‘Uncharted 2: Among Thieves’ reaches the highest peak of adventure

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Uncharted 2: Among Thieves
Naughty Dog
Sony Computer Entertainment
PS3

There’s a moment in the first Uncharted that signposts exactly where the series is heading. It involves a fast-flowing river, a large gap, and a truck parked next to a red barrel. With a well-placed shot, Nathan Drake – the Indiana Jones-inspired hero of the franchise – blows the powder keg, sending the vehicle high into the air and tumbling down to the river below, where it (conveniently) forms a bridge across the gap. “Bingo,” Nate quips, hopping onto the upside-down truck and crossing to the other side. “Excuse me. Pardon me.”

It’s a fun, slightly over-the-top instant that nicely showcases Naughty Dog’s obvious love for environmental interactions and set-pieces. Take that instance, magnify it by a factor of ten, stretch it out for eight hours, and you’ve got a pretty good approximation of Uncharted 2. 

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It’s a far more bombastic game than its predecessor; whilst the first was happy to let players work their way through a veritable shooting gallery with the odd light puzzle thrown in, the second breaks up the gunplay with some truly fantastic action sequences. The opening section alone – a nerve-wracking clamber through a cliff-hanging train – bests any set-piece the first had to offer and then some. From there, it’s a checklist of spectacular moments that help the game barrel along at breakneck speed. A shootout in a collapsing house; a firefight along a speeding train; a tank battle through village streets.

But it’s not afraid to revel in its downtime, either. Waking at one point in a snowy hamlet in Nepal, the game allows the player to take their time and wander the town, in no hurry to push them onto the next enemy encounter. It’s a sequence littered with little interactions, such as kicking a ball back to a group of kids playing in the alleyways. Soon after, Nate’s working his way through eerily quiet ice caverns with a sherpa who doesn’t speak English. Both allow the player some breathing space – much needed to make the action sequences kick that much harder.

It’s also a far prettier game than its predecessor. Graphically-speaking, that’s hardly surprising – the original Uncharted was Naughty Dog’s first foray onto the PS3 – but the environments themselves are far more varied. From snow-capped mountains to dense jungles, from city museums to crumbling villages, Uncharted 2: Among Thieves is a veritable feast for the eyes. Even now, years later, it must surely rank as one of the prettiest games out there. Standing on a speeding train as it moves from lush, green forests into icy blizzards is a sight yet to be beaten.

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Nate’s return trumps his debut in a narrative sense. The story is more complicated, and more intricately woven around the larger cast. The developers flair with motion capture remains unparalleled here, giving even the most simple scenes a movie-like quality that elevates them above their peers. Because that’s what the Uncharted series is, of course – movies. They’re open to interaction, sure, but the tight plotting and linear storytelling don’t allow for much exploration or choice; Fallout or Heavy Rain, this ain’t. This is pulp fiction at its most literal, with characters that are genuinely likeable, funny, or charming.

Is it perfect? Of course not. Like the first, the game loses its way a little towards the end. The final boss isn’t great, and there are scattered moments where the platforming controls bork out or a gunfight drags on a tad long, but these are minor things in the grand scheme. Uncharted 2 is a triumph of story, of characters, of gameplay and of graphics, setting a bar so high even Uncharted 3 couldn’t quite reach it. With the upcoming Uncharted 4 rumoured to be the last outing for Nate, Sully and Elena, only one thing’s for certain: it’s going to be an extremely fond farewell.

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