NOTE: I was not able to play the multiplayer component of Uncharted 2, hence why it is not mentioned anywhere below.
So last summer I played and reviewed Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune when it was a whopping four years old. Not allowing history to repeat itself, I purchased the three year old Uncharted 2: Among Thieves off of the Playstation Store and played the hell out of it. I completed Uncharted 2 in less than two full days, which is a rarity for me these days. Is this a good or bad thing? Considering the fact that I beat it so quickly due to the fact that I couldn’t put the game down, this is a very good thing!
When I reviewed Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune last year I had trouble believing how any game could top it and I couldn’t fathom how Uncharted 2 was supposedly miles ahead in practically every category. After playing the game, I now see how a near perfect game can still be improved upon. While the first Uncharted was an amazing experience that was near perfection, Uncharted 2 is even closer and is perhaps as close to perfection that I can imagine a video game ever reaching.
Before I actually talk about this game, there are a few more things I want to say that truly are indicative of just how amazing the Uncharted series is. I’m a guy who hates 90% of shooters out there and I also detest most games that simply have shooting sequences. This is pretty evident by the fact that my reviews on here are pretty light on games with guns. Considering my strong disdain for shooters, shouldn’t someone such as myself not like a series such as Uncharted? You would think so, but for some reason the shooting sequences in these games don’t bother me in the slightest as I become completely immersed in Drake’s adventures. Whatever Naughty Dog did with Uncharted, which resulted in someone who hates shooters considering this to be one of the greatest video game franchises of all time, it is surely nothing short of miraculous. I hate shooters, yet this game I am about to talk about is my favourite game on the Playstation 3 and surely one of my all time favourites for years to come. Wow. Anyway, I have a game to review! Let’s get to that now, shall we?
Uncharted 2: Among Thieves picks up some time after the first game. Nate, Sully, and Elena have seemingly gone separate ways. However, when a quest to find the mythical city of Shambhala emerges, Drake isn’t long in recruiting sidekick Sully to help point him in the right direction. Joined by the exotic and fiery Chloe, as well as Elena shortly afterwards, Nate’s journey in search of Shambhala leads him to Borneo, the chilly Himalayan mountains of Tibet, a war ravaged city in Nepal, and several other locales. Each area you visit is perhaps more beautiful than the last as this game just looks better and better the further you progress. Despite the game being a few years old, the graphics are still very impressive for a console game. My roommates were watching me during one of my Uncharted 2 marathon sessions and commented on just how good the graphics are. Naughty Dog really outdid themselves with the visuals in this game.
What makes Uncharted 2 such a beauty to look at? For starters we have the character models which have been vastly improved since the first game. In my review of Drake’s Fortune I mentioned that the voice acting didn’t seem to sync with the characters’ lips at all times and some animations weren’t as good as they could have been. All of these problems have been completely ironed out in Uncharted 2. What impressed me the most in this game easily had to be just how good the lip syncing and facial animations are. Nate and Elena were never this realistic looking in the original game. The range of facial expressions that the characters show off in Among Thieves is nothing short of impressive. I have never seen such expressive characters in a game before and it really helps to make these characters feel alive. Sure the locations, environment lighting, and even the weather effects all look absolutely stunning, but the characters are the show stealers here by miles.
Of course the characters wouldn’t be as believable if they didn’t have a stunning soundtrack and amazing voice acting to back them up. Uncharted 2 doesn’t just look amazing, it sounds it too. Greg Edmonson’s compositions are able to bring each and every scene to life so strongly due to the music in this game being that good. We’re talking borderline movie quality here. Fortunately the music never outshines the stars of the game. Nolan North returns as Nathan Drake and his performance here is so unbelievably well done that it makes his portrayal as Nate in Drake’s Fortune look amateurish! Emily Rose also returns as Elena Fisher and does just as well in her respective role. Emily once said that, when they debuted the Uncharted 2 trailer at E3, the audience went into hysterics with their applause when Elena appeared on the screen. She really has become a beloved character and having her in the Uncharted games is just as mandatory as including Nate.
A few other voice actors do amazing jobs here. Richard McGonagle once again dominates as Victor Sullivan while newcomers Claudia Black (as Chloe Frazer), Steve Valentine (as Harry Flynn), and Graham McTavish (as bad guy Zoran Lazarevic) all throw in stunning performances. Also remember Odo from Deep Space Nine? The talented actor who portrayed him, Rene Auberjonois, has a scene stealing role in Among Thieves as well. Rene’s years of experience really shine through as he portrays the elderly Karl Schäfer.
Clearly I’m in love with the artistic side of Uncharted 2, but how does it play? Very well is your answer. For starters it is worth noting that gun fights are much better here than they were in the first game. The cover system has been improved and is much more responsive now. It feels like Drake is able to take cover more easily and use more objects as cover than he could in the previous game. Melee combat also feels a little more worthwhile now which is fantastic considering how I felt it was perhaps the weakest part of the original game. That is not the case in Among Thieves as Nate is now able to sneak up on enemies and take them down using stealth kills. The whole “brutal combat” system from the first game has been removed as well, and now it merely takes a few well placed button presses to dispatch an enemy. I found that sneaking around and performing stealth takedowns was incredibly fun and, in a lot of situations, it was just as viable as charging in with your guns blazing. Of course sneaking around and picking enemies off one by one is a much slower process, but it also saves a lot of ammunition.
Regarding ammo, it’s just as plentiful as it was in the first game. This is a great aspect of the game because, unlike in Drake’s Fortune, fire fights don’t exceedingly long. In the first game it was not uncommon to fully clear a room of bad guys only to have an even larger backup force enter the room. This could happen several times in one room and it made some fights take quite a while to get through. This never happens with Uncharted 2. Backup forces seldom arrive and, when they do, it actually makes a lot of sense unlike in the first game. No longer will droves of enemies rush into the room from the entrance you just used! Still, ammo may be depleted quickly late in the game due to a few game changing encounters that pop up later on. Without spoiling anything, the late game bad guys change your strategy up similarly to the surprise enemies in the first game, but the ones in this game are capable of dishing out far more punishment. Fortunately there is also a late game weapon that can take down the end game enemies pretty easily.
There is tons of climbing and jumping around in Uncharted 2. I’m pretty sure you’ll spend more time scaling walls and making heroic jumps in Among Thieves than in the first game. While this is a breath of fresh air for me (I wanted more of these sequences in the first game), I do have one small complaint. In the original Uncharted I more or less always knew where to go because walls that could be scaled were pretty easy to spot. Uncharted 2 wasn’t like this and I found that some walls I had to scale weren’t very obvious at all. I don’t ask for games to hold my hand but, when I run around a small area for a few minutes looking for whatever it is I have to climb and eventually have to wait for the game to give me a hint, I feel like something is wrong. This only happened a few times throughout the game, but it was definitely enough to hamper the cinematic flow that the game has. Essentially my beef with this part of the game isn’t that it was difficult or anything of the sort, no. My issue is that it simply broke the immersion a little.
Like in the first game there are only a few major puzzles which all make use of Drake’s handy notebook that he carries. Without Drake’s notebook, the puzzles would pretty much be almost impossible for most gamers to solve. Fortunately the game will let you know when the notebook is required. I attempted a few puzzles without first looking at the notebook and let me tell you it was a big mistake! Use the notebook whenever the game suggests you do so. Not only will it prevent you from scratching your head for half an hour, but it will also make you feel so much like Indiana Jones that it’s unreal. One puzzle late in the game that involves opening a secret passage is perhaps the best example of this and anyone who has played Among Thieves should know which one I am talking about.
So overall, how is this game? It’s simply amazing. The cinematic cutscenes are beyond anything I’d expect to find in a video game and the smooth gameplay keeps you moving all the time which allows the movie-like flow to maintain itself all throughout the game. The soundtrack is just phenomenal and the characters, from their relationships with one another to their superb voice actors, are the greatest in any video game I have ever played. You end up caring so much for Nate, Sully, Elena, and Chloe that it is unreal. These do not feel like mere video game characters at all, they feel like real people who have invited you along for an exciting adventure… and what a hell of an adventure it is. Uncharted 2: Among Thieves is one of the very best video games ever created and anyone who has decided to skip the Uncharted series, for whatever reason, is making a huge mistake. Uncharted is the video game equivalent to movies such as Raiders of the Lost Ark, Star Wars, or The Shawshank Redemption. No sane person would miss seeing such defining films such as those, and no sane person should pass up on the Uncharted series. Naughty Dog has redefined what an adventure game is, and it is no surprise that the new Tomb Raider game is seemingly aiming to copy what made Uncharted so wildly successful.
This game is the absolute cream of the crop of video games. If you have not played Uncharted 2: Among Thieves (let alone Drake’s Fortune), then do so immediately. You will not regret it for even one second.
+ Amazing soundtrack that rivals major motion pictures.
+ Stunning production values and amazing cinematic flow to the gameplay.
+ The most believable and likeable characters to ever grace a video game.
– It wasn’t long enough (it was, I just want MORE Uncharted!).
– That wasn’t really a con though, was it?
– Neither was that. Wait… what’s going on?