After revisiting (recharting) Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune, I couldn’t wait to dive into Among Thieves. I remember it being a fantastic thrill ride full of amazing set pieces and a far more in-depth story. When I first played it, I was still the fog of the mumps (see my Drake’s Fortune review), and while I remember being impressed I wasn’t as astounded as the video game climate at the time suggested. I could see the evolution from the first game to the second and was pleasantly surprised by the improvements. After finishing it, I put it down and rarely thought much of it beyond “that was a fun romp”. However, after this playthrough, I’ve almost run out of words (I mean, obviously I have some left) to describe what an unbelievable experience it was.
If you had told me that Drake’s Fortune and Among Thieves were from two different franchises, by two different developers or made 10 years apart, I would have believed it all. Drake’s Fortune is almost unrecognisable when compared with Among Thieves. There are certainly the same characters and style but whereas Drake’s Fortune was a fairly traditional action game with gunfight corridors and just sort of running or climbing between shooting without a great deal else, Among Thieves is a full-on action film. It has set piece after set piece, uses non-linear storytelling, characters that pop to life and camera work that showcases this beautiful game and pulls you into every action scene. And they are action scenes, the level of detail, care and ambition in Among Thieves surpasses many games released 10 years later. Not a second is wasted and I just want to take a moment to applaud Naughty Dog because just wow.
Alright, now that I’ve stopped gawping, let’s look at the why. Uncharted 2: Among Thieves opens with a train scene that sets the tone and acts as one of the main hooks that pull you into the story. Immediately, you are climbing through a train that is falling off a snowy mountain with rubble and metal falling all around you. You have no idea what is going on but you are excited to find out. Drake is running through the snow and you are playing what feels like a cutscene in many other games, all the while seeing picking out details that fit neatly into the story later on. And then, it cuts back to the past so you can see exactly how Nate got himself into yet another sticky situation. It isn’t much but it is incredibly effective as now you are eagerly awaiting the twist that sees you climbing through a falling train once more. And that isn’t even the climax of the game but more like the halfway point.
Up until the train scene and well after, Uncharted 2 throws you into so many set pieces and keeps the tension and pace so high that you are constantly on the edge of your seat. And then, it all slows down every so often so you can catch your breath, absorb what has happened and enjoy some incidental dialogue with your companions. These slower bits help to flesh out the cast and mean that they become more than their surface would suggest. There is never a depth of enormous proportions but there is enough to mean that you want to see this plucky band succeed and get you to care about what happens throughout the story. As somebody wholly invested in the Uncharted franchise, enough to replay all the games a second time many years later, I enjoyed seeing the characters develop from Drake’s Fortune and watch their relationships grow. And then there are the quips. Nate is full of little jokes and Elena, Sully and Chloe bounce off him in different but always entertaining ways. This makes every scene a delight, so whether you are running away from a tank or swimming in a pool on top of a hotel, you are always entertained.
You visit an wide selection of locations from snowy mountains to a museum heist, and each one is rendered in perfect detail. Whereas the first game was set in one specific location and barely changed at all, Among Thieves isn’t afraid to swap locations before one gets stale and keeps you constantly on your toes. Each one builds you towards the exciting climax and features set pieces, gunfights and puzzles that all fit with the location you are running around in.
Speaking of puzzles, they are an improvement on Drake’s Fortune but are never going to really stretch your brain. You might get stuck but only because you’ve not understood what the game wants from you rather than it being any kind of mental teaser. Having said that, they are enjoyable and break up the action nicely. They also work thematically with your current location. Sometimes they feel a bit ‘video game-y’ but for what they are they are fun additions.
One of my few minor gripes with Among Thieves is still the same one from Drake’s Fortune, and that is the body count. You shoot a lot of baddies in this game and while I get that it is par for the course, it does at times mean that you have a few too many gunfights. There are moments where it makes perfect sense but there are others where it feels like Naughty Dog think you might be bored so throw a few waves of men your way. It is nowhere near as galling as Drake’s Fortune but it is still noticeable to the point where I was extremely glad I was playing it on easy. The gunplay is much easier, reactive and overall more enjoyable than our last outing which does ease the pain somewhat. However, I’m hoping my memory that future instalments reduce this down even further is true.
The soundtrack is once again fantastic. I spoke last time about the stellar score put together by Greg Edmonson in Drake’s Fortune and the same is true here. There are a lot more action moments in this game and the soundtrack responds accordingly with more sweeping, high-intensity orchestrals that go a long way to making you feel part of the action. And when the action cools off for a moment, it lets you enjoy that quiet time. There are also the improvements in sound effects as well with Nate running, jumping and climbing in a way that sounds more realistic with rubble and masonry falling apart/on top him making every climb exciting. All of this is accompanied by improved animations so everything looks and feels smoother, too.
The level of ambition and polish in Uncharted 2: Among Thieves was totally unexpected. I thoroughly enjoyed replaying this game and found it to be far above its predecessor. In my Drake’s Fortune, I said you shouldn’t start with that game and I’ll echo that sentiment and say that here is where you should start your Uncharted journey. You can go back to Drake’s Fortune as a prequel later on and if you only play one Uncharted game then this is the one that shook the industry and you can see why.
Thank you for reading, if you would like more Uncharted then check out my retrospective review of Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune. If you want something tabletop related, then check our article on how George and I got into miniatures in 2019.
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