunder (steal opponent’s idol) and Command (capture enemy areas and kill their commander).

The locations are as gorgeous as the ones in the main story, and players can customize weapons loadouts and characters, spend accumulated points to wield supernatural powers (unleash specters to attack) and summon computer-controlled helpers to assist in surviving the often-chaotic battles.

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