Game Review: Uncharted 2: Among Thieves

I’ve only read a few reviews for the Uncharted series (as I never thought I’d be able to play these games) and while most of them agree that the first game was good (if a little rough) the second and third games are much better, with the second being particularly beloved. I suppose it’s natural that successive installments in a series will be better than the last, but not always (see: the fandom’s split opinion on Dragon Age 2).

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Uncharted 2 begins with our protagonist, intrepid treasure hunter Nathan Drake, wounded and on a wrecked train that is dangling haphazardly over a cliff in a snowy mountainous area. Flashback to a few months earlier where he’s contacted by a former associate, Harry Flynn, and his driver Chloe Frazer and asked to help steal a Mongolian oil lamp from a Turkish museum. Naturally, this simple heist is not what it seems, and Drake soon finds himself trekking across Borneo, Nepal, and Tibet in search of Shambhala (Shangri-La) and a mystical stone said to confer limitless power upon its bearer.

If you’ve already played the first game you should be familiar with the mechanics as they are pretty much lifted from Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune. Drake can pick up guns, ammo, and grenades from fallen enemies and the environment, and the shooting is still cover-based, and of course he runs, jumps, climbs, and swings during platforming sections. There are also stealth takedowns which make battles less of a headache. The melee combat feels less risky and easier to pull off this time around: press triangle to dodge an enemy’s attacks and then quickly press square to finish them. It’s not a revolutionary combat system by any means, but it does its job and does it better than the first game. The enemy AI is a bit smarter this time around, moving to flank you or engage you in melee. There are also 101 treasures to collect this time around. I was only able to find 29, but I wasn’t looking very hard.

I feel like it’s almost redundant to mention graphics but the environments are gorgeous. My only complaint in this area is that sometimes it was difficult to tell which surfaces were climbable and which were just decoration (in one case I spent at least half an hour looking for something to climb only to discover that there was some climbable moss next to the wall where I was standing.

There are some familiar faces from the last game, but this game introduces Chloe as a new love interest (or lust interest) for Drake. Elena and Chloe are basically the Light Feminine and Dark Feminine trope, respectively. The main villain has more of a presence in this game, in part due to his tendency to yell his lines and shoot his underlings. The first game introduced a villain who was somewhat interesting but was replaced at the last second. This game’s villain feels more like an actual threat to Drake and co.’s safety. A standout character for me was Tenzin, a Tibetan village leader who doesn’t speak a word of English (and his Tibetan is left untranslated), the missions where he accompanies Drake involve both of them trying to make themselves understood through gestures as they navigate the environment.

Low points for me include the very first proper level of the game, a stealth level where being spotted means instantly failing the level. I had to redo this level so many times I managed to get all of the achievements for stealth takedowns. It’s especially frustrating in that you don’t even need to really use stealth at all throughout the game, at least not in the “instantly lose if spotted” way. It was fun the first few tries but I think it’s in my “top ten worst levels ever” list, and I don’t think I can even think of ten examples of levels I hated. At least there were no jet skis this time. Another low point for me was the final boss, which is basically a game of cat and mouse in a circular arena which was not very fun.

I look back on reviews when it first came out to find critics praising it as “game of the year” and “one of the best games ever” and while I can easily see why it was a great game a few years ago (hindsight is 20/20 and all that) to me it’s a great game, a great Uncharted game, but it’s nothing I haven’t seen before.

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