As my eyes began to tear up, due solely to my inability to rip my gaze away from the TV screen as the credits rolled in the seminal gaming experience that is developer Naughty Dog’s Uncharted 2: Among Thieves, two words lingered in my mind like a benediction: Holy. Crap.
Often funny, sometimes poignant and always entertaining, the further adventures of Nathan Drake – treasure-hunter and descendant of legendary explorer Sir Francis Drake – prove that Naughty Dog has succeeded in crafting one of, if not THE most, compelling video game heroes of this console generation.
Far from an expert in the field of ancient fortune recovery, Drake is more enthusiastic than qualified, more scrappy than brave and more stubborn than determined. He’s different than the plethora of gruff space marines, femme fatales and expert swordsmen that normally bear the burden of video game protagonists. In a way, he exudes a kind of John McClane Everyman vibe; less a nemesis to his enemies than the wrong guy in the wrong place at the wrong time.
While the first Uncharted succeeded in capturing that feeling to a certain extent, it fell flat in a few ways. Namely, playing as Drake never felt like you were controlling someone that could be hurt. Uncharted 2 changes that conception in a big way and it doesn’t waste any time doing it.
As the game begins, Drake comes to consciousness in a train car hanging from a snowcapped cliff. Wounded and left for dead, the first time the player controls Drake in this newest quest, he’s barely alive, slow-moving and limping. That goes a long way towards dispelling the invincibility myth.
The story, which involves finding Marco Polo’s lost fleet and the mythical Tibetan city of Shambhala, is then told through a series of flashbacks as Drake climbs through, and occasionally falls unconscious in, the twisted wreckage of what looks to be a pretty serious accident. Later on in the game you’ll find out just how serious and just how accidental it really was.
Aside from a sense of physical vulnerability, Uncharted 2 delivers a powerful sense of emotional vulnerability as well. As the subtitle implies, Drake finds himself in some pretty shady company during the course of this adventure and, unlike in the first Uncharted, nobody here has any compunction about betraying him should it be to their advantage.
In a stunning use of gameplay, this idea permeates the environments Drake traverses and reinforces to the player the idea that anything can betray you, anything can go wrong. Walls crumble as you climb them, bridges splinter and rot away beneath your feet, ropes snap, pipes bend and nearby explosions throw you to your knees. Instead of being able to plan how to get somewhere, you go through a level wondering how you’re going to have to improvise this time. These touches of realism are refreshingly exhilarating.
On top of being one of the best-looking games that I’ve ever seen, Uncharted 2 also controls, for the most part, like a dream. While Drake did occasionally grab a ledge that I simply intended him to jump by, the gunplay and platforming elements are top-notch. Contributing to the overall experience is the exceptional voice-acting. Video game voice veteran Nolan North is superb as Nathan Drake and it’s a damn shame that most games aren’t similarly acted.
Loaded with amazing action sequences, quippy dialogue and an emotionally, engrossing narrative, Uncharted 2: Among Thieves : is a shoo-in for 2009’s game of the year and the number one reason to own a PlayStation 3.