Uncharted 2: Among Thieves Review (PS3)

At its inception, everything about Uncharted has been about delivering a cinematic gameplay experience, which means using gorgeous backdrops, deep plot, colorful characters, and clothes that get wet. Uncharted: Drakes Fortune neatly showed what the PlayStation 3 was capable of when it released. Uncharted 2: Among Thieves delivers the experience we want to see.

Developer Naughty Dog wonderfully, and perhaps profoundly, reintroduces Nathan Drake: the lovable, cunning, unconventional and historically knowledgeable protagonist, by putting him in disarray, on a train edging off a cliff. Players are immediately thrown into a vast snow-driven environment where Drake is as confused as the player is. How did I get here? What happened? What’s going on? And more importantly, what are the controls?

We begin with Drake, icicles coming from his hair, with a funky knife. Sounds like an adventure!
Just looking around during the game is almost as fun as playing it.

Expressed wonderfully in this interactive, gameplay-driven tutorial, Naughty Dog introduces Among Thieves’ platforming activity: climbing and scaling walls. In this case, there is only one safe way up the train, and players get a brief taste of what’s to come in this simple train level/exercise.

Quickly we’re led back to months prior, where Drake is on a sunny, warm beach enjoying a refreshing beer. Unexpectedly, he’s given an offer he can’t refuse: to steal a relic that could lead to one of the greatest discoveries in history. Without going into grave detail about the story, it’s important to note that what drives the story and makes it so compelling isn’t the plot ever-thickening, but the characters within it.

Drake (voiced by Nolan North, not to be confused with Nathan Fillion) is mostly unchanged from his last adventure, and returning characters Elena Fisher and Victor Sullivan (voiced by Emily Rose and Richard McGonagle) are done brilliantly. I can’t say I enjoyed Chloe’s character, as she’s as two dimensional as they come, as are all the villains, but the main cast is witty, sarcastic, and fun. Even Rene Auborjonois makes an appearance!

Graphically, there is plenty to gawk at. The world of Among Thieves is extremely colorful. Landscapes that never end and cityscapes that are completely playable (later on in the game) are extraordinary. I wasn't as impressed with the scoring, which sounded more like discovering ancient ruins than the actual combat, climbing and witty reparte that was in fact taking place.

Gameplay mechanics have been smoothed out greatly, and Uncharted 2 is one of the few PS3 games that both requires no installation and loads quickly. Maps are very large, and several levels have high-speed chases, helicopter attacks, and has players jumping from rooftops.

Combat has been redone, to the extent that Drake can shoot from any position, no matter what the situation is. Hanging from a ledge, he can pull out a pistol and either blind-fire or aim over the edge. The cover system works identically, though I wish, considering the third person camera, that there were was an option to change vantage points to where Drake shoots from in cover. He rarely shoots around cover, and almost exclusively shoots over it, leaving players vulnerable.

Melee combat has also been greatly improved. Run up to any enemy in the middle of a firefight to start a choreographed fight sequence, where either punching or blocking at the right moment will either stun or knock out said enemy. The manner in which combat is done is fluid and easy, and what moves Drake uses depends on the health of the enemy, the direction he comes in from, and who attacks first. With all the new animations, it’s unlikely that you will see the same set of moves repeated multiple times over the course of gameplay, save for stealth attacks.

Stealth attacks are likewise an interesting mechanic. The odds are always against Drake, but besides having regenerating health, if controlled properly, he can even the odds by taking out a few enemies with patience, good timing and a keen eye. Sadly, the AI is not up to par with stealth gameplay, and the bad guys will walk by a fallen comrade and not even notice he’s there, unless you knocked him unconscious before their very eyes.

Stealth gameplay is hard, but once you have your enemy in your sights, be patient...
Wait for the opportunity to arrise, and take it for glorious results.

A few gameplay mechanics also greatly reduce the cinematic experience. While dying will put players back into the game almost instantly, some checkpoints load improperly, meaning not killing all the enemies in a select area, or not even reaching the area and dying, may leave players ahead of where they should be. More than once I accidentally stumbled past a difficult section of the game because of this.

Several sections also run extremely long without checkpoints. I played the game on Normal and tested the hard and easy difficulty settings, and Normal is as it sounds, not just a game mode everyone can get through. Even then, several scenes forced me to repeat them over and over again because of almost ridiculous odds (which is expected). Furthermore, several sequences cut straight to cinematics, and I found on two occasions where Drake mysteriously died because he was outside the bounds of the cinematic, forcing me to redo the entire section up to that cutscene.

As a colleague of mine put it, Uncharted 2 is very fun and entertaining, but it has parts that will make players have the desire to throw their remotes at the TV. Thankfully, boss battles have been improved tremendously and were not only properly done, but enjoyable, even when difficult.

Outside of the single player campaign is a selection of bonuses to view, including videos from the games developmemnt, as well as collected items, an in-game store for purchasing weapons and player skins, and multiplayer modes. There are five difficulty settings, and even cheats are available for those finding it a bit too much.

Multiplayer comes in a few modes: Deathmatch, Plunder, Elimination, Chain Reaction, Cooperative and Gold Rush. The first four are competitive, Elimination being Deathmatch without respawning, Plunder a specialized form of capture the flag where booty acts as the flag, and Chain Reaction is like Plunder but with attaining treasures in a specific order.

Each of the competitive modes offers a very enjoyable online experience. While we had some difficulty getting into a game prior to launch (until some Middle East countries either broke the street date or didn’t have one to begin with), the gameplay is identical to the multiplayer beta, which has been available for some time now. Additional weapons and maps are included, of course. I found games to not only be enjoyable, but refreshing thanks to even pacing, weapon hunting, and the requirement of skill that isn’t just getting headshots.

The two cooperative modes are also fun. Playing the campaign cooperatively doesn’t quite work as expected, and can be done with up to three players. Playing the campaign cooperatively does not play like the single player game and can only played online, no split-screen; select missions are available for two or three players, with objectives to achieve that “progress” through the game. There’s unique dialog, but no cutscenes or cinematics. Gold Rush is identical to Plunder, except against enemy AI with a friend or two. Both modes proved to be very fun, as well as very difficult.

Competitive modes online are great fun, and offer everyone the chance to be a hero. Or villian.
When you've got the treasure, running doesn't cut it. Best to throw it and shoot back.

Like the single player store, a multiplayer store is available, which sells weapons for cooperative modes, multiplayer skins, and boosters (think Modern Warfare’s Perks). Money earned in any way can be spent in both stores.

This is a perfect example of an excellent game with a few nagging faults. Uncharted 2: Among Thieves is incredible, perhaps the best cinematic experience we’ve seen. It’s a must have for all PS3 owners, even if it's just for the single player. Multiplayer is even more fantastic, producing incredibly entertaining online battles, with and against friends. If it were not for those few rough edges, Uncharted 2 would be the perfect game.

Top Game Moment: Taking out seven enemies silently, then knocking the rest out with two grenades and their own chaingun.

Game advertisements by <a href="" target="_blank">Game Advertising Online</a> require iframes.



By Revan (SI Elite) on Oct 14, 2009
Looks better than then the first.