Uncharted 2: Among Thieves is a great example of how to make a sequel bigger and better. Released in 2009, this second Naughty Dog production on PlayStation 3 once again stars Nathan Drake, but the stakes are raised, and the gameplay has been smoothed out tenfold since the original. This is probably the best Uncharted game Naughty Dog will ever produce.
Nate (with Nolan North returning to portray him) is back in the adventuring game, but, for reasons unknown, you first see him stuck in a train hanging from a cliff. He must climb out to avoid fatality, despite the major amount of dried blood on his shirt. After he escapes, we see him with his associate Harry Flynn (Steve Valentine) and his partner Chloe Frazer (Claudia Black), who are coming to Nate with a proposition to steal an oil lamp once pertaining to Marco Polo, and in turn to find what truly happened with the Cintamanti Stone.
The plot here is much more complex than the one present in Drake’s Fortune, and you can see Nate has developed since the original. The stakes feel truly higher, with a sense of urgency to discovering the Stone before the war criminal Zoran Lazarević (Graham McTavish) does. The original duo of Sully and Nate are back, alongside with Chloe tagging along for the ride, and not only is the writing great by creating a different dynamic than with the original trio, but they are ready to do whatever it takes, which further showcases that Lezarević with the Stone would be a deadly combination.
The graphics this time are a much larger step up from what the first uncharted could do. Now being familiar with the PS3 architecture, the team set out to improve on their original efforts, and it shows; Among Thieves looks fantastic. The characters look much better, the lighting feels more natural, but most of all, the environments are just embellished with minor details that would be completely glossed over if quickly running through the game. The PS4 remaster has less work to do in bringing it up to modern standards, as it already doesn’t feel dated; the PS3 version still a valid way to replay this game here.
The music once again is more memorable this time. The mystic feel of the original soundtrack is carried over, but it adds more tension and feels simply quicker, henceforth inducing much more tension. If the set pieces are stunning with no sound, then the music just bolsters them and makes them feel extraordinary. The guns this time are also more satisfying to fire: they pack a punch in the audio department this time, making them sound more authentic.
Thankfully, the gameplay has been refined much more. The clunky controls have been addressed, and the issues of the jumping feeling weird occasionally have been stripped out. The climbing is now much more intuitive, and the game feels all the better for it. The gun play is now more varied, as not only are there the usual improvements of it feeling more responsive, but enemies are also much more likely to come and flank Nate instead of just waiting until Nate’s head popped out to shoot it or throwing a grenade and chilling behind cover. It feels like the enemies have tactics this time, which is a change in pace from just waiting to shoot people.
The set pieces are what get praised most about Uncharted 2, and for good reason. Moving across a train and popping enemies singlehandedly felt great, especially since there were two pathways that are traversable. These moments made the second outing feel incredible, and having these moments not really be in the original made it feel more stale, despite it being a shorter game. They are perfectly incorporated here, and the break in pace was a great move for Naughty Dog to implement.
However, there were some spikes in difficulty that completely took me off guard. A battle with fisticuffs on the train was a massive departure from the combat of the rest of the game, and the lack of button prompts on Crushing made it quite frustrating to deal with. The rest of the game was great in creating a nice difficulty curve, so that battle massively puzzled me when it came along.
Uncharted 2: Among Thieves took what the first iteration had and cleaned all of the rough edges. With a more complex story, more convincing visuals, more atmospheric music, and smooth, fluid controls, Among Thieves is just a perfect example of how a sequel should be done. If you have finished the first game and were disappointed, your opinion will not change here, but if you believed the original was a good game, play the sequel and and see how this builds on the foundations in a perfect way to elevate it to greatness.
Note: I played the PS4 remaster in Uncharted: The Nathan Drake Collection by Bluepoint for this review. This one can still be played on PS3 decently, but I still recommend the PS4 edition, as alongside the upgrades, it runs at a flawless 1080p at 60 frames per second.