My biggest complaint about Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune was that the game aged relatively poorly. It was certainly playable, but it was obviously outdated. What’s astonishing to me is just how large of a leap was made between Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune and Uncharted 2: Among Thieves on nearly every conceivable level. For the games only being released 2 years apart, the second game in this legendary adventure series blows its predecessor out of the water. The visuals, gameplay, level design, and overall scope of the game were so dramatically improved that I do not hesitate to recommend Uncharted 2: Among Thieves despite me not falling in love with the original Uncharted.
The basis of Uncharted 2: Among Thieves is that Nathan Drake and his companions are retracing path of Marco Polo, attempting to find the lost city of Shangri-La. This leads the player through a plethora of gorgeous locations. From dense jungles in Borneo, to a crowded city in Nepal, to a remote village overlooking the Himalayas. These striking locales are memorable not only for their views, but also for the action sequences that occur in them. Uncharted 2: Among Thieves makes phenomenal use of set pieces to make for unforgettable experiences. The game opens with Drake precariously hanging onto a train which is dangling from a cliff. Whether you are jumping from rooftop to rooftop avoiding a gunship, or employing guerilla warfare to take down a tank on a mountainside, Uncharted 2: Among Thieves has some unforgettable action.
The components of Uncharted 2: Among Thieves are identical to its predecessor, except they were vastly improved upon. The 3 pillars of gameplay remain: combat, climbing, and puzzles. Combat in Uncharted 2: Among Thieves feels far smoother to play than its predecessor. Hit registration is better and guns feel more impactful. Enemies actually react when hit, so you know when you’ve hit them. Headshots feel far more consistent. Movement in general is smoother in every regard. While the game is still a third-person shooter with no obvious additions, the gameplay was polished so that it is actually fun.
One of the issues that I attribute to the gameplay is that even through the newfound shine of modernization, it is still a relatively rudimentary third-person shooter. The vast majority of gunfights revolve around the player posting up behind a piece of cover, popping their head out for a second or two to kill an enemy, and then hiding back behind the cover to recover health. Occasionally enemies will flank or throw grenades, but this just equates to swapping to a different piece of cover. While it can be engaging for short bursts, it is not innovative or creative in any way. Moreover, Uncharted 2: Among Thieves occasionally has pacing issues.
The pacing of Uncharted 2: Among Thieves is one of the games greatest triumphs as well as one of the games biggest flaws. For the majority of the game, Naughty Dog masterfully divides all of the different components that define Uncharted. Cutscenes, action sequences, combat, climbing, and puzzles are all represented frequently. They are split into small, digestible chunks so that the player does not get bored. When each component is only 10-15 minutes at a time before switching gears and doing something else, then their individual basicness can often be overlooked. For the vast majority of the game, that is the case. Even though the climbing, puzzles, and combat are all individually simple, they worked well together in small chunks. Unfortunately, for some sections, the beginning and end of the game in particular, the same cannot be said. When I have to spend hours in gunfights with no reprieve, I start to get exhausted.
The combat of the Uncharted series can be thoroughly enjoyed in brief sections. When punctuated by cutscenes, set pieces, and action sequences the shootouts can be rather fun. And after a few minutes of relaxing climbing or puzzles, there is an allure of getting into a firefight. Still, the combat is absolutely rudimentary. Sitting behind a wall and popping out to take a couple shots at a time is not exhilarating. Especially when a gunfight goes on for too long and you are stuck behind the same piece of cover for what feels like an eternity. It can get stressful and frustrating as you just want this particular fight to be over, but sticking your head out for a second too long results in death. Again, this basic third-person shooter gameplay is not offensive, but there are a couple of combat sections in the game that drag on for way too long.
I would be remiss to not comment on the increased frequency of climbing in Uncharted 2: Among Thieves. The first game in the series certainly had climbing, but was not nearly utilized as much as it is in this entry. I think this is a bit worrying, as the climbing in these games is completely brainless. You simply hit a button and hold the stick in the general direction of a ledge and Nathan will magically snap to it. There is no fail state. There is no way to lose. It is completely devoid of player input. The developers try to make it seem exciting by creating spectacle around the player, but it doesn’t sufficiently mask how boring climbing is. The climbing is necessary downtime between intense gunfights. It serves as a breather and an opportunity to take in the environment around you. I just hope that future games in the series do not continue this trend of adding more and more climbing sections. It was mostly tolerable in this game, but there was definitely more of it than there was in Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune.
Uncharted 2: Among Thieves, like its predecessor, does not have a particularly memorable or hard-hitting story. Instead, the story is the vehicle to deliver the player to all sorts of interesting locations, as well as giving the characters plenty of interaction. I do think this game had a better overall narrative than the original game, but it remains of the realm of an action B movie. Still, the series shines because of its characters. Nathan, Sully, Elena, and the newly introduced Chloe all feel like living, breathing, characters. Their interactions, dialogue, and motivations are incredibly well written. This is complimented by the performances of the actors that voice these characters.
Overall, Uncharted 2: Among Thieves significantly polished the base left by its predecessor. There was a large graphical leap, controls were tighter, gameplay more crisp, better use of set pieces, and a more intriguing story. I wrote most of the flaws of the original game off due to its age, but I feel like Uncharted 2: Among Thieves is modern enough that I cannot dismiss the shortcomings of the series thus far. The combat can get dull after a while, and climbing is entirely unengaging. Despite this, Uncharted 2: Among Thieves is a solid action-adventure game. Especially if you like tons of spectacle and well-written characters.