Professional treasure hunter Nathan Drake, an alleged descendant of the explorer Sir Francis Drake, along with his old friend and mentor, Victor "Sully" Sullivan, and Elena Fisher, a photojournalist who's employer he has tricked into financing his expedition under false pretences, explores an abandoned island in the belief that Francis Drake faked his death in order to hide the vast fortunes of El Dorado. The situation is made more complicated by the fact that gang of pirates and mercenaries has also set their sights on the treasure.
This game provides examples of:
- Action Commands: Far more than in the rest of the series. The team at Naughty Dog have said that one of their goals with the second game was to move past this trope and give players more control over situations that are normally relegated to cutscenes. This makes the already amazing experience that much better.
- Action Prologue: The game opens with pirates attacking Nate and Elena on their boat.
- Already Undone for You: Drake's Fortune is infamous for this. Drake has the journal of Sir Francis Drake, the "only way" to solve puzzles to open doors in the ruins. The minute you go into said doors, there are heavily armed mooks already in the room waiting in ambush.
- Artistic License History: Combined with a little bit of Gratuitous Spanish. Nate realizes that El Dorado refers to the statue, not a city, when pointing out that "El Dorado" means "the golden man". It means "the gilded one", and the real El Dorado was a tribal chief who covered himself in gold dust.
- Backstab Backfire: Navarro betrays his employer near the end of the game, only to become the target of Nathan's wrath.
- Badass in Distress: Elena breaks Nate out of prison after he's captured by pirates. In his defense, he was captured while in the process of protecting Elena.
- Bait-and-Switch Boss: In Chapter 17, Nate enters a large room containing lots of weapons and ammo, before Eddy appears. Then Nate and Eddy are both ambushed by Descendants.
- Bloodstained Glass Windows: Twice near the end of the game, to show how grizzly the Descendants' kills are without actually showing you.
- Body Horror: When the virus kept inside the statue of El Dorado makes contact with someone, it instantly turns them into a bloodied mouthed, pale eyed zombie.
- Book-Ends: The game starts and ends on a boat.
- Bottomless Magazines: As is the case in many video games, all machine gun turrets have infinite ammo. Also, Elena has infinite ammo and never needs to reload when she uses a weapon while riding behind Nate in the Jet-Ski sections of the game.
- Chekhov's Gun: Nate gave Sully Francis Drake's diary at the start of chapter 3 for safe keeping. It is also what saves his life after he is shot by Roman.
- Difficulty Spike: Chapters 17 and 18 get a lot harder along with the Genre Shift into survival horror.
- Disney Death: Sully is seemingly killed by the bad guys early in the game but later shows just fine. It turns out the diary he kept in his breast pocket had blocked the bullet.
- Early Installment Weirdness: Not a globe-trotting adventure like its successors, and the dynamic between Nathan and Sully is not fully formed yet, here more like business partners and friends as opposed to Sully's more recognizable Parental Substitute role; Sully's Disney Death early on is forgotten relatively quick by Nate, a much different reaction from how he would respond in a similar scenario later in the series. Nathan is also more of a devil-may-care wisecracker here compared to the sequels where he is more mature and concerned about the situations and consequences he finds himself in, and his voice is pitched a little higher than the rest of the series.
- Exploding Barrels: All throughout the game, but especially in the speedboat sections.
- Extremely Short Time Span: Once Nate and Elena arrive on the island the rest of the story takes place within the course of one day, starting at dawn and ending just before the sun sets.
- Genre Shift: In Chapter 17, the game becomes partially survival-horror, thanks to the poorly-lit Nazi base full of ravenous, psychotic descendants of the Spaniards and Nazis that stumbled upon El Dorado, with a creepy soundtrack and a Difficulty Spike to boot. This lasts until Chapter 19.
Drake: Great. The power's out and a girl's trapped. I swear to god, if there's a zombie around the next corner...
- Lampshaded in Among Thieves:
- Gratuitous Indonesian - here and here
- Worth nothing that the translation is not quite perfect, no real Indonesian talks like that.
- Hoist by His Own Petard: Navarro's plan is to take the gold statue and use its mutating effect as a weapon to be sold to the highest bidder, but he is killed by the statue when it is pushed off the ship and a rope attached to it gets tangled around his leg, dragging him to the bottom of the ocean with it.
- Hollywood Density: Nate guesses that the statue is on the island when he sees an object in a log weighing the equivalent of about five hundred pounds. That's about half a cubic foot of gold, while the statue is around ten feet high, three feet thick, and three feet wide, sticking its weight at about 54 tons or 35 tons, accounting for the coffin-sized space inside.
- Island of Mystery: Versteckte Insel, the remote tropical island most of the game takes place in. It's filled with lush jungles all over, and most of the locations you visit on the island include a fortress, a flooded Spanish city, a customs house, a monastery, and a hidden Nazi bunker crawling with Descendants.
- It Has Been an Honor: Spoofed when Drake and Eddy are surrounded by the Descendants:Eddy: Drake... If we don't make it out of here, I just want you to know... I hate your guts!
Nathan: Yeah, likewise, pal!
- It's Quiet... Too Quiet: After discovering a spike trap, Nate discovers that it has suddenly become quiet and realizes that he and Elena are being watched by whatever that had been eating the victim of the trap. After a while, he decides to dismiss it though the camera earlier had switched to the POV of whoever that has been stalking them.Nathan: Do you hear that?
Elena: Hear what?
Nathan: Nothing. Absolutely nothing.
- Misplaced Wildlife: On the remote island that Nate visits after the U-boat, the Red-whiskered bulbul, a bird native to southern Asia and introduced to several other locations- none of which include South America- is heard whistling in the background.
- Nothing Is Scarier: Walking through the Nazi base just KNOWING that there might be zombies around the corner is way scarier than actually fighting them.
- Their presence was foreshadowed from the very moment Nate landed on the island. Aside from conversations made by Eddy that his men are being killed by an unknown presence, Nate found several spike traps around the island and something with two toes had been chewing on the victim. Upon discovering one of the traps, Nate realizes that the area he is had become quiet and believes that he and Elena are being watched, with the camera shifting to the mysterious stalker's POV.
- Our Zombies Are Different: The Descendants, poisoned by The Virus contained inside El Dorado.
- Pocket Protector: How Sully survives his Disney Death, thanks to Francis' diary. Nate lampshades it by holding up the diary, staring at the bullet hole and remarking that he thought it only happened in the movies.
- Press X to Not Die: More apparent here than in later games. Some sequences require you to press or mash buttons to avoid dying, and even the Final Boss Navarro runs on this mechanic.
- Rustproof Blood: Averted in the U-Boat sequence in Chapter 3. Notable, as this trope is near-universal in video games.
- Survival Horror: Chapters 17-19, thanks to the Genre Shift and the appearance of the Descendants.
- Take That!: The unlockable bonus content allows you to see making of videos, one that tells the story of Naughty Dog wanting to create a good looking PS3 game, one that didn't have a gross, dark, gritty filter that bogs down the art, other featurettes, reskins, and a setting that turns the screen "black and white", "sepia", and "Next Gen". Adding the "Next Gen" effect, produces a gross, dark, gritty filter that bogs down the art.
- Tempting Fate: Eddy Raja manages to capture Nathan at the end of Chapter 6. While Nathan's in Eddy's cell, Elena sneaks up to the window and tells him she's about to rescue him. She puts her plan into action while Eddy and Nathan discus what they're going to do. Eddy concludes the discussion by telling Nathan his men will find Elena and asking "How much trouble can one girl be?" Cue Elena tearing out the wall of the cell with her Jeep.
- Tropical Island Adventure: The majority of the game takes place on a tropical island called Versteckte Insel.
- The Virus: El Dorado, the MacGuffin of the game, is a giant golden statue which turns out to be a golden sarcophagus containing a dessicated mummy — which carries an anthrax-like plague which turns all it infects into zombies. The Spanish colony on the island was overrun by the zombie plague, and Sir Francis Drake made a Heroic Sacrifice to flood the city and destroy the boats hoping to prevent the plague from spreading. The Nazis later discovered the island, the sarcophagus, and thus the Virus, which converts them as well. Roman is also infected when he opens the sarcophagus.
- You Get What You Pay For: In Chapter 14, after having a discussion with Eddy Raja, Gabriel Roman has this to say:Roman: Remind me again why we hired this superstitious idiot?
Navarro: You wanted someone cheap.
Roman: Ah, yes. Well, you get what you pay for, I suppose.
- You Have Outlived Your Usefulness: Navarro shoots Roman after they locate El Dorado.
- Zombie Apocalypse: What took out the Spanish colony and Nazi base on the island, and what Nathan is trying to prevent at the end.