Obvious spoiler warning for Uncharted 2 and the series as a whole. You have been warned…
In honor of the successful reception and recent admiration of Uncharted: The Nathan Drake Collection, it felt appropriate to relay my thoughts on, what is easily, one of the greatest and my own personal favourite video game series of all time. More accurately, however, I’d like to dissect the unanimous favourite of the trilogy, Uncharted 2: Among Thieves, which also happens to be my preferred entry and unsurprisingly, one of my favourite games of all time. Originally released back in 2009, Uncharted 2: Among Thieves arguably set a golden standard for action-adventure as its impeccable pacing, jaw-dropping set pieces, and exquisite character development were second to none, mirroring that pristine joy of a thrilling, quality summer blockbuster. The original’s under-performances and limitations are largely responsible for its sequel’s success as expectations regarding Uncharted 2 were manifested with the original being the standard. Naughty Dog desecrated its initial standard and unfathomably exceeded expectations, improving on every minute detail that the original Uncharted crafted, outclassing it in every way imaginable. Uncharted 2 is the renowned example of how to make a proper sequel; improving and expanding on the initial formula, catering to what exactly made the original so beloved, and never giving into the fear of working with the safe and familiar, upping the ante ten fold if needed. Uncharted 2: Among Thieves exceeded its brethren in terms of sheer scope, fantastic writing along with the exceptional development of their beloved characters, impeccable pacing that’s second to none, its gorgeously cinematic world that raised the bar for graphical possibilities, its bombastically iconic soundtrack, and riveting expedition that boasts a mirroring quality to some of Indiana Jones’ finest work. Even though Uncharted 2 is a masterpiece, it is by no means a perfect game; there are actually several inconsistencies that are notable to say the least, and although they never detract from the masterful experience that is Uncharted 2, they’re still prominent factors that ultimately make Uncharted 2 a flawed masterpiece.
As great as the original Uncharted was, it was none other than Uncharted 2 that was truly responsible for shaping the iconic series into something of its own, something enormously special. Uncharted 2 introduced the globe-trotting scale of adventures that Nathan Drake would become synonymous for, and also implement a myriad of breath-taking set pieces that quite honestly give Hollywood a run for their money. Uncharted 2 is an action spectacle at its finest. Then again, you’ve heard this all before as Uncharted 2 has been unanimously praised left and right for over half a decade; I’m here to prepare you an alternate perspective on its thematic elements, ones that are frequently overlooked due to its impressive accomplishments. For starters, I’d like to address Uncharted 2’s menacing villain, Zoran Lazarević. In terms of pure menacing stature, Lazarević is a great villain as he’s relentless, volatile, sadistic, and emits a downright intimidating aura that’s unpleasant to say the least. His so called “genious-level” intelligence, however, is seldom addressed as we’re predominately told that he’s very clever, though we rarely see any example of this. Yes, he was able to see through the Guardian’s guise and determine the true nature of the Cintamani Stone arguably faster than Drake himself, but aside from these few examples, his intelligence is rarely reflected as he’s poorly portrayed as nothing more than a brooding gorilla. He’s a character that lacks compelling depth, solely being used as an element of intimidation due to his brutal nature, but in truth is an empty shell of a character that is not compelling in the slightest. Uncharted 3’s villain, Katherine Marlowe, is in every way, in my opinion, a superior villain in comparison to Lazarević. Her knowledge, wit, and cunning nature are evidently apparent throughout Uncharted 3’s journey and her personal history with Nate and Sully is a significant touch that alleviates her malevolent nature, an elegant touch that Lazarević could never replicate. The fact that she knows the ins and outs of Drake’s ambiguous history and fiddles with his inner demon and elongated fear are what make her the superior villain, catering to a mind over matter nature. Granted, my thoughts here are purely subjective, and determining which villain is superior is a matter of perspective. Also that final boss fight against Lazarević was downright awful and felt extremely archaic. Granted, the moments preceding Lazarević’s demise were extremely intense, poignant, tranquil, and simply beautiful.
Perhaps I’m in the minority when it comes to this next gripe of mine, but I’m not the biggest fan of Uncharted 2’s implementation on supernatural elements. Although they’re relevant to the thematic lore that Naughty Dog have created, I can’t help but feel slightly disappointed by their intrusive nature as its weighted reveal ultimately felt diluted as the original Uncharted presented a similar twist. The Shambhalan Guardians are simply ridiculous, whether you’re referring to how they disguised themselves as yetis to scare off trespassers (although their true nature would’ve been equally terrifying, thus making the disguise slightly redundant) or they’re ridiculous, almost comical, physical stature, it’s safe to assume that the Guardians were not my favourite element of Uncharted 2 as they’re existence is far-fetched at best and questionable at worst as I have yet to encounter a single person feeling indifferent to their existence, let alone love it passionately. Luckily however, the supernatural twist has been a recurring problem with the Uncharted series as a whole, not Uncharted 2 alone, as this same formula is replicated ad nauseam. The original Uncharted introduced the mutated Spanish Colonists which were infected by the cursed golden statue, El Dorado. Uncharted 2’s Shambhalan Guardians were once ancient Tibetans who ultimately became mutated creatures due to the ingestion of the blue resin from the Tree of Life, giving them supernatural abilities. In Uncharted 3, due to the hallucinogenic agent found in the depths of Ubar’s water supply, Drake began to encounter henchmen who were possessed by the Djinn, with their heads engulfed in flames and possessing supernatural qualities. Luckily, this was nothing more than a hallucination and appropriately reflected the grounded nature of Uncharted’s lore. Whether or not Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End decides to replicate this unfortunate tradition or become an exception to the rule remains to be seen, but one can hope, can’t they?
One last personal qualm of mine is Uncharted 2’s criminal misuse of Drake’s best pal, Victor Sullivan. We see Sully throughout the beginning moments of Nate’s second journey, only to contemplate his involvement in the matter, claiming “he’s getting too old for this bullshit” and ultimately decides to back out of the entire endeavor. This questionable decision and its justification are extremely out of Sully’s character as we know that Sully, in a sense, is a father figure to Drake and how he would go to the ends of the Earth for him; that’s the established dynamic of their relationship, eventually proving more factual through the release of Uncharted 3 which showcased the very history between the two of them. Sully has always questioned Drake’s motives and the possible danger that could ensue, but nothing would ever deterred him from his friend or his ambitions. With the simple fact that these two characters have been through thick and thin with one another, one would assume reluctance on certain ventures would be more meaningful and carry significant weight; in the case with Uncharted 2, Sully left for an arguably unjustified reason, until returning for the very final moments of the experience. It’s out of character, never explored, and we’re to assume that Sully just wanted to take a measly vacation, even though history has shown that Sully and Drake are two peas in a pod, a dynamic duo, partners in crime. If Sully were to officially retire after the events of Uncharted 2, then his departure would’ve been warranted showing that he truly was getting too old for the life of an adventurer, however, he plays a prominent role in Uncharted 3, where the stakes are arguably higher with matters becoming unprecedentedly dangerous, thus making his justification for abandoning Drake mid-adventure in Uncharted 2 unwarranted, unacceptable, and irrelevant. Sully deserves better than this as his well developed relationship with Drake was ultimately side-benched and criminally underused in Uncharted 2 with poor justifications.
With my critical analysis, I’m primarily focusing on thematic elements that make Uncharted 2 a flawed masterpiece through my eyes, I personally have no qualms with its respective gameplay, although there are some who feel that Uncharted’s gunplay is rather lackluster, granted I do not share this sentiment. I personally found both the gunplay and traversal to be extremely enjoyable. All negatives aside however, Uncharted 2: Among Thieves is a golden staple in my book as it undoubtedly brought a new cinematic quality to the gaming genre that was unprecedented at the time. Its structure of exposition is perfect, mirroring the written qualities of some of cinemas very best, and its pacing fluctuates the core experience, ultimately transcending it from something great, to something untouchable. Chapter 16 of Uncharted 2 entitled “Where am I?” is a magnificent example which takes a huge step back from the chaotic action that preceded, instead portraying itself as breath of fresh air from the traditional hectic nature of most action-shooters, introducing a moment of tranquility and reflection, encouraging Drake to simply interact with the townsfolk of the Tibetan village and admire the beautiful world that he has found himself entangled in. Moments in gaming mirroring this impeccable nature are few and far between, with only Naughty Dog’s other masterpiece, The Last of Us, coming to mind. No game is perfect, the definition of a masterpiece is not correlated to that of perfection, but an experience that is of the highest recommendation and transcends the expectations of the player, nearly reaching the point of perfection; an experience we can’t imagine being any better, managing to leave a significant imprint for the years to come. Uncharted 2 is just that, it’s more flawed than most masterpieces that come to mind, but it’s a masterpiece nonetheless.