“ I did not tell the half of what I saw, for I knew that I would not be believed”-
Uncharted Among Thieves', being the second game in the unforgettable Uncharted series. From the start I would have to say that this game is probably close to my favorite out of all the Uncharted games, in fact its a very close tie with A Thief’s End and for so many reasons that I will be talking about in this blog. I remember my friend Joann texting me letting me know that she had just received the new Uncharted game called Among Thieve’s. I have to say based on my first encounter with Drake’s Fortune I was really excited with anticipation to play it. I saw such amazing changes in this game compared to Drakes Fortune, with the character body mechanics and responsiveness to the players demands. Along side of A Thief’s End and the Lost Legacy, I felt that the shooting was way better in this game. I really loved the shooting aspect of this game, I don’t know maybe it was the sound effects, the way the guns kicked when you shot them, or the way you can see tracers of the bullets hitting your target. I also love the body mechanics, there was a lot more effects to how Drakes body reacted to climbing, running, jumping, and even when he would get hit by a grenade, just how his body reacted was very noticeable compared to Drake’s Fortune.
I really enjoyed how Naughty Dog in this game focused on a different historical figure and adventurer, Marco Polo. The focus for Nathan Drake and his friends is to pick up on Marco Polo’s trail to find out what Marco Polo was afraid to let the world know about his travels and what he discovered. A powerful resin created from the sap of the Tree of Life found in an ancient lost city called Shambhala secretly located in northern India, in the Himalayan Mountains. This sap gave people eternal life but at a cost, it turned them into monsters, not like what Nate found in Drake’s Fortune, but these blue colored monsters. Marco Polo believed that the ships he used to sail back home were driven into the mountains by a great storm caused by something divine to keep the discovery of the Tree of Life and its sap from the world. I like how this game brought the player to India, Tibet, Nepal, and a hidden away village in the Himalayan Mountains. Seeing this part of the world was pretty neat, the landscapes were beautiful, the lush rich jungles, the extravagant temples, and the cities that were under civil war. I have to say that the creativity that Naughty Dog puts into these environments is mind-numbing at times. The details that they put into the temples, the cities, trees, and mountains is so realistic that you really feel like you are there. Even having the plants and shrub’s react to Drake walking through them is prolific. I remember in old games on PS1 and PS2 if you had the character walk through a bush, the bush wouldn’t react you would just go through it, but now in games the character’s actually push aside the bushes leaves and branches. Little details like this is what makes a game delightful.
Something worth paying attention to in these games, is how the circumstances that Drake finds himself in, the adventures he takes upon himself, are what build his character, and help draw the player more into his development. Playing a Thief’s End and understanding the depth of the characters in that game is difficult if you haven’t played the first three. Naughty had a purpose for Nathan Drake, and a Thief’s End is the climax to Nathan Drake. So if a person play’s a Thief’s End, but never played the first three games, they won’t really understand the emotions involved, and the struggle between Nate, Elena, and Sully, because there is history between them all. Naughty Dog’s focus I believe is that when the player finally gets to a Thief’s End, and sees the pain in Elena when she finds out he has lied to her for weeks about his travels, that you as the player are suppose to feel the same shock Nathan feels. These first three games are what build all that up, because in the first three games, its much more than just gameplay, its emotional as well. The opening chapter in this game is a prime example of some of Drake’s insane circumstances, A Rock and a Hard Place. The game opens up with a lot of back and forth to give the player background on how he ended up train wrecked, but that opening scene where your hanging onto a train over the edge of a mountain and having to climb your way up was absolutely great. I loved how Naughty Dog just throws the player into the action right away, to get the player thinking, “oh my God, here we go, another crazy Drake moment.” These kind of circumstances I believe help the player and the character become one, in the sense that your both going through it together. Naughty Dog did a fantastic job in the character development in these games.
Enter Chloe Frazer, more than just a character that Naughty Dog added to the story of an Uncharted game, but a new addition to the team. In my opinion I really enjoyed Chloe’s addition to the team, her character is perfectly matched with the others, and her role is somewhat similar to Sully’s role. Chloe and Sully both know and were involved with sketchy people, even criminals. Chloe and Sully both know Nathan Drake enough to help guide him in his adventures and even tell him when things seem strange. Chloe and Sully both know when to tell Nathan that a certain artifact or treasure isn’t worth pursing at the cost of their own lives. For most players I feel that Chloe had to grow on people, I liked her from the start, but my friend Joann didn’t, in fact my friend Joann was sad that Chloe was the main character in the Lost Legacy and there was no more Drake. Once I played the Lost Legacy and learned more about Chloe Frazer, her history with her father, and her childhood, I liked her even more. In some ways her and Drake are very similar with their pasts, both their parents were history buffs and treasure hunters. Both their parents neglected their families for their adventures. With Nate it was his mother, with Chloe it was her father, and these issues show up in their characters. Why was Chloe such a flirt? Why was she in a pickle with Harry Flynn and Nathan Drake? Because she didn’t have her father around. Same with why Nathan struggled with his relationship with Chloe and Elena, he didn’t have his mother around. Chloe even makes an appearance in Drakes Deception and becomes the main character in the Lost Legacy. I will also be mentioning Nadine Ross later as well, as Naughty Dog brings Nadine into the Lost Legacy to partner up with Chloe. Among Thieve’s marks the beginning of Chloe Frazer and the beginning of her development as a key partner to Nate and his friends.
In Among Thieve’s Chloe plays two roles, helping Nathan Drake get closer to the discovery of the Tree of Life, and also working with Harry Flynn and Zoran Lazaravic because of her professional relationship to Fynn. The Player can see that at certain moments in this game Chloe had to play the bad guy to keep her role up as a criminal, but behind the scenes probably told Flynn to leave Drake alone. She was a self seeker for sure and at times hard to believe, like when Nathan was stuck in that prison for three months and she tells him she had nothing to do with Flynn’s betrayal. Chloe also was one of those characters that would string Nate along and then just shut the door in his face. For example when she was taken by Flynn to the train and Nate decides to go after her and he finds her after taking out a quarter of Lazaravic’s army, she says, “I never asked for any of this.” What!? But she was right she didn’t, but Nathan was too blinded by his own passions that he couldn’t see through her, nor could he see what was right in front of him, Elena. Overall I really liked Chloe Frazer, the choice of Claudia Black for the voice of Chloe to me was perfect and I absolutely loved her Australian accent.
Another character worth mentioning in this game, that not only I really enjoyed but probably most players of Uncharted enjoyed was Nathan Drakes rescuer, Tenzin. Such a great scene in the game, Nathan is bleeding out from a gun wound, exhausted to the point of death, and as Drake hits the snow and looks up, there is Tenzin walking toward him. The scene reminds me of Luke Skywalker in the Empire Strikes Back when he is caught in that blizzard on Endor exhausted just as much as Drake was and behold, Obi-Wan Kenobi appears to help him (well it was actually Han Solo later, but you get my point). Through Tenzin the player gets something that I believe most players in games sometimes don’t get, and that is culture. You get to see the beauty and innocence that is found in some of Tibetan people, their simple way of life, and peacefulness. Tenzin brings Drake back to health, and the two of them become close friends and even go on an adventure of their own in the mountains. What really makes their relationship great though, is the language barrier. Tenzin trying to explain certain things to Nate and Nate responding with his ever so clever responses. Like when Tenzin is explaining to Drake that there is a monster around, that there is a “terror” around by using facial expressions and hand motions Nathan says, “I’m not really good with charades pal.” On top of that how Naughty Dog, despite the characters language barriers made them work together perfectly. Even though Tenzin does not become a permanent member of the team and we never hear from him again, Tenzin will always be in the memory of all players of Uncharted. Fast forward real quick to a Theif’s End when Drake is in his attic remembering all his travels, you get to pick up a picture of Drake and Tenzin, then Drake says, “I really miss you pal.” That little nugget of remembrance tells us how close they got even though in this game their relationship was brief.
Zoran Lazaravic is my favorite villain out of all the Uncharted’s. For Zoran it wasn’t about money, and it wasn’t just about the Tree of Life. It was political, he wanted the power necessary to dominate the world. And he would get it at all costs, even killing two of his own men in cold blood, and killing the reporter Jeff in cold blood right in front of Drake and Elena. One soldier in Borneo tried to steal a little artifact from the dig site, and Zoran saw it as betrayal, he stab him in cold blood, and didn’t give the guy a chance to explain. In another instance, Drake had a gun to one of the soldiers heads, and instead of negotiating with Drake, Zoran simply shot his own man in the heading, stating that the problem with other dictators in history is that they didn’t have what it takes to get the job done. In the end after Harry Flynn endure Lazaravic, Lazaravic betrayed him, beat him, shot him, and left him behind to try and kill Drake, Elena and Chloe with a grenade, blowing himself up in the process. Whats really sick about Zoran is he considered himself better than Stalin and Hitler, and said they weren’t good enough and didn’t have the will to fulfill their visions. Now that's scary, and even sick. Zoran was a villain that could not be negotiated with, the only way to defeat him is deception, pretending to help him in the hopes that your chance may come when you could kill him, but his intimidation and manipulation kept both Harry Flynn and Chloe from doing that. Have you ever asked yourself why Naughty Dog made his character Russian? Two Russians in 1924-1928 embarked on a journey to find Shambhala, their names were Gleb Bokii (cryptographer and chief of the Soviet secret police) and his writer and friend Alexander Barchenko. Their mission to merge Buddist Kalachakra teachings and Communism in order to try and create perfect communist beings. Sound weird? Well, maybe this is what Lazaravic’s mission based on. It is also interesting to note that the villains in the Uncharted series always needed Nathan Drake, whether they knew it or not, or whether they wanted to admit it or not. Nadine Ross points this out to Rafe, by telling him that he knows he needs Drakes help. Zoran even asks Flynn and Drake to solve a puzzle in order to open the doors leading to Shambhala. Its as if these villains really aren’t all that smart, they seem to always be on the wrong track, and they can never solve puzzles or read clues correctly. They even at times totally misinterpret quotes from past explorers that leave them totally delusional.
I feel that Naughty Dog maybe gives us a clue in this game of something they planned on adding to Nathan Drake that we get to use in a Thief’s End, its the use of the rope. If you remember the chapter Breaking and Entering where Nate and Flynn are breaking into the museum, Harry Flynn uses a grappling rope so they could climb in certain areas. If you remember the chapter Mountaineering, Tenzin uses one as well so they both could get across huge gap’s in the mountain. Why do I mention these two events, when all throughout the first three games Nate in some way use a rope? Because in these two instances, you see the mechanic of spinning the rope, and then throwing it so it could grab onto something. I believe that Naughty Dog in some way gives players things to hope for and look forward too in future games. This is just my speculation.
A few of my favorite chapters in this game were Urban Warfare, Desperate Times, Locomotion, and Cat and Mouse. In Urban Warfare and Desperate Times I thought it was very creative of Naughty Dog to place Drake in a city that is in a civil war. The layout of these chapters was awesome, and the idea that you had to climb through blown up buildings and houses to get to your destination gave the impression that there is no easy way to do this. Watching Drakes body mechanics in these levels, as he climb poles, walls, street signs, street lights, and climbing to the top of a hotel was very refreshing to me. Naughty Dog went above and beyond from Drakes Fortune to Among Thieve’s, and they added so much, like when the helicopter blew up the building and your in the building as its collapsing. That affect in the game was just heart pounding, especially how they made Drakes body react to crumbling building, it was a struggle to control Drake and still have to shoot enemies. And on crushing and brutal difficulty, it was pretty hard to do, because of course the A.I. can shoot perfectly, but your reticle is moving all over the place.
Locomotion was just fantastic for its time. I could also add Tunnel Vision too because my focus here is the train. Very great affects, the movement of the train, the passing jungle, and the infamous battle with the helicopter (two actually), where Drake is holding onto the edge of the train, as a portion of the train is collapsing behind him and rolling in its destruction and then right as you think its going to land on Drake, you enter the tunnel and the tunnels entrance saves you. The physics of this chapter is not only very good but realistic. For example when the train is turning, and you try to shoot any enemy or throw a grenade, the centrifugal force affects the trajectory of your bullets or grenade. I have wasted a lot of grenades here because of that, and I love it. I would be behind cover and throw a grenade at a heavy to weaken his armor, but then the train turns and the grenade goes flying away off course into the jungle. Even when I would stealth kill guys and their bodies are laying on the train, as soon as the train would turn their bodies would slide off the train. This is just really amazing smooth programming, because players love realism, and how many of us use to play old games and think to ourselves, “Well in this situation in real life that wouldn’t happen, this would happen.” The realistic programming is this game brings the player to an all new struggle and challenge, games now days have us fighting physics.
Cat and Mouse was a high paced, non stop, on the move chapter. Adding a Tank to Drakes already troublesome situations, makes the player sit back and think exactly what Drake says in the game, “Are you serious? A Tank!” Evading a Tank, while at the same time shooting guys, and trying to get behind cover was pretty intense. Naughty Dog though gave you more of a chance here, and they made the tank seem a lot more intimidating that is really was. Lazaravic’s soldiers do more damage to you than the tank does, even on Brutal difficulty, the soldiers can kill you in 2 bullets, but you can take tons of damage by the tank. I’m glad they did this, it keeps the game challenging but not impossible, it was a perfect mix. The music combined with the tank chasing you and blowing up your cover, makes the player keep moving, and it keeps the pace going. Actually defeating the tank, is easier than defeating the soldiers, its easy to shoot a rocket at a huge moving piece of metal, than it is trying to shoot that guy on the roof up in the corner of you screen. Adding helicopter battles, and tank battles in this game is such a huge jump from what we know as Drake’s Fortune, this is why I believe that from Drakes Fortune to Among Thieve’s there were huge changes.
The overall graphics in this game was pretty good. Something worth mentioning in this game, and all the Uncharted’s is the water and snow affects. Now I don’t know about many of you out there, but from what I have learned from both movie, and game programmers is that water is a very tricky effect, and could at times be the hardest part to program. That being said, Naughty did a great job with this effect, especially the snow, I really liked the snow effect. The times when Drake is walking in the snow and you see his footprints in the snow, or watching how snow slowly accumulates on his clothes, then when you roll in some water is washes off, the artists and programmers perfected this in later Uncharted games as well. I used to love getting Drake to climb up a tall cliff, and just staring out at the ocean in these games, I really felt like I was looking at the ocean and enjoying the peace.
The enemy A.I. in this game was also improved,and obviously only gets better later. Even though they weren’t super intelligent they were able to notice when one of their comrades went missing; which added some intensity to the game. They were also programmed in such a way that some areas and chapters you could not stealth kill all the enemies. The Monastery is a good example of this, there are a couple of areas in this chapter that make you think you can stealth the whole area but you can’t. The first area is the opening of the chapter, when Drake and Elena make their way up the steps to the first battle. I have played this multiple times, and watched others try and stealth it but after stealth killing the first five guys, you get noticed. The second area is when Drake and Elena get to that locked door and you have to climb up and over to the other side so Drake could open the door. I have also tried to stealth this section too, and I would be able to get the first 3-4 guys but I would always get noticed. This isn’t a complaint, its just to show you how as time went on, the Naughty Dog programmers eventually give the player a choice in whether you wanted to stealth a section or use guns. On the subject of A.I., I have to mention the friendly A.I. because most players struggled with the A.I. of Elena, Sully and Chloe at times. This issue shows up most in battles when your trying to get behind cover to use the cover to your advantage, or just trying to shoot the enemy, and for some reason the friendly A.I. is always in the way. They seem to always be running around in front of you or robbing you of the cover you need because they are hogging it. I remember times when I was trying to swap cover and Elena, or Chloe wouldn’t move out of the way. Also there were times when I would be trying to aim down a corridor to shoot an enemy and one of them would run in front of my cross-hair and the gun wouldn’t shoot. These were just some of the A.I. issues that I have had, but once again Naughty Dog really improved this. For example between Uncharted 3 and Uncharted 4, the Last of Us came out, (another fabulous game I will be writing about), in the Last of Us they improved the friendly A.I. and it carried over to a Thief’s End and the Lost Legacy. In the Last of Us if you haven’t noticed this then play it again, but Ellie never gets in your way, in fact she helps you a lot. There were times when a guy would grab me from behind and Ellie would come and stab him to get him off me. Ellie was programmed in such a way that she knew what to do, and what not to do. She knew when to help you and when to just let you play the game. This is a perfect example at how Naughty Dog would look back on certain things, listen to and read peoples criticisms then drop a new game with the issues fixed.
There were also just some minor platforming issues in this game. Locomotion was one of those chapters where Drake would automatically do something I didn’t want him to do. When I would take cover behind a crate with Drakes back up against it and try to move around the crate or roll out of cover, for some reason he would roll of the train and grab the edge. I would be sitting there frustrated like “Stop that Drake!” Often times blowing my cover or stealth approach all because he didn’t do what I was wanting him to do. Often at times I ended up in gun fights because Drake grab something or did something I didn’t want him to do. I know that nothing will ever be perfect, but I found that in the first three Uncharted’s this was a number one issue, but in a Thief’s End and the Lost Legacy the majority of these issues were fixed. Especially in the new Uncharted’s, swapping cover and rolling out of cover became very smooth for the player.
The Uncharted’s have been known at times to have really long chapters in them. The Monastery is a chapter that is very long. This is both a complaint and a complement. A complaint because your playing it thinking “When is this going to end already”, and a complement because as the player you really get to enjoy the scenery and all the gun fights if you thrive off non stop action. Also there were sections of this game where I was like “Why not just combine the two chapters and make it one chapter?” For me, Locomotion and Tunnel Vision could be one chapter, they make Tunnel Vision a chapter because you enter a tunnel? Then you get to the Monastery and its one chapter, and a very long chapter. Some chapter titles makes sense, but at times I’m sure the player is thinking just as much as I am that “Did they just make up this chapter because they couldn’t think of anything else?” Just combine them. I know that they have the game spaced out a certain way and divided a certain way, but this is just my take on it. Even in a Thieves End by the time the player gets to For Better or For Worse you start to feel like the game is getting long and your only halfway through it. Since its the last time we will probably see Drake Naughty Dog didn’t want to end it too quickly. This is also somewhat of a love/hate relationship with the Uncharted’s.
I really enjoyed the weapons in this game, it is probably my favorite Uncharted game to play weapon wise. They start you off with a great 9mm, the Ak47 is somewhat sporadic but it gets the job done, but give me that SAS Shotgun with the 9mm or Desert Eagle and Im all in. I loved that SAS Shotgun in this game and it did tremendous damage no matter who the enemy was. Turret guns in the Uncharted’s I think are deceptive in these games. You see a mounted machine gun on a truck with a metal shield connected to it, you run to it so you can use it and the moment you start firing not only do they give you a limited amount of bullets (when the computer has infinite ammo), but it seems that you take more damage behind it than you would elsewhere. I have died many times behind one of these guns thinking that they can’t touch me when in like five seconds I’m on gray screen close to death. In Drakes Fortune there is a section in the Fortress chapter, where you can man the turret gun in the corridor and fire down at the enemies, but on Brutal difficulty the enemies can still kill you in 2 bullets. In Among Thieve’s there are a couple instances where turret guns deceive you, the section in the Monastery where you have to mow down all those heavies, and in Desperate Times on the truck. Maybe Im just not that good like I have said before, but on Crushing I always get so close to death. The Crossbow was a cool addition to the game, but not my favorite for a special weapon choice. Even though it was a one shot kill on most enemies you just couldn’t pick up enough ammo for it, and there wasn’t a lot of it to pick up during a fight. The times I used it was at the Monastery when I would get to the first section, I would shoot the first six guys without getting any attention, and then I would proceed to the inevitable fight. Also toward the end of the game when you have to fight those big guardian creatures, you were somewhat forced to use it because it was a 1-2 shot kill.
Of course what would my blogs be without mentioning grenades. I don’t have too much of an issue with them in this game. To me grenades are great to have to weaken a heavy or if you happen to run into a bunch of guys all grouped together, one grenade does the trick and you’ll probably get a trophy. This was a plus in a Thief’s End because the A.I. was intelligent and sometimes by searching for you they would end up in a group together, throw in one or two grenades and it saves you a long taxing firefight. I will always have issues with the fact that you can’t see where you aiming it sometimes, but Naughty Dog really improved the power of them over time. In this game Drake can be behind cover and a grenade would land next to him and deal him no damage, which was great but kind of unrealistic. In a Thief’s End though you would get blown out of cover and in Drake’s shell shock moment the enemy would shoot you and that was it. This was a great improvement, but an annoying one. I feel like most gamers and players just don’t know what they want, like we want a game as close to real as possible but when it gets realistic, we hate it and thinks its unfair. A Thief’s End brutalized me in this and it wasn’t just hand grenades my friends, it was also the grenade launchers too, especially in No Escape (Uhhh), I would always get blown out of cover and die. Naughty Dog also improved the fact that even the A.I. would get stunned as well, which was fair and allowed the player time to either get in cover, or shoot them while they recover from you grenade. In Among Thieve’s at least if you were in cover the cover would protect you, but eventually the programmers made it to where even your cover wouldn’t last long. If you were hiding behind a box or wooden crate it would slowly dissipate from the bullets and you would have to move, I really enjoyed that in these games because it forces the player to move, to think quickly what to do next and keeps the pace going at the speed it was designed for.
The Boss fight in this game was the hardest boss for me in all the Uncharted’s. I would be playing through the game enjoying it but in the back of my mind I was always dreading the Tree of Life chapter. For awhile I could not beat this game on crushing, I would be running around in circles trying to gain some distance between me and Lazaravic so I could turn around and shoot the tree sap. I hate boss fights where you have to shoot something else in the environment in order to weaken them. Instead of the whole tree sap ordeal I would rather have just gone one on one with him evading his attacks. Then Lazaravic gets so angry, that the guy can throw six grenades at you in one throw, plus shooting you with his sawed-off shotgun. On Crushing and Brutal difficulty if he hits you with his shot gun that puts you close to death, then if one of his stray grenades hits you as well your dead. I did eventually beat it on Crushing, it took me 6-7 tries, but eventually I muscled my way through it. This fight is programmed in such a way that they want you to think that Lazaravic is harder than he seems, and they want you to think that you have to run away from him running around in circles trying to shoot the tree sap. I would always do this chapter the hard way, because I was afraid of Lazaravic, when really the key to his defeat is being aggressive. The player is more in control than the game makes it seem because you can go anywhere around the tree and lure him close to the sap, you don’t have to keep running in circles waiting for the right time. On normal and hard difficulty running around in circles works, but on Crushing and Brutal difficulty you need the fight to end or Lazaravic will end it for you. (LOL). On these harder difficulties you really don’t have time to think and strategize in the moment you got to know what to do before you enter a fight and do it. If you go to youtube and look up Mike Bettencourt’s and Seraphim17’s walkthroughs you will see what I mean by not being afraid of him and being aggressive. There is a trick though to beating him on Brutal, it was probably a mistake in the programming, but there is an area in the game where you could stand next to Lazaravic the whole time. You just let him keep grabbing you and throwing you, and as your doing this you wait for the tree sap to revive right next to him and shoot it every time. I haven’t actually tried this, but I was watching Seraphim17 do it on his walkthrough and it was pretty funny to watch. In fact after watching Seraphim17 do this it makes me want to go and try to play it on Brutal.
That's going to be it for this blog on Among Thieves. I hope you all are enjoying reading these as much a I am writing them. There is always so much to write about in this amazing series. As always, thank you to all those who are viewing these blogs and taking time to read them, and anything else on Indie Game Lover. Thank you to Indie Game Lover for letting me write these blogs on the Uncharted series. I look forward to writing more on the Uncharted games, up next will be Drakes Deception as we all continue our journey through this series. Happy 10th year anniversary to Uncharted and its awesome programmers at Naughty Dog.