When I began writing about Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune, I considered it the high-water mark of the PlayStation 3’s library, at that point in the platform’s lifecycle. Having completed its sequel, Among Thieves, I can testify that it unquestionably usurped that role, and deserves recognition as one of the best games of the contemporary cinematic era. Originally released in North America on October 13, 2009, Naughty Dog maintained the excellent blend of third-person, cover-based shooting and wowing traversal that put the series on the map with the first game. What carried my interest however was the engaging narrative. Characters both familiar and fresh intertwined with Nate’s search for Marco Polo’s lost fleet. Danger and drama kept Nate busy across the game’s dozen hour runtime and the numerous set pieces often had me in disbelief and culminated in an experience that played like a greatest hits of the action-adventure genre.
If I’ve played a game that featured it before, I can’t remember at this moment, but Uncharted 2 begins in media res, or in the middle of things. When the game began, Nathan Drake awoke to find himself suspended in a train car, dangling off the edge of a snowy mountain ledge, and also suffering from a gunshot wound, making the next ten minutes difficult for him, and me, as I guided him up, outside and all around the precipitously hanging vessel before it plummeted to an awful end. Back on terra firma, Nate’s thoughts drifted back to warmer weather and an encounter with Harry Flynn, and Chloe Frazer. These fellow treasure hunter thieves recruited him for a Turkish museum heist in the hopes of finding Marco Polo’s lost treasure laden fleet. Despite his reticence, Nate ultimately relented. Unfortunately, everything went as planned.
As the trio infiltrated their target, I was introduced to the newly implemented stealth mechanics. When walking slowly, Nate’s movements were more conducive to stealthily eliminating his foes. Taking them out wasn’t as smooth as I may’ve hoped for while playing Drake’s Fortune, as every now and then I’d misjudge his position in relation to an enemy, alerting them to my presence. Still, this method was my go-to when encountering a group of enemies or larger combat section, despite rarely being able to take out more than one or two goons. Once Nate and Flynn retrieved what they were after, Flynn and Chloe double-crossed Nate, setting up a trap which he wasn’t able to elude.
Fast forward a few months and he was being sprung from a Turkish jail, courtesy of Sully and perplexingly, Chloe. She briefed him on Zoran Lazarević, the power hungry benefactor using her and Flynn to locate the Cintamani Stone and Shambhala for his own power fantasies. Nate agreed to resume the search and along with Sully and Chloe (remaining a mole) they trashed Lazarević’s camp in Borneo and followed a lead to Kathmandu, Nepal. Lazarević’s forces were busy turning the city upside down looking for a specific temple, in the process transforming it into a warzone.
The next few chapters encapsulated the overarching gameplay cycle well, with the lion share of action revolving around Nate’s penchant for surviving myriad shootouts and his expert traversal prowess. Gunfights large and small populated Nate’s quest and he dealt with all manner of weapons, including a few new ones as diverse as crossbows and riot shields. Trophies were structured as they were in the first game which meant they felt a little uncreative but nonetheless coerced me into using just about every weapon. The third-person cover-based combat wasn’t significantly improved or altered compared to its predecessor but the predicaments Nate found himself in were routinely more entertaining and significantly over-the-top.
When he wasn’t blasting Lazarević’s goons, Nate was getting from point A to B and the paths taken also proved more exciting. I’ve already mentioned the opening sequence of Nate escaping the dangling train car and while it’s arguably the greatest traversal sequence of the game, there were plenty of other sections that had my jaw hitting the floor. In one such moment later on in the game, Nate climbed revolving objects, rode gears, and activated switches in the confines of a massive puzzle room like something out of an Indiana Jones movie. With instances like those highlighted, it’s important I note the majority of his pathfinding was rather rote, with little exploration required. Nate’s path was predetermined and conveniently enough, there was always a pocket of uneven bricks to cling onto or a pole to climb. Most of the time, it simply involved Nate getting around an otherwise unpassable obstacle.
The larger cast of this game made for a larger set of interpersonal relationships and accordingly, more drama. Before finding the temple they sought, Nate and Chloe ran into Elena Fisher and her cameraman. Still working as a journalist, Elena was in Nepal attempting to authenticate claims that Lazarević, a war criminal, had survived a NATO bombing. Nate and Elena had previously grown close through the events of the first game, which ended with them seeming like a couple as they smarted off to each into the fading sunset. Life happened in between and whenever they shared the screen, I found myself particularly interested. I know it’s because I felt a greater investment in these characters, but the unknown rift between them, and Chloe’s reactions to their exchanges, had me glued to the screen, eager to see what would happen next. The performances of the actors were mighty impressive as well, surpassing the bar set by the first game.
Even when they were getting ahead, the now foursome, encountered setbacks. Locating the temple led them towards the Himalayas, but the death of the cameraman and a falling out with Chloe resulted in Nate and Elena traveling as a twosome. The following chapters were a delight, probably the best. Nate infiltrated Lazarević’s train, and worked his way to the front, dropping enemies, climbing all about the train cars, and avoiding obstacles while riding on the outside of the speeding vessel. After loads of action, Nate awoke with a gunshot wound, strapped into a train car dangling off a snowy mountain ledge. In other words, I picked up from the game’s starting point and the story resumed, signaling it was all downhill from this point on, or rather, up mountain.
Having narrowly escaped a fatal fall and death at the hands of a small group of henchmen, Nate passed out in the falling snow. Awaking in a stupor, one final time, he found himself in the confines of a remote Tibetan village. It was a veritable winter oasis with ample vegetation, friendly villagers, and scenic vistas. Regardless of the language barrier, Nate knew his rescuer was leading him somewhere. He followed and was introduced to Karl Schäfer, an elderly Nazi who was once on Marco Polo’s trail as well. Elena was there too, having tracked Nate’s whereabouts down after locating the train wreckage, and little resistance apparently. Karl divulged what he knew and when Nate was hesitant and ready to give up the ghost, he encouraged Nate to locate the remains of his partners. Nate and Tenzin, the Tibetan who rescued him, did just that, finding enough evidence to convince Nate that he must stop Lazarević. The power hungry villain’s raid on the village while they were away solidified his feelings.
Many chapters later, with the game reaching an end, all parties arrived in Shambhala and became witness to a true oasis, excluding the superhuman yetis, of course. The race between good and bad concluded with a fatal showdown between Nate and Lazarević, the latter meeting his end in a gruesome manner. Nate didn’t luck into a great payout as he had in the hunt for El Dorado but still came out ahead with his and Elena’s relationship mended. Heck, Sully received a tad more screen time too, illustrating he was still mired in his old ways. Nate on the other hand, originally set out with intentions of personal grandeur, as he had in the first game, but wound up fighting not for himself, but, in a clichéd sense, for the greater good. It was a development I didn’t expect and it helped me in relating more, to an admittedly pretty relatable guy, regardless of the mortuary work he left in his wake.
Uncharted 2: Among Thieves is without a doubt, one of the greatest games of last generation. Sure I could complain about how Nate always made the last-minute death-defying save, the looseness of gunplay, or the narrative dissonance caused by his portrayal as an average Joe, despite the death toll he racked up, but the fun I had always took precedence to those takedowns. I’d always smart off when he made an amazing save, having to suspend me disbelief, but I was always smiling and pulling for him. No more was this true then during Nate, Elena, and Chloe’s conversations. Their love triangle and the chemistry between the three of them kept me glued to the screen like a retiree watching their favorite soap opera. Consequently, I can’t wait to find what lies ahead for them in Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception.