Uncharted 2: Among Thieves review
Not Quite Uncharted Territory


Oh dear this is going to be divisive. As I’ve stated in previous reviews we all play and enjoy video games for various reasons, and I think that the Uncharted series is one of the best representations of the difference between old school and modern gamers. Old school gamers have been playing since you could count the number of pixels that made up a character on your hand, to them gameplay and an appropriate challenge to go along with it is without a doubt the single most important aspect of a title. The modern gamer on the other hand is more enticed with the spectacle of it all. They play games for the explosions, epic shootouts, and death defying feats that are sadly lacking from everyday life. They don’t really want that much of a challenge from the games they play; they just want to move onto the next cool set piece. Having started gaming in the late ‘90s I suppose I’m somewhere in between these two camps, so while my love for a cinematic adventure keeps me from thinking that Uncharted 2 is nothing more than an over hyped example of style over substance, that little pinch of old school gamer in me stops me from being able to champion it as one of the greatest titles of all time, because on the gameplay front Among Thieves just can’t deliver for me.

The most damning reason being the challenge; as Uncharted 2 has almost zilch. For a game that’s categorized as a platformer, there is very little risk in the basic running and jumping that is usually associated with the genre. Among Thieves is about as much of a platformer as Assassins Creed 3; no skill or actual timing is required. You just hold the left stick forward, press X when you get within the general vicinity of the jumping area, and the game does the takes care of the rest. Unlike AC3 though most of your time spent in Uncharted 2 will involve running in a straight line so even the risk of jumping off the wrong side of a building into the abyss is minimized.

To be fair however on my first run through I didn't even notice this. Through the magic of motion capture, and just obsessive attention to detail Naughty Dog managed to trick me into thinking that I was actually having some input into what happened. The countless animations (it’s seriously impressive, I aint knocking ND for their technical skills) always make it seem as if Drake has just evaded death by the skin of his teeth but that’s the problem: It’s always just by the skin of his teeth. Whether you time your jump perfectly or flub it horribly it makes no difference, Drake will complete the jump and he’ll do so in the most dramatic fashion possible. Like previously stated on your first run you likely won’t even notice it, but realizing that you’re pretty much on auto-pilot takes the piss right out of some of the more memorable events the second time through as I found my tension being replaced by boredom.

This wouldn't be a problem if the platforming wasn't featured so predominantly but when you take into account the fact that it makes up roughly 75% of the gameplay it becomes easier to take issue with. Journalists took to calling the Uncharted series Dude Raider when it was first unveiled, but I can assure you that that Lara Crofts earlier exploits put this game to shame.

Oddly enough I found combat to be my favorite part of Uncharted although that might just be because these sections offered me some respite from the tedium of navigating my way around the games level, as this is when the game gives you the most freedom with its mechanics. While at first glance it might appear to be a basic third person shooter, the verticality of these sections when mixed in with the basic stealth elements the game implemented help to give it a distinct flavor. Shooting one handed as you hang from a sign, or pulling a hapless guard from a ledge before painting the walls with the brains of his buds is seriously satisfying. The melee combat is played out in QTEs similar to the most recent Hitman title, and though the aiming system was a little loose when mixed with the animations of Drake frantically scrambling from cover to cover it actually enhances the fact that he is (somehow) supposed to be an every man, and that each fire fight is a desperate struggle for survival. Then again anything with a little risk factor involved would seem interesting after the platforming and the combat sections of Uncharted 2 are the only time the game will manage to get your blood pumping without resorting to cheap tricks.

But as I stated earlier the modern gamer loves spectacle and if Uncharted 2 has anything going for it, then it’s spectacle. Shootouts on the top of trains? Check. Shootouts against helicopters? Check. Shootouts on the top of the train against a helicopter? Duh. Naughty Dog seems intent on overloading your senses with everything that is cool but I fear the whole thing ends up feeling a bit like a compilation of special effects: It’ll certainly keep your attention but once you’ve seen what it has to offer there's no real need to see it all again.

I’m not going to be umpteenth guy to lap praise upon Naughty Dogs technical expertise, so let me just say it looks and sounds phenomenal. Instead of pointing out all the little ways it does this and using terms I don’t know like bump mapping to sound knowledgeable, I’ll just give you the evidence.

Nobody ever said it was ugly

Plot wise the game is simply adequate. Pretty much just copy and paste the script to an Indy film then convert it to the 21st century. It’s filled with genre tropes and though I doubt you’ll be genuinely surprised at any point in time it’s also not bad by any stretch of the word. No offense to Naughty Dog but it’s the cast that really helps to elevate the story and keep things interesting. Because the voice actors also did all the motion capture work it helps the games characters feel like real people even when the game is throwing cliché after cliché at you. On paper Chloe Sullivan and Elena Fisher might just seem like two archetypes but the voice actresses impart them with enough humanity that they feel like fully developed people right from the moment they hit the screen
Look if I were awarding the score for the amount of effort evident in a games development then Uncharted 2: Among Thieves would score a perfect 10. Naughty Dog obviously put a lot of love and care into this title as they’ve crafted one of the most beautiful and awe inspiring worlds ever to be put to disc. But the score is dictated by my entertainment and my entertainment is derived from the gameplay, a category in which Uncharted 2 is only exceptionally average. If you buy this game looking for thrills, and edge of your seat action then you won’t be disappointed. But if you’re looking for a title that requires deft reflexes and that will test your skill as a gamer than look elsewhere: Like many of the summer blockbusters it takes inspiration from Uncharted 2: Among Thieves is sadly all sizzle and no steak.

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