Uncharted 2: Among Thieves
- Street Date:
- October 13th, 2009
- Reviewed by:
- Daniel Hirshleifer
- Review Date:1
- September 17th, 2011
- Game Release Year:
- Sony Computer Entertainment
- Naughty Dog Software
- ESRB Rating:
- T (Teen)
When the Playstation 3 first came out, it suffered from the same issue that most new consoles face: A lack of quality launch titles. Even worse, the system exclusives were weak. God of War II had recently come out…for the PS2. For a system that cost three times the amount of the other new kid on the block, the Nintendo Wii, the PS3 was in a very perilous position. Sony did eventually turn their fortunes around, in large part thanks to a little action adventure game called Uncharted. The game, in which you played treasure hunter Nathan Drake on a quest to find El Dorado, was the biggest hit the system had at the time, selling over 3.5 million copies and becoming the first must have exclusive for the next gen system. However, the game didn’t quite live up the hype, being fairly short and often repetitive. Despite this, the amount of time and detail that went into the game was evident, and even if it wasn’t spectacular, the characters were endearing and the atmosphere was stunning. So when developer Naughty Dog announced a sequel, anticipation was high.
The Game Itself: Our Reviewer's Take
Uncharted 2 has one of the greatest openings in video game history. You discover Nathan, wounded and disoriented, hanging off the end of a train that has derailed and is dangling off the side of a mountain. From the first moments, you know that this game is going to be a cut above the last one. As you climb up the ruined train cars towards a snowy hilltop, you flash back to the events that got you into this perilous position. To make a long story short, you’re hired to recover an ancient artifact, get double-crossed, and end up going after a vicious warlord who’s looking to use the artifact to gain unimaginable power. You know, the basic Indiana Jones style set up. What works here isn’t the story, which is serviceable but nothing special, but rather the characters. Drake himself is a charming rogue, cut from the same cloth as the aforementioned Dr. Jones. However, he has his own personality, coming off kind of like Castle star Nathan Fillion (who is the only good choice to play Drake in the on-again, off-again movie adaptation). His interplay with the various characters, his confidant Sully, his sometimes love interests Elena and Chloe, and his nemesis Harry Flynn, are all top notch. The writing is sharp, the performances lively, the backdrops are gorgeous. In a way, Uncharted feels more like an interactive film than a video game. And while for most games that would sound like an insult, in this case it’s a compliment.
The gameplay doesn’t diverge too much from the first game (which took its cues from the Tomb Raider franchise), but tweaks things to make the whole experience more pleasurable. And boy does it show. The game employs a cover-based gun fight system, which is pretty standard for third party shooters of this type. The levels in Uncharted 2 are all designed to make maximum use of this style. You do have to take cover to survive, but the amount of options you have to finish a fight are impressive. For one thing, there’s an incredible variety of weapons, all with different strengths and weaknesses, and as you take down enemies, they pile up all over the battlefield. Many times you could choose to take down each villain with a different weapon if you were really determined. The shooting mechanics are smooth and finely honed. I was popping off more head shots than I could count within minutes of picking up the controller.
Of course, a game like this isn’t all about gunplay. Drake is amazingly agile, able to climb onto, over, and through most anything, and often does. You cannot pass a single level of Uncharted 2 without climbing up walls, jumping across chasms, or scaling massive ancient constructions. A few of these sequences in the first game were extraordinarily frustrating, demanding the right combination of buttons at the exact right moment. Thankfully, the controls are more lenient this time around, but the developers do throw in some surprises to keep you on your toes. You will absolutely not be bored with the platforming on display. The other main section are puzzles, which are generally intuitive and don’t require more than a few moments of contemplation (and then a generous helping of said platforming) to solve. The big twist here is that Drake keeps a running journal of everything he learns, and in order to complete these puzzles, you’ll need to reference sketches or bits of information Drake has squirreled away. And, even more interestingly, you have to go through and find the information for yourself. It’s not highlighted; you won’t find any big neon arrows pointing at the answers. This makes you feel like more of a participant in solving the puzzle, as opposed to the person just pressing the buttons. In fact, the whole game goes out of its way to make you feel like you’re taking control, even if you’re doing exactly what the developers wanted you to do.
And if you can’t get enough, the game also offers cooperative and competitive multiplayer. The cooperative feels underdeveloped, with you and up to two other players facing off against hordes of enemies to reach an ultimate goal. It gets tiring quickly and wasn’t a feature I was eager to revisit. On the other hand, the competitive multiplayer lets you match wits against other human opponents, and the game’s combat system really shines. The real fun here comes in how quickly things can change owing to the characters’ agility. You can use the level’s topography to your advantage, planning escape routes and using the multilayered areas to get the drop on opponents. It’s really exhilarating.
The Video: Sizing Up the Picture
Uncharted 2: Among Thieves makes full use of the Playstation 3’s powerful innards, presenting one of the most visually stunning and immersive graphical experiences available on any existing console. The graphics run at a consistently smooth, high rate, no matter how much is happening on screen. The environments are varied and lush, ranging from thick jungle to mountaintops to war-torn urban areas and caves long thought abandoned. The characters are detailed and expressive. You buy each and every one of them as a fully developed person. Drake and Chloe especially are endlessly fascinating to watch. Even their body language looks fluid and natural. Naughty Dog has set the bar incredibly high with this release, and I hope they can at least match it with the next one.
The Audio: Rating the Sound
Of course, the prettiest of pictures aren’t as impressive without some convincing sounds to go with them, and in this area Uncharted 2 does not disappoint. Each environment comes complete with its own unique sounds, whether it be jungle wildlife or the sounds of distant bombs in the urban sequences. The weapons, especially the pistole, pack an appropriate punch, and the explosions will be sure to give your subwoofer a workout. Still, for me, the best part is the expressive and memorable voice performances. Every character gets their chance to shine, and they do so with aplomb. Half the fun of the game is simply hearing these well-developed characters interact with each other.
Uncharted 2 is undoubtedly a great game, but it’s also a firmly linear one. And there’s nothing wrong with that, but it does beg the question of how much replay value it has. I would say the world is so finely drawn, both graphically and through the characters, that this game does have at least a moderate replay level. Of course, if you love the game it will be much more than moderate, but for casual players I’m not sure how often this one will come back off your shelf after beating the story (multiplayer notwithstanding).
Uncharted 2: Among Thieves isn’t a game that breaks new ground in the video gaming world. Rather, it’s a game that takes a tried and true method and polishes it to a high sheen by not cutting any corners in the gameplay, the design, the writing, or the acting. In every way that counts, Uncharted 2 consistently impresses, making it one of the most exciting and entertainment games I’ve come across this generation. With Uncharted 3 looming on the horizon, there seems to be no better excuse than this to play Among Thieves again or for the first time.
- Dolby Digital 5.1
- Online Co-op
- Online Versus
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