By Adam Fimio for IndieGameReviewer.com
In 2007, Naughty Dog, makers of Crash Bandicoot (PS) and Jak and Daxter (PS2) released their first title for the Playstation 3 in the way of Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune, and it quickly became recognized as one of the best games that the system had to offer. The game combined the acrobatics and puzzle solving of Tomb Raider with the run-and-gun third person shooter aspects of Gears of War. Many reviews declared that it was the first “killer app” for the console. Two years later, Naughty Dog has released a sequel, even adding a multi-player component (which, admittedly, I haven’t spent any time with). Does this new chapter measure up to its ancestor?
I’d call Uncharted 2: Among Thieves a roller-coaster ride, but I’d be doing the game a grave disservice. Uncharted 2 is more like trying to infiltrate, and then escape a twisted amusement park. It starts as a roller-coaster ride, but at the crest of the first steep hill, heavily armed mercenaries open fire on you. You dispatch most of them, but one gets off a lucky shot, knocking loose one of the bolts holding the wheels on the coaster, forcing you to leap from the car hundreds of feet above the ground. On the way down you barely manage to grasp the railing of the Ferris wheel, thwarting death for a few precious moments. And then the railing gives way. This game makes the giant coasters at Six Flags look like the wheelchair ramps in a retirement community.
Good Lookin’ Out
Without hyperbole, the graphics in Uncharted 2 are among the best on any current generation console. While there is no actual amusement park in the game, the locales are nothing shy of stunning. You will be clambering your way through lush, organic jungles rich in vibrantly colored reactive flora, scaling the sides of immaculately detailed ancient ruins, and ducking for cover in the decimated building edifices amongst the war-torn streets of Nepal.
Drake’s clothing will get wet in accordance with what parts of him touch water (like in Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune), but Naughty Dog has added some highly effective little touches that only help to hammer home the experience of a wild treasure-hunt-gone-wrong. Rotate the camera in on Drake when he’s standing on the top of a building, and you can see his hair blowing in the breeze. Stay standing out in a blizzard and the character model will amass snow that will continue to build up until you can get to cover, and which point the snow will slowly start to melt. Walk up too close to a fire, and Drake will raise his arms to shield his eyes from the heat and the glare.
The game is rife with cinematic sequences, and though some of the transitions aren’t seamless, they are minimal enough to not significantly break up the action. In many instances, you be running to a point in the distance only to be knocked backwards by an explosion or to find a helicopter rising menacingly about the rooftops. These sequences occur with absolutely no break in the flow to speak of.
The story itself is nothing revolutionary: This time around, Nathan Drake has set his sights on the famed Cintamani Stone, which he’s convinced he can find with the help of the ancient writings of Marco Polo, and a couple of stealthy ne’er-do-wells to back him up. Stories say that the stone has mysterious powers, but Drake only cares about its power to make him filthy rich (at first). And as anyone who has ever watched a heist movie knows, any job that looks easy seldom is.
At the same time, another powerful figure is seeking the fabled abilities of the stone for his twisted ideals. So let’s do the rundown:
- Dashing thieves/treasure-hunters.
- Mythical gem worth millions that also houses awesome power.
- Crazed ideologue hoping to use the stone to bolster his savage, expansionist methodology.
- Our hero MUST get to the stone before the villain!!
Tobey Maguire Need Not Apply
Laid out like that, it might seem like the idea has been done to death, but the writers and actors manage to breathe new life into the idiom in Uncharted 2. The dialogue throughout the game is inspired, and there isn’t a single weak link in the vocal cast. Drake, (brilliantly voiced once again by Nolan North) is ever more winsome than in his last adventure. Elena re-appears, and new characters Chloe and Flynn are equally charming and vile, depending on the situation. Sully also returns, and his banter with Nate is nothing shy of uproariously funny.
Sully: “How much you want to bet we’ll find the camp if we follow this hose?”
Drake: “You’re all about following the hose, aren’t you Sully? Remember Montreal?”
Sully: “You’re never gonna let me forget that, are ya?”
Gone are the days when voice actors treat a script for a video game as a second-billing contractual obligation (I’m looking at you, Tobey MacGuire). This is a fantastic cast that helps to create a truly gripping tale of adventure, bravery, romance, deception and even heartache. You won’t know when to gasp and when to laugh. By the end of the game, you’ll be doing both simultaneously (don’t worry…it only hurts at first). Wrap all of this up in a positively inspired musical score, and you’ll be hard pressed to keep yourself from welling up as the end credits roll.
The gameplay is fluid and satisfying. Climbing is remarkably fast-paced and it both looks and feels incredibly natural to see Nate scampering up walls and leaping from roof to roof. The tacked-on Sixaxis balance beam technique from UDF has been nixed, and will not be missed at all. Taking cover behind objects is still highly intuitive, and the ability to upend tables to hide behind when enemies open fire was a nice addition.
There aren’t a great deal of puzzles to solve in Among Thieves, and the ones that are there didn’t hold me up all that long. Marco Polo’s notebook is sort of rammed down your throat when faced with a puzzle, and opening the book goes right to the page containing the cipher required to solve it. The puzzles still look amazing as they’re being solved, but I doubt most players will lose any sleep over solving them.
The companion AI is solid as ever. If you have a partner in tow, they won’t let you do all the dirty work, and you’ll be happy to have them along for some of the larger gun battles. They shoot to kill, and will bring down a few enemy characters, leaving the ammo for you to collect (awwww!) Not that your targets are pushovers by any means! Even in my play-through on medium difficulty, the enemies proved to be resourceful and responsive. I’d find myself focusing in on a cluster of peons I’d pinned down, only to be flanked by an elite mercenary that I didn’t see until it was too late. Later enemies prove to be bullet sponges at times, but at least Naughty Dog has them sporting mercenary armor, making the concept less hard to swallow. Trying to take them out while on the back of a moving train is just plain wicked, but it’s wicked good fun. Oh, and bring a wig, because the final confrontation will likely have you pulling out your hair.
Multiplays and Multiplayer
Uncharted 2 is definitely worthy of multiple replays. It is stacked with a ton of trophies to attain. The treasure hunt is back on again, and there are 100 of them hidden throughout the landscape (101 if you count the Strange Relic, which I TOTALLY stumbled upon by accident). Each one nets you a monetary bonus, and each fifth one nets you a new trophy. After the game is completed once, you can use your bonuses to purchase single-player character skins, specialized weapons, tweaks, cheats, and visual filters. Beating the game on Hard difficulty will unlock Crushing difficulty. I’ve not tried it myself, but considering I only completed the single player campaign on medium, I can only imagine it is not a trek for the faint of heart.
Did I mention that this game has multi-player? Again, it’s not something I’ve yet tried myself, but some have said that the multi-player on its own would have been worthy of a retail release. Once I dive in and tackle this part of the game, I’ll be writing a separate review.
Uncharted 2: Among Thieves builds upon an already amazing title. Everything that made the prequel great is here, and has been expanded upon. I don’t know how Naughty Dog made it possible to better a game like Drake’s Fortune, but they did, and they did so quite handily. My theory is that they used the space reserved by the crappy jet-ski level in the first title. They have created a title that every PS3 owner should pay attention to, because it displays what the guts of the console is capable of. It also gets a tip of the hat from me for being the first game in a LONG time to cause me to utter the words “just one more level” over and over until exhaustion finally got the better of me.
If for whatever reason, you have been on the fence about Uncharted 2, my recommendation is to hop over that fence on the side nearest your local video game store and secure a copy, pronto. If you’ve never played the original, give it a go. It still holds its own as a wonderful adventure game, and will make the backstory in Among Thieves a lot less jarring. If you have played and enjoyed Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune, chances are you have your copy already. For everyone else: this title should not be missed!
Uncharted 2: Among Thieves is available now for the Playstation 3 console