“He opened eyes. How long had he been out? The train carriage he was sat in was empty, eerily quiet. He tries to move but flinched in agony, gripping his side to the source of the pain. As he slowly moves his hand away the claret that stains his palm reveals a puncture sustained from an unknown object. A knife? Shrapnel? A bullet? With the wind piercing through the shattered windows, the cold bracing, Nate’s eyes begin to adjust to his surroundings. The wound causing significant discomfort as he struggles to regain his faculties from his hallucinatory stupor. Suddenly a crate comes tumbling through the carriage puncturing the steel doors at the rear, revealing the snow-covered rocks below. The train is vertical?! Drakes chair suddenly begins to shake, bolts loosening it falls through the gaping hole in the back. Nate clings on to the chair in front but slips, tumbling down. The metal grating slows his descent and is somehow able to cling to the frigid bars.
Drake clamours onto the underside of the carriage, heaving himself up as it sways precariously, edging closer to the ashen depths below. With a final excruciating heave Drake gains purchase onto the connecting carriage, hoisting himself up just as it begins to tilt, gravity endeavouring to punish its precarious situation. With the carriage sliding, Drake sprints desperately towards the safety of the cliff, making one final leap, clutching the blunted rock with a last gasp reprieve, struggling back up to the relative security of land. Exhaustion consumes him and laying on the glacial parapet he slips into unconsciousness, fully aware of his fortuitous escape.”
Has there ever been a better, more dramatic opening to a game? That’s rhetorical, of course there hasn’t! “Uncharted 2: Among Thieves” exemplifies everything I admire about modern gaming: the consummate union of graphics, Gameplay and story. As a kid I wanted to pursue a career as an archaeologist, not because of some habitual fascination with excavating material artefacts from a bygone civilisation. But because I wanted to be Indiana Jones. To me Nathan Drakes calamitous escapades are a modern-day equivalent to the films I grew up watching, as well as an homage to Henry Jones Jr’s fedora wearing swashbuckler. I was so smitten with the idea of navigating exotic locations in search of rare antiquities, alluring women and of course punching Nazis in face that I was devastated when I learned the duties listed above weren’t actually prerequisites for archaeology. But Uncharted assuaged this desire by revelling the irreverence of a one man bullet sponge that averts death regardless of the absurd circumstances.
Drake is the linchpin of the series, an exuberant progeny of long-time stalwart Sully who has been involved in more I’ll fated vehicular accidents than a crash dummy. He’s charming cavalier approach to archaeology and his penchant for strolling into more confrontations than Conor McGregor somehow feels more accidental rather than just a convenient Gameplay design. It’s as if Drake procured enough bad luck from breaking a window over a black cat under ladder on Friday the 13th. Nowhere is this bad luck personified more than in Among Thieves as Nate labour’s from one disaster to another. Whether it’s battling a militia in a jungle in Borneo, navigating a war ravaged Nepalese city, surviving encounters with a Tank, an apache helicopter or train derailment, Drake always finds a way of making his life more difficult. Including fighting enhanced humanoid guardians of Shangri-La, attired in Yeti disguises. Yet the story that marshals all of these illogical affairs together is just as reviting.
Like much of the Uncharted series, Among Thieves embellishes historical events to enhance its fictitious narrative. This time Drakes search concerns Venetian explorer Marco Polo’s lost fleet that supposedly journeyed to the fabled city of Shambhala, and disappeared on its return. The expedition to resolve this disappearance unfurls with ever more elaborate set pieces, with some of the most convoluted tombs, contraptions and temples this side of a game of mousetrap. With narrative transitions that seamlessly merged the story with Gameplay, to a point that I’d often be pressing buttons during cut scenes. It’s Uncharted’s deranged inflation of fact and exaggerated adventure that under the guidance of a less gifted developer would seem too fantastical to be compelling, beyond the banality of guns, explosions and effortless killing. But its the characters that keep such a verbose conceit grounded, to a point that you start to believe such emphatic events could happen. Uncharted isn’t just about Drake and his absurd parkour skills, far from it.
Nathan Drake wouldn’t have achieved “greatness from small beginnings” if not for the studious tutelage of paternal father figure Victor “Sully” Sullivan, a man of singular ruggedness that oozes the classic depiction of masculinity. Equipped with intimidating lip furniture that would make Magnum PI (ask your grandparents) feel emasculated. Dispensing sage advice and guidance to his adopted son with a raspy cadence that would make God blush!. His frank, often acerbic retorts are always a welcome distraction from the wearisome hostility Drake often stumbles into, with a style I hope to emulate when I get older. You better believe I’ll be rocking that Porn tache!
Chloe Frazier, an ex “friend” of Drakes beguiles and confuses in equal measure, functioning as the perfect antithesis to Drakes principled scruples in achieving one’s goals. Her selfish nature and greedy intent routinely conflict with Drakes, but also exposes the comparable facets of self-interest that Nate is capable of. Uncharted 2 also features the series most startlingly obvious adversary in the form of Lazarovic. With a Bond-esq scar, bald head and nondescript foreign accent, Lazarovic was never subtle. Harry Flynn was an emphatically more enjoyable foil for Nate to contend with, providing far less maniacal tedium and more dynamic annoyance. But the most resonating character of all was Elena Fisher, especially her kinship with Drake.
Elena is force in her own right: tenacious, assertive, intelligent. Capable of deflecting Drakes pithy, infantile acumen with her own witty swagger. Elena isn’t a femme fatale, an infatuation for Nate to swoon over or anything as derivative as that, she was a person. An individual of singular intent that builds a mutual report with Nate that naturally develops into an intimate relationship that feels organic. I’ve already reflected on how important Elena and Nate’s relationship is to the series in great detail so I won’t digress too much. But without this bond, Uncharted as a series would feel as hollow as a Call Of Duty game. Their romance though suitably predictable, is what really propels the narrative, that by extension influences the cinematic gameplay. Without this bond Uncharted 2 would be just another flashy, hubristic distraction that entertains, rather than endures.
Uncharted 2: Among Thieves is the game that got me back into gaming along with its predecessor “Drakes fortune, at a time when gaming was beckon far less interesting to me. It also demonstrated that a game could tell a story that was just as compelling and fun as the gameplay itself. It arguably my favourite of the series, though certainly the most inspirational. Which is why “Uncharted 2: Among Thieves” is my #4.