While the first Uncharted was a clunky start for the series, it is still to this day a fun action game that I can recommend to a general audience. In many ways, it reminds me of Naughty Dog’s Crash Bandicoot-series, since it too had a rocky first entry. Similarly to how Crash Bandicoot 2 improved upon every aspect from the first entry, Uncharted 2: Among Thieves ironed out a lot of the issues from its predecessor, though I had no idea what critical height it would reach. It has an average score above 96 on Metacritic, and is still to this day seen as one of the best games for the PS3. It got me curious and since I already spend time with the first game, it seemed just fair to see how well this entry holds up.
Here we go again!
We start off the game with a wounded Drake climbing upwards a train that is hanging of a cliff far up in the cold mountains. After this intense and amazing introductions to keep you engaged, we are cut to a flashback where Drake meets an old friend of him, Harry Flynn, and his partner, Chloe Frazer. Harry needs Drake’s help in order to break into a museum and steal an oil lamp that might contain secrets about Marco Polo’s voyage and the treasures he had with him.
Chloe and Drake meet up later privately, where we discover that they are old lovers and plan to take Polo’s treasure for themselves and cheat out Flynn. However, after breaking into the museum in Istanbul and finding the lamp, Flynn steals the items the duo found and puts on the alarm for Drake to be captured. Drake is sent to jail, but after three months, his old partner from the previous game, Victor Sullivan, sets him free and they both team up with Chloe, who needs help in stopping Flynn. According to her, Flynn is working for a vicious criminal called Zoran Lazarević and whatever he plans to do with the treasures of Marco Polo, cannot be good.
With the first game establishing the characters’ personalities, there is not much of a character arc or even depth here, sadly. Nathan Drake is still a pleasant hero that acts before he thinks with fun remarks, and Sully is still the player and gentleman. However, the other characters becomes more forgettable as they do not get much screen time or change much, making them not as three dimensional as our main heroes. This leads to a contrast between who has clearly more work put into them compared to others, and it is severely uneven.
This is a terrible shame, as the new characters could be nice additions, like Chloe. She is a smart and supporting character, working as a spy for the team. Unfortunately, there is not much else to her. She is rather limited to be the strong and cool minded girl, and never fleshed out as a character. I really wish she got more interesting screen time, since she often discuss the plans and argue against his fellow trio with good points, clearly adding to the teams dynamic. However, she never really goes through much of an arc or has much of a personality to speak of, which is frustrating when she has so much potential. Flynn is even worse as he comes of as just an annoying prick, and Zoran is the typical strong fascistic leader, preaching about survival of the fittest.
Despite that I find the new cast being a lost opportunity, I still love the bantering between the characters you will meet and enjoy the fun comments they make in order to lighten the mood. Uncharted 2 has dire moments that really makes you feel with the characters, but the game is not against being humorous or remind you that you are in fact on a treasure hunt against impossible odds that you somehow overcome. There were a couple of scenes that got quite cheesy, and one part were Nathan suddenly does not want to do this treasure hunt anymore, which are awkward low points. Thankfully, these cliche moments did not distract me from the overall exciting adventure too much. Like the first game, Uncharted 2 acknowledges it is a bit silly and goes with it, which I can respect.
You are taken on an adventure through many different countries and locations, making the world feel vast and gorgeous. The tale behind Marco Polo is also interesting for creating historical theories and I find myself invested in the stories that are told. However, what also made me appreciate Uncharted 2, was how cinematic it was. Many areas are filled with high action, such as climbing on speeding trains, gunfights while hanging on constructions, scaling the cold mountains, running from trucks while shooting at it in a busy town of Nepal, or whenever Nathan proceeds to climb on dangerously high structures. This made me appreciate Uncharted 2 as an experience and while I did wish for better character development, I always had fun with the experience I was given and really felt like I was on an over the top treasure hunt that wanted to entertain me.
Story Score: 6.5/10
Refining the original
Like the last title, Uncharted 2 is a third person shooter with platforming incorporated. Though there are more aspects to talk about, I would like to start off with the shooting mechanics as it is a main focus. You can still dodge-roll, take cover, blind-fire, run and gun for less accuracy, and of course, aim over your shoulder. Nathan can still only carry one handgun, like a Dessert-5 or an Uzi, and one two-handed such as a sniper or an AK-47. This is a good design choice carried on from the previous game, as you will have to vary up your use of guns and pick up whatever you can find, making it fun to experiment for what scenario a weapon will be useful for. For example, a shotgun is better for closed up areas to blast away multiple enemies, but an AK will be much better for open areas due to having more ammo and longer range at disposal.
Though the guns will add to the variety, the enemies are also diverse and interesting this time, such as common soldiers, armoured Gatling-gun enthusiasts, and aggressive monsters. With their AI being aggressive, but also tactical, it really adds to consider who to take out first and to be mindful of your surrounding. Speaking of, the areas themselves contain great level-design. Every place demands that you are on the move and contain plenty of creative setups and platforms, such as one having you jump between cars, or one making you hang from a signpost high up to use it as a cover. This creativity goes for many fights, making the act of camping hard to do and fights always exhilarating.
You can also throw grenades and hold upwards to four, like in the previous title. Even this is more refined, as you do not have to throw it in an arc, but can also throw straight forward, and even throw explosive gas cans you can find on the ground and shoot at it, creating huge explosions. Should you be unarmed or not want to alarm the enemies, stealth is also an option and much better implemented than before. You will automatically begin sneaking when an enemy has not spotted you and can preform lethal take-downs by pressing square behind them. This can also be done from cover, adding to the stealth aspect of waiting for the right moment. Though, should an opponent rush and attack you, you can defend yourself with simple combos by tapping square and use triangle for dodging attacks. This can only be done in one on one fights, and while it is rather simple, it is still effective and fun.
There is so much added to make sure the combat never gets stale, but always become more exciting with good implementations of variety. The same can be said about the platforming, though not in as high regards. You still auto climb and press X to jump towards the next construction, though this time, Nathan holds his arm out to showcase that he can reach a ledge, which helps against taking leaps of faith. The simple platforming mechanics are still effective and entertaining, since the platforms are made of realistic set pieces, making it feel like you are exploring and old tomb or the streets of a city by actually climbing them. Like before, it is more about noticing where you can climb and figure out how to get further.
There are also some creative setups to make platforming more than just cinematic, such as climbing on old machinery in an ancient place where you need to time your jumps, or on a moving train. There are times when the jumps can be a bit wonky, due to some jumps not registering properly, but I only encountered this twice in the whole game. The controls are stiff compared to the previous game, which I found a good change for making accurate jumps and not accidentally fall to my death. Puzzles are also a part of Nathans adventure, though are few and far between yet again. Even more disappointing in this sequel, is that they boil down to simple tasks where the journal will tell you blatantly what to do.
Uncharted 2 focuses on providing more cinematic moments than before, that impressively enough does not overshadow the main concepts of the game. These segments will have you interact with a more hectic scenes, such as running from a car while shooting at it or when you walk into a Tibetan town and can optionally interact with the townspeople. These are rather limited in terms of gameplay, but gives enough interactivity to get you sucked into the world and be visually intriguing. I believe these are nice form of breathers between the core gameplay styles that still keeps the player interactive, compared to for example cutscenes with forced QTE.
This sequel provides massive upgrades from its predecessor when talking about its gameplay. Exhilarating and varied combat, entertaining and jaw-dropping platforming, and scenes of atmospheric interactivity. The puzzles could have been expanded upon and parts can be ruff around the edges, but I was always having a great time and got constantly excited for what was around the next corner. When you can even make a turret section fun and diverse, you have definitely done something right.
Gameplay Score: 8/10
Feeling with the visuals
I have already been talking about how cinematic Uncharted 2 can be, so it should go without saying that this is a fantastic looking game, especially on the PS4. You will be traversing through thick and vibrant jungles, climb up in cold and frosty mountains, stroll through a sunny town of Nepal, and stand tall on plenty of high structures, making the vast world feel incredible and immersive. The amount of details and varied constructions, be it the footprints in the snow or the signs in the city containing subtle references, makes each area believable and easy to get lost in. The characters’ facial expressions are also wonderfully detailed, making it easy to tell their emotions by simply looking at them. I also love the small touches, such as how Nathan’s clothes are affected by specific conditions, like becoming wet when jumping into a pool or covered in snow after rolling through it.
The action parts are also something to behold. Again, this is a very cinematic game, with lots of explosions and cool scenarios that always puts me at the edge of my seat. I also love that the enemies still fly in the most bizarre ways when they die or get blown up. It is far from realistic, but it is immensely fun to watch, similar to an action movie from the 80s. The sound effects all these action filled parts contain are also impressive and every gunfire is different and satisfying, though feels realistic at the same time, making every hit becomes devastating. You can even see the bullets being shot, which is really neat.
The voice actors do a fantastic job at giving their characters emotions and personalities. While there are characters that come of as generic or forgettable, at least their performances are still excellent, and Nolan North is still wonderful as the cocky, but heartwarming Drake. The music is amazing, with Nate’s theme being still beautiful, and plenty of areas utilising more varied music pieces, such as symphonic instruments combined with drums from tribal cultures or strings you might have heard in a kabuki-show. All of the tracks adds more tension and makes settings or events more aesthetically immersive, while still keeping to the theme each area want to provide. My biggest gripe is yet again how optional costumes do not appear in the cutscenes, but that is really my only negative.
Presentation Score: 9.5/10
Did I see something sparkle?
Like in its predecessor, you can find treasures by exploring after sparkling things in Uncharted 2. I really enjoy this sense of treasure hunting, as it fits the games setting well and what you find can also be inspected, which is a nice touch. It can then unlock skins, rendering, tweaks, art, and guns for use in a later playthroughs, which is entertaining. I do also find the costumes more varied thanks to both including skins from the last game and some being more bizarre. They could have gone a further with this concept as it simply dips its toe in the possibilities for strange ideas, but I am happy to see that some liberties were taken. The brutal difficulty and speedrun mode are also unlockables for fun challenges, should you seek them.
Extra Score: 7.5/10
I do understand why Uncharted 2 got so much praise, as it is a cinematic game which makes it easier for a general audience to get into, while still providing entertaining gameplay from beginning to end. It could have fleshed out the new characters and provided more to the unlockables, but I love how everything else were upgraded from the last game, and how great it is on its own. The combat is exhilarating, the platforming is immersive, and the presentation is gorgeous. I do honestly hope for an Uncharted movie if Naughty Dog can find a decent studio to work with, but while I think the praises the game got is far above any I can give, I can still fully recommend this as a interactive and cinematic experience for everyone.