Uncharted 2: Among Thieves Review
For most PlayStation 3 owners Uncharted 2: Among Thieves needs no introduction. However, for the uninitiated here’s a little history lesson. The original game appeared seemingly from nowhere in 2007 and managed to combine an engaging story, puzzle solving and environment traversal previously attributed to the Tomb Raider series as well as duck and cover shooting reminiscent of Gears of War. This amalgamation of gameplay styles worked fantastically, but sadly the game wasn’t without flaws. The melee combat felt weak, the aiming was inconsistent, and enemies soaked up bullets far too easily. Though the potential was clearly there, so when a sequel was announced expectations were certainly set very high. So is Uncharted 2 able to improve on these flaws and deliver on this potential?
The simple answer is yes. Developers Naughty Dog have taken everything that was criticized about the first game and put it right, as well as further developing the already fantastic gameplay elements and adding a few new touches just for good measure.
The core third person gameplay and smartly mapped controls from the original Uncharted have remained largely unchanged and that’s a relief. The action still switches between smooth acrobatic traversal and puzzle solving to intense fire fights with large groups of enemies, whilst sticking tightly to whatever cover can be found. However, to add some variety to this prescriptive progression, Naughty Dog have expanded the stealth techniques.
While the first game gave players the opportunity to silently take down enemies by sneaking up behind them, Uncharted 2 promotes it by giving players the chance to take out adversaries in order to prevent reinforcements from being added to the situation. Nathan Drake is now able to grab enemies from around corners, over cover and, probably the most satisfyingly, pull them down from ledges. All of which are easily executed and fit in with the flow of the gameplay without feeling like a forced addition. This brings a whole new layer of tactics to the proceedings although aside from a stealth section early on, use of these skills is completely optional.
If sneaking around isn’t your preferred approach, then don’t worry as you can always revert back to some traditional gunplay. The developers have thankfully tightened up the aiming, so those crucial headshots are even easier to obtain than before although Nathan Drake still isn’t an expert marksman. His shots will go off target slightly from time to time, however this doesn’t aggravate because it is so rare, and matches the fact that this game is more about barely surviving each encounter rather than dominating them.
The cover mechanic has also been given some care and attention, making it even smoother to protect yourself from the hail of bullets with a simple press of a button. The only issue here is that on occasions players will find themselves sticking to the wrong place or having trouble switching between cover, and this sadly does lead to the odd death if not rectified fast enough. Fortunately, it’s not difficult to get used to the nuances of the game to make these occurances no longer become the frustrations they could have been.
All of these skills fit together to allow Drake to fight back against the hordes of enemies unlucky enough to find himself fighting against. This time however, his adversaries have been upgraded from the pirate types found in the first game to armour clad mercenaries. To combat this, the weapon loadout has been slightly increased. More importantly, the weapons feel as though they pack more of a punch so even against the overwhelming odds and intelligent foes, Drake can still battle his way through.
One of the biggest improvements that this sequel has seen are the graphics. Naughty Dog claimed to have used 100% of the PlayStation 3’s power compared to 30% from the original game, and once it’s seen in action it’s hard not to believe them. Each area is expertly created with stunning lighting, exquisite attention to detail, remarkable draw distances, a unique art style throughout and textures so authentic that you can almost feel the moisture in the jungle and the chill in the ice caves. Particularly impressive is the way they have capitalised on the superb water effects created in the first game and go on to further astound with flawless snow effects that make the powder feel more realistic than any other game so far. Like Killzone 2 before it, Uncharted 2 has unlocked the potential found within the PlayStation 3 and truly brings the visuals to life. However unlike Guerrilla Games’ epic shooter, players get to spend their time in much more varied and lush environments. It’s genuinely difficult not to get caught up in the beauty this game has to offer, and be warned because there will be times when you call people over just to show off a particularly stunning view.
Where Uncharted 2 raises itself head and shoulders above most games currently on the shelves is its story. A lot of titles have engaging plots, but none can compete with the passion, effort and style that has gone into this game, not just by the scriptwriters but by the voice actors themselves. Both the returning cast and new additions fit their characters perfectly and even get to add their own lines, which ultimately brings out a more natural feel to the adventure, blurring the line between voice acting and an actual performance. Coupled with an enthralling plot, impeccable pacing and charming personalities, this manages to rival even Hollywood blockbusters with it’s exceptional take on the Indiana Jones approach to adventure.
The main campaign mode will take around 7-10 hours to complete, but a large amount of replay value can be found going back and tracking down all 101 treasures. All of these contribute to earning money that can be spent in game to unlock game altering bonuses such as weapons, costumes and cheats as well as concept art and developer videos. Aside from that and the varying difficulties, the single player mainly offers simply a chance to go back and replay favoured moments from the game. The key feature that will keep people coming back for more is the new multiplayer mode.
Being a strictly online affair, Uncharted 2 offers a whole batch of modes for gamers to experience. While it doesn’t stray too far from the team deathmatch, capture the flag, zone capture and king of the hill types that other titles offer, all have been given the Uncharted twist. The main advantage of this is that the climbing aspect of the single player has been carried over and provides that extra variation in gameplay that differentiates it from its rivals. Not content with just a competitive aspect to their online exploits, they have also included a cooperative aspect for extra value. This is made up of 2-3 players taking on AI enemies in objective-based levels, or simply pitting them against increasingly difficult waves of resistance. Both are a blast to play and, with the right people on your side, can lead to some highly tactical and highly entertaining escapades. All modes are pleasingly united by a levelling system, selectable gameplay perks (known as boosters), character skins and medal earnings. All of this makes it clear to see that the multiplayer is so much more than a last minute add on.
Combining phenomenal graphics, astonishing action sequences, an encompassing atmosphere and a captivating story brought to life by an endearing cast – Uncharted 2 is undoubtedly a superb title and one that is recommended to all PS3 owners. Despite it being roughly the same linear path as the first game it still manages to feel fresh, and even the possible feeling of déjà vu won’t stop series veterans from appreciating the precision and care that’s gone into crafting this spectacular adventure. The minor blemish surrounding the way shooting occasionally behaves will ultimately come down to personal opinion, but it fits perfectly with the haphazard way in which the male lead barely survives each encounter. The inclusion of an addictive and enjoyable multiplayer mode further boosts the package ensuring both cooperative and competitive tastes are catered for. The past two years of hard work from developers Naughty Dog has certainly paid off. The end result is one of the best sequels in recent memory, and without a doubt the best adventure game to hit the PlayStation 3, maybe even any console.