Nathan Drake is a character who can only exist as a video game protagonist. When you really dig down into his core, he has absolutely no idea what he’s doing and no motivation to be doing it. At least, not one that is established. I like to tease that he just enjoys killing scores of his fellow man, but really, what’s he doing? He hears that some explorer may have dropped their treasure somewhere, and he sets out after it. Then when it turns out that the treasure is probably cursed in some way, he doesn’t shrug and
If he did shrug and turn around, where would that leave you? He’s a magical force that you drive through a narrative because someone needs to chug down that railway. He’s vanilla, likable, and inoffensive, so you don’t get scared driving your meat car. The more I play Uncharted, the more I want to get him up on an autopsy table and see what makes him tick.
What’s your problem, guy? Why are you just running around killing people and destroying ancient architecture?
WHAT’S YOUR PROBLEM?
This time around, we’re at least given some insight as to why Drake is such a jerk. Among Thieves opens with Drake receiving a proposition to rob a museum, and is only intrigued when the prospect of it leading to a bigger treasure is brought up. So, essentially, he’s willing to put his life on the line and commit acts of murder and destruction as long as there’s some breadcrumb trail for him to follow to solve a mystery.
He’s trying to find Shambala, the mythical city from Tibetan lore, as well at the Cintamani Stone, a giant sapphire said to be really awesome in different ways. He’s competing against a meaty dude named Lazarevic, who hates the miracle of life almost as much as Drake does. Like the previous game’s antagonist, the guy has a massive army of identical looking dudes that are as expendable as the ends of bread loaves. Drake has to wade through tides of these guys while solving puzzles to find the lost entrance to Shambala.
SOME BREADCRUMB TRAIL
There’s a sense that everything is bigger this time around. Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune mainly focused on a single island, but Among Thieves drops the singular locale for a much longer adventure across multiple countries. Moreover, it incorporates a lot more action setpieces to break up all the stop-and-pop cover shooting. At any time you could find yourself running from a helicopter, climbing across a train, or running from a helicopter while climbing across a train.
Action setpiece moments can be a detriment to games. They often take you out of the action and push you through something that is supposed to be thrilling but is so railroaded that it feels unnatural and inorganic. If there’s one place where Among Thieves excels, however, it’s how it handles its action set pieces. They feel naturally sewn into the levels, where one minute you’re fighting dudes from behind desks, and the next the whole building is coming down on top of you.
There are a lot of exciting and memorable moments to be had. The aforementioned train segment is a thrilling shoot-out while nice scenery goes by. By the end of the game, I was getting a bit tired of fleeing across crumbling masonry, but when the game takes hold of what’s going on around you, it feels exhilarating.
TIDES OF DUDES
Where the game lets itself down is every moment between the setpieces. The combat is just so, so dry. It’s your traditional cover-based stop-and-pop, where you sit behind cover and wait for someone to pop your head out. Vexingly, half the enemies wear helmets that somehow shield their faces from headshots. Combined with the fact that Drake can’t take much abuse, I found myself dying a lot, and each time I was plopped down at the start of a gunfight, it got less and less tolerable.
This wouldn’t be so bad as a way of cleansing the palate between the more exciting scenes, but unfortunately, the game stops providing those at about two-thirds the way in. Suddenly it’s nothing but repetitive gunfights against identical dudes for something like three hours. It’s an absolute slog that feels like it never ends.
Combat has been where the Uncharted series has let itself down most. You can only carry a primary weapon and sidearm, along with grenades. Each battle takes place in a boxed-in environment filled with cover. There’s at least a vaster arsenal this time around, but most of the guns are interchangeably similar. You’re also always required to kill every dude in the area before you can advance. It’s just so ridiculously bland, and to see the game stumble into the climax through a sea of these encounters is such a letdown.
THE GOLDEN TICKET
This would be more tolerable if the story held everything up, but the narrative is just kind of…
I think my biggest complaint actually mirrors the gameplay in that everything slows to a crawl at the end. At the beginning, it takes its time with its cutscenes, attempting to tell the story carefully and thoroughly, but by the end, it feels like it doesn’t want to even bother. Scenes that feel like they could use more drama, such as when character arcs are being wrapped up, wrap up quickly and in an unsatisfying manner. It sets its characters up to reveal their depth, than completely fails to capitalize on it, almost like it’s afraid to.
Back when Uncharted 2: Among Thieves was first released, the end-game slog wound up breaking me, and I never finished it properly. This time, I made it to the credit roll, but I don’t feel like I gained any more insight. Uncharted 2 really does limp over the finish line. It truly fails to deliver on the promises made by the exciting set pieces and character development presented in the first two-thirds of the game.
It’s not all bad, but I think whether or not you’ll actually like the game will come down to your tolerance for Uncharted’s combat. For me, it’s okay in small doses, but Among Thieves hardly deals in small doses. The constant cover shooting just wore me down, souring my impressions on the game. I’ll still give the game a recommendation since it is excellent for most of its runtime. However, if you get the feeling that everything is just dragging on; that’s the point you should just quit. The treasure at the end just isn’t worth it.
This review was conducted on a PS4 using a physical copy of the Nathan Drake Collection. The author also has experience with the original PS3 version. It was paid for by the author.