Game Review: Uncharted 2: Among Thieves (PS3)

You would think that with “Uncharted 2: Among Thieves” being the biggest Sony release of the year that a salesman at a particular gaming store would know what Uncharted was all about. Oddly enough though, when I went to pre-order the title a couple weeks before its release I was asked by an employee of this company what Uncharted was. After overcoming my shock at this individual’s ignorance I gave him the following description, “Its like Tomb Raider with a dude, but better.”

Obviously that description is very generic because “Uncharted”, as a series, is so much more than that. However I stick by that description because on a base level “Uncharted” is “Tomb Raider” with a dude, but better. So much better.

I have to confess, “Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune” almost slipped me by. I bought the game upon release but amidst all the great games that were released during Holiday 2007 it kept getting overpassed and sat in its cellophane prison on my game shelf for longer than it deserved to. Once I finally got around to it though the game shined as something special. A mix of “Tomb Raider” styled platforming adventure gameplay and Gears of War styled combat, all wrapped in a cinematic, Indiana Jones as played by Nathan Fillion, veneer.

For me, personally, the game stroked a nostalgic nerve the hearkened back to the days of my childhood where I was a great archaeologist (adventurer) hunting for treasure trying to stay one step ahead of the Nazi’s. “Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune” was not without its flaws though and in retrospect I may have been too forgiving of those flaws when I wrote my review. Regardless of if I was overly generous in my critical analysis of the game or not, there is little denying that the game was one of the best Playstation 3 exclusives at the time. There was little doubt in my mind that “Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune” would warrant a sequel, however I never fathomed the amount of hype “Uncharted 2” would have to carry on its proverbial back.

2009 has been a fantastic year for the Playstation 3 in terms of exclusive games. “Killzone 2” and “inFAMOUS” really raised the expectations of what games on the Playstation 3 could be and those expectations were of course painted onto “Uncharted 2: Among Thieves”. Hype can be a both a blessing and a curse. It can help to bolster interest and early sales but it also creates expectations that sometimes cannot be matched. The anticipation and expectations for “Uncharted 2: Among Thieves” were off the charts and you want to know how it holds up.

If you are reading this review to help you make up your mind about purchasing the game, let me make it very easy for you. Buy it.

If you are reading this review to validate your purchase of the game, I’ll make it easy for you as well. Good job. Great purchase. Pat yourself on the back because you have bought one of the best games of this generation.

“Uncharted 2: Among Thieves” is a great game and nothing anyone says will change that fact. If you consider yourself a gamer, you owe it to yourself to play it. The game does what every great sequel should do, it improves on every aspect of the original while staying true to its roots. The game does a great job of acclimating both fans of the original and potential newcomers to the controls and after a few minutes of the game starting I was once again fully engaged in Nathan Drake’s adventures.

Developer Naughty Dog embraced the action-adventure movie motif for “Uncharted 2” even more so than they did for the original. The game starts off roughly halfway through the story with Nate waking up injured inside a train wreck that is hanging precariously off the edge of a snowy cliff. As Nate makes his way out of the wreckage Naughty Dog employs the use of flashbacks and non-linear storytelling to introduce (or reintroduce players as the case may be) players to Nate’s world of treasure hunting and lays out the ground work for the entire story. While not entirely original, it is a welcome change from the standard gaming story conventions.

The story itself places Drake on the trail of Marco Polo and his lost fleet and quickly spirals into a search for the mythical Kingdom of Shambhala. Of course no one goes on an adventure of this magnitude by themselves and Nate will find himself allied with a mix of old and new friends and foes as he follows the adventure on its course. The story is filled with all the beautiful locales, twists, turns and betrayals people have come to expect from the genre and it does so with what may be the best voice acting ever put into a game.

Voice acting is not the only thing that sounds great in the game though. Greg Edmonson, the composer of the short-lived television series “Firefly” and the original “Uncharted”, returns to score “Uncharted 2” and it may be my second favorite aspect of the game as a whole (next to Drake’s voice acting). It is understated and bombastic as need be but it is always there driving the player onward in just the right way. In many ways it rivals feature film compositions and in my opinion only the Halo soundtracks do a better job in a game.

Adding to everything is the games visuals. The game has some of the best graphics on the Playstation 3, or any system for that matter. Few action games have reached the level of graphical detail that “Uncharted 2” does. The locations that Nate visits throughout the course of his adventure are near photo-realistic and the expansive vistas are a sight to behold. In addition to looking pretty the game moves great as well. The animations are spot on. Characters never feel robotic in the least which adds a real human feel to their movements and the environments themselves have a lifelike feel to them which really helps engage the gamer.

The gameplay is a refined version of what was going on in “Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune” as “Uncharted 2” is still very much a healthy mixture of “Tomb Raider” and “Gears of War”. Everything has been touched up though. The platforming segments are decidedly better designed, the camera works more to the benefit of the player instead of as a showcase for the beautiful graphics and as a result camera influenced deaths are minimal. As great as it is to not get killed by missing a leap do to a wonky camera it is even better to not have to worry about shoddy collision detection when in a firefight.

The gun-play in “Uncharted 2” is much improved over its older sibling and while it is still the weakest aspect of the game, shootouts are now more balanced towards exhilarating instead of frustrating. Once again Naughty Dog gives players an armory full of weapons to use against your adversaries. Everything from handguns to rocket launchers are available. I for one found myself progressing through the majority of the game using the 92FS handgun and the M4 assault rifle but everyone should find a weapon that works for them. Just remember to engage in your shootouts behind some cover.

Using cover in these shootouts is a necessity and it too has been improved, depending upon how you look at it. Figuring out the strategy of moving from cover to cover was something the first game did particularly well, it added a strategic element to those sometimes frustrating shootouts. “Uncharted 2” is very much the same but with the addition of destructible cover which adds another wrinkle into the already frantic firefights. I personally had very little issue with the cover mechanic other than Nate attempting to take cover in the wrong position sometimes, leaving him exposed and with a poor viewpoint. I’d like to blame it on my poor gaming skills but I also tinkered with the cover mechanic outside of a battle and there are certain fixtures that Nate will only stick to one way which can be frustrating especially as you are being fired on by a team of mercenaries.

Shooting people is not the only way for Drake to take out the big bad guys though. One of the most fun aspects of the game for me is the hand to hand combat. Engaging in fisticuffs is both exciting, especially if bullets are flying, and fully satisfying. Knowing when to engage in hand to hand combat is something that requires split second timing and sound judgment because doing so at the wrong time could very well result in Nate becoming a bullet sponge.

In association with the hand to hand combat are stealth movements. When undetected Drake can get the drop on his opponents by sneaking up on them and performing a one hit kill on them. Outside of a few instances though players are never really forced to use the mechanic if they do not want to but utilizing it can help to make the game much easier.

The overall improved combat also makes multiplayer in “Uncharted 2” something other than the bad idea I initially thought it to be. Multiplayer in “Uncharted 2” is quite obviously inspired by many of the aspects present in both “Gears of War” and “Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare”. The modes are your generic multiplayer mode, like Deathmatch, Elimination, Capture the Flag (treasure), Zones, King of the Hill as well as a co-op mode that plays very much like Horde mode from “Gears of War”. There is a leveling and perk system (called boosters) and it makes for an interesting persistent gaming experience but what makes the multiplayer in “Uncharted 2” stand out so much is that the game is an action-platformer and the platforming segments have been added to the multiplayer as well.

Naughty Dog delivered on something that was at best a risky idea to begin with. While it is true that the Playstation 3 has a number of good multiplayer games, “Uncharted 2” is going to scratch the itch that “Gears of War” did for XBOX 360 owners and I have a feeling that gamers will still be playing “Uncharted 2” all the way up to the inevitable release of “Uncharted 3”.

For the most part “Uncharted 2: Among Thieves” is a beautiful diamond, maybe on an engagement ring between you and your Playstation 3. But like many diamonds there are some flaws and while the stone itself may still be gorgeous, those flaws will always be there.

The level design of the game is near perfect but a couple of them just don’t work and I found myself wondering where I was to go next. One of these instances in particular left me with a very sour taste in my mouth. While being chased by a tank through a small village I came upon a point where my next destination was not clear to me on my 60 inch television screen. I ended up dying more than my fair share of times in this location and at one point actually shut the game off in frustration. I know I am not the only one to have experienced this either as some high profile and highly respected members of the game press have also lamented about this particular segment.

The other big issue I had with the game revolves around the end boss. While I have no intention of spoiling it for anyone, suffice it to say that after 25 levels and over 10 hours of gameplay that does so much to make you forget you are playing a game (and for the most part succeeds) the end boss is felled by a generic repetitive gaming convention that actually left me with a bad taste in my mouth when it was over. It certainly did not spoil the game for me but it did leave me feeling more than a slight bit let down.

Everyone has their own personal caveats so everyones experience is going to be different. These issues effected me personally and they may not do so to you. You may in fact find other aspects of the game to be flawed or you may not experience anything that grates on your nerves at all, I can not say for certain how you will experience the game. I can however say that from a technical standpoint “Uncharted 2: Among Thieves” is a highly polished game. And if you, like me, grew up on Indiana Jones, Allan Quatermain (as played by Richard Chamberlain) and like game like “Tomb Raider” and “Gears of War” then you can do no better than “Uncharted 2: Among Thieves”. It truly is a fantastic game.

5 out of 5


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s