A Gaming Treasure
Perhaps no other franchise on the PS3 so readily defines the console as does the Uncharted series. The original game was, without a doubt, one of the prettiest and most engaging action-adventure games ever produced. Flash-forward nearly two years, and Naughty Dog has put together an astounding title that sets a new standard for adventure gaming. In fact, Uncharted 2: Among Thieves is so polished, action-packed, multi-faceted, and enjoyable that it has, in my mind, spawned a new genre: interactive cinema. If you own a PS3, it’s is imperative that you go out and get this game. If you don’t own a PS3, there’s never been a better excuse.
First and foremost, Uncharted 2: Among Thieves is a single-player adventure. Once again, players take on the role of Nathan Drake, a “mercenary treasure seeker,” this time in search of Marco Polo’s treasure-laden, lost fleet. After pulling off a heist to recover an ancient map, then cooling his heels in Turkey, Nate globetrots his way around the world in search of fabulous wealth. Somewhere along the line he discovers a plot that runs far deeper than the accumulation of riches, and Nathan Drake becomes embroiled in a struggle with a madman and his mercenary army. Naturally, Drake emerges from his chrysalis, leaving behind his petty, thieving persona and embraces his true, heroic nature. The way in which the narrative is presented in Uncharted 2 is without peer in the gaming world. The smart, twisting, intrigue-filled story is so engaging, you’ll often get lost in the cutscenes and the action – it’s as if you’re watching a summer blockbuster. This cinematic adventure is truly game-changing.
Gameplay in Uncharted 2’s story is quite varied. Players will partake in adventure platforming, gunplay, and puzzle-solving. These three components are perfectly blended so that gamers never feel bogged down in any one activity. The platforming segments, while linear, are as enjoyable as any other platform-intensive adventure (i.e. Prince of Persia, Tomb Raider, etc.). Level design is particularly good, as a clear path presents itself naturally to the player. While some may long for a more open-ended, less railroaded approach to platforming, I think such an scheme would have been tedious.
What’s more, the shootouts in Uncharted 2 completely make up for any objections some may raise concerning the linear approach during platforming. While pitched battles will still be presented, this time around players can use the environment in its entirety to fashion a combat strategy. In other words, hanging from sign posts and ledges, taking refuge behind a car or sandbag wall, sneaking from cover to cover to perform stealth kills, and going balls-out while hucking grenades and slinging RPGs are all possibilities – you essentially get to choose and shape the arena-like battlegrounds to your strategic whim. Firefights in Uncharted 2 are a whole lot more fun than that of the original due to their far more complex and malleable nature. Additionally, there are four initial difficulty settings (with an unlockable fifth echelon), so adventure gamers of any skill level can get the perfect intensity of challenge without feeling bogged down or untested.
The puzzle-solving segments, while fewer in number than its predecessor, take up fully one-third of gameplay. Puzzles are often cleverly set up and are satisfying to resolve, without ever fully testing your little grey cells. This keeps the pacing up. Puzzles also feel natural within the context of the plot. Rather than just hitting switches and lever-pulling (though there is some of that), more context/location-sensitive mechanisms are used that keep you entrenched in the setting. That being said, intellectual gamers used to ripping through point and click adventures on the PC will likely find the puzzle-solving portions to be trite and pedestrian. However, the vast majority of gamers will enjoy never getting stuck but still having to work things through cognitively. My overall feelings concerning puzzle portions of the game is that they break up the rest of gameplay nicely, reinforce the cinematic approach, and are well-paced – I just wish there were a few more to work through scattered throughout.
Outside of this well-implemented and clever gameplay triad, the presentation in Uncharted 2: Among Thieves is beyond compare. This game is so good looking it often seems as if you’re watching a Pixar animated film. This is certainly true during the glut of gorgeous cutscenes, but it also holds up tremendously well during actual gameplay. Explosions, textures, animations are nearly real – animations, especially, are indescribably natural. The environments look lived in, time-worn, and beautiful – several times I stopped and panned the camera around just to scan the vistas and analyze the foreground; Uncharted 2 is visually breathtaking in every way, and it runs silky smooth at 720p. The only extremely minor complaint I have concerning the graphics in Uncharted 2 is the way cutscenes are loaded. Though only for an instant, transitions between gameplay segments and cinematics make the entire screen go black. While overall this is but a trivial quibble, when compared to the rest of the lavishly polished presentation, it does serve as a relatively harsh reminder that you are playing a game rather than participating in interactive cinema.
Unblemished, the game’s sounds are perfect. For starters, the musical score (also found in the original) is as emblematic and epic as any theme found in a Hollywood production. Ambient sound effects such as sloshing through puddles, grunts of exertion, the moving of stone, and the cacophony of firearm rapport all come through crystal clear. Lastly, the voice over work is unparalleled. Not only are the actors well casted, their artistic interpretation is spot-on – they really understand and love their characters and it comes shining through. Supporting the acting, the lip-sync work is often uncanny, making for an experience that is never jarring.
Controls in Uncharted 2 are quite good. Whether you are hopping from the tops of walls or blasting your way through a section of bad guys, the third-person withdrawn/over-the-shoulder perspective (during platforming or combat, respectively) and tight, adjustable, well-mapped commands are very competent. The action on-screen is easily navigated through by virtue of the solid controls. The only hiccups encountered concern cover and climbing. Ducking into cover is done with the Circle button. However, getting out of cover quickly and advancing to the next patch of protection can be trying and often inefficient – frequently you’ll get stuck and/or will not be able to get to the desired cover point. This is exacerbated by the fact that the dodge/roll function is mapped to the very same button – often your stealthy or well-protected approach will be betrayed by an untimely, diving roll. Likewise, climbing during platforming is a bit slow and feels quite sticky. It is regularly a challenge to get from climbing sections to platforms ably.
Though the 10+ hour single-player experience is well worth the $60, Naughty Dog has also included compelling cooperative and competitive multiplayer modes. In fact, there are ten game types to choose from, including Deathmatch, Elimination, Plunder, Turf War, King of the Hill, Chain Reaction, Survival, Gold Rush, Co-Op, and Machinima. While most of these are conventional multiplayer offerings, the fact that they are tinged with Uncharted 2’s platforming character makes the beautifully rendered, open-world environments come alive with positional strategy. Moreover, the two-player Co-Op portion of the game, which offers alternative, combat-heavy segments of chapters found in the single-player campaign, is a challenging way to further enjoy the title. Naughty Dog’s approach to multiplayer in Uncharted 2 is a lot more than just a feature-set entry; it’s a fully-fledged and engaging experience. Though multiplayer can’t quite compete with the likes of series such as Call of Duty, Halo, and Killzone, it is far more engaging than nearly all other titles with multiplayer components out there – it really extends gameplay significantly for the shooter-inclined.
For those of you who are just in it for the single-player story, there’s a good bit of replayability to be found for you too. For starters, strewn throughout each chapter are ancient relics. Finding all of these will keep you very busy, as some are exceedingly difficult to find. Thankfully, going back and treasure hunting is as easy as selecting a specific chapter and scavenging it for the goods – you won’t have to go back through the title in its entirety just to find the trinkets. However, like a good movie, you might want to go back through the game a few times just to soak up all of the quality. Moreover, raising the difficulty level will keep things challenging. Additionally, there are tons of great, achievable Trophies to be unlocked. Doing so and completing plot points will award you with in-game cash. If you have Trophies accumulated in Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune, the game will recognize that and give you a cash bonus. These funds can then be used in the in-game store to unlock player skins, purchase new graphical render modes, open up weapons for multiplayer, and even used for applying specific gameplay “Tweaks” (cheat functions such as fast or slow motion, mirror and flip modes, one-shot kills, unlimited ammo, zero gravity, etc.). All of this really helps to extend the life of the single-player experience.
Without a doubt, Uncharted 2: Among Thieves is a solid candidate for game of the year. It does everything well, and some things it does without equal. It is so finely developed and produced that it will likely be looked at in the future as a seminal entry in video gaming. Uncharted 2: Among Thieves is a game that transcends the conventions of the medium, lending even more clout to an already robust industry, closely nipping at the heels of filmmaking, ushering in the era of interactive cinema.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 5.0 Graphics
This game is sensational to look at from beginning to end and from single-player to multiplayer. 4.5 Control
This is an excellent third-person shooter and platformer that only marginally suffers from cover and climbing issues. 5.0 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
The score, sound effects, and voice acting are perfection. 4.7 Play Value
The single-player story is outstanding. The multiplayer component is great, but it doesn’t quite match up to the best out there. All in all, this is an excellent gameplay experience that will have a ton of value no matter what kind of gamer you are. 4.9 Overall Rating – Must Buy
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.