Uncharted 2: Among Thieves Review (Double Review)
For every generation of games, there are titles released that set the tone or precedence for every game to follow after that. Franchises such as Final Fantasy, Zelda, Halo, and Metal Gear Solid have all managed to take games to a new level by differentiating themselves from the simple games to complete, deep, and immersive experiences. Titles like these have the ability to evoke emotion in a player through their strong stories and their ability to create a real connection to the characters in them. This current generation has been no different as developers continue to push hardware and storytelling with nothing short of breathtaking results. With that said, as good as game’s have been so far in this generation, nothing comes close to what the team at Naughty Dog has achieved with Uncharted 2: Among Thieves.
Uncharted 2 is the follow up to the 2007 critically acclaimed hit, Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune. Returning for his second adventure, you have everyone’s favorite half-tuck hero Nathan Drake. A treasure hunter, doubling as an adrenaline junky that is always looking for his next big score. Drake is a man’s man, the type that never backs down no matter how high the stakes are. He has been compared to Indiana Jones and in a lot of ways and I think it’s a fair comparison. Not only does he travel the world in search of treasure, he’s also a genius, a smart ass, and he always gets the girl, combine all of those traits with the upper body strength of an Ox and you have the perfect formula for not just the face of a franchise but for the PS3 platform entirely.
The game opens up with Drake, waking up from an unconscious state in the seat of a train car covered in his own blood. To make matters worse the train car he’s in is also dangling off the side of a cliff. This is where you come in, as you have to figure out how to climb out and up the hanging train, which is also slowly rolling off the cliff. And that’s only the tutorial. When you finally make it out of harms way and off the train, Drake is knocked out yet again but this time while in his mini-coma he thinks back to the events that got him into his current predicament. It’s here that we are introduced to a long time friend of Drake, another fortune hunter by the name of Harry Flynn. Flynn has a client who is a collector that wants the duo to retrieve an item of great interest. Knowing it is a 3-person job, Flynn brings aboard an old flame of Nathan, another treasure hunter named Chloe Frazer. The 3 embark on a mission to steal the relic from a heavily guarded museum. When they finally attain what they are looking for, Drake quickly realizes that there’s much more going on besides a simple heist. That the relic that they have taken may unlock the secrets to Marco Polo’s search for the lost city of Shambhala AKA Shangri-La and the giant precious sapphire tucked away in it, the Chintimani Stone. This is the most I can say as far as the plot goes without spoiling too much. What I can say is that like it’s predecessor, Uncharted 2 is packed with twists and turns and will keep you guessing and totally enthralled throughout.
The best way to describe UC2’s game play would be to call it a hybrid of Gears of War and Prince of Persia, for it’s gunplay and platforming action. I know that some reviewers (namely Gametrailers) have said that Uncharted 2 copies the successes of other games, such as Gears of War’s stop-and-pop cover system. I can’t say that they aren’t correct but what I can say is that UC2’s cover system although similar to Gears’ is 10 times more intuitive. So if Gears (or better yet KillSwitch before it) set the bar for cover shooters, then UC2 has just raised it to refreshing new heights. The gunplay isn’t the only thing reaching new heights; as far as the platforming goes. If you’re not a fan of jumping in games, this one will have you sweating bullets, as you’ll be making death defying leaps and jumps throughout the entire adventure. There are even bits from Naughty Dog’s own roots, like the runaway cam found in Crash Bandicoot back in the day, where you’re running toward the screen and away from the danger behind you.
In terms of graphics, you can look high and low, near and far, but you will not find anything (that’s currently out) that can compare to the visuals in UC2. The graphics are truly amazing, and even though you’re on a linear path it never feels that way, I’ll explain what I mean. I say this because there are times in games that when you look at your surroundings, or better yet, when you observe all of the things that are beyond your main path that never look as good as the stuff your intended to see. Yet in UC2 for example, there’s a part when you have to scale the tallest building in a city in order to find something in the city’s skyline, and as you’re getting higher and higher the level of detail never suffers, and although you aren’t able to explore the whole city it still looks as though you can. Another example of this can be seen when you hit the jungle, which is where you can see the biggest graphical jump between the 1st game and this one (as most of the 1st game took place in the jungle). There are times when all of the brush clears and you can gaze out to the ocean (also something that you can’t explore) and even though it’s a part of the background and doesn’t affect your path it still looks absolutely amazing, truly adding to this unique and immersive experience. Textures and the water effects (Bioshock has nothing on the water in UC2) look amazing, as do the character models. There are times that you will see the same enemy NPCs but a lot of the times the firefights are so intense that you really don’t have the time to look at their faces to notice.
The sound, oh the sound! This is something that I hold to a very high standard when reviewing games. Anyone that knows me personally can attest to the fact that I am a surround sound, “only-shop-in-the-Magnolia-Store” snob. I take my surround sound as serious as I take my games. With that said, I must inform you that UC2 also takes the cake this generation in terms of sound and sound design. The game sound options are Dolby Digital, Dolby Pro Logic II, DTS, 5.1 PCM and 7.1 PCM. Some feature length Blu-Ray movies don’t have these many options, let alone a video game. I played it using the 7.1 PCM track, and can say that it easily rivals any blockbuster Blu-Ray movie, putting it years ahead of any other console game on the market. One thing that I noticed when playing other games, that although they feature dynamic 5.1 sound, many of them play standard 2-channel stereo during cut scenes. Not UC2 though, even cut scenes have full surround sound. At one point early on in the game there’s a scene when someone knocks on a door in the game and I literally looked over my shoulder and glanced at the door-that’s how good it is! Ambient sounds of birds chirping while exploring in the jungle, background gunfire from a war torn city or shuffling through snow covered ice caves are simply mesmerizing. If the games visuals are a feast for the eyes, then the audio is like an orgy (with Angelina Jolie and Megan Fox) for the ears.
The multiplayer is also in a class all it’s own, as it is so deep it could probably sell as a standalone game. Not too long ago it was announced that the online multiplayer beta, in barely 2 months has amassed a staggering 27 years of playtime, maybe that gives you an idea of how addictive the online component is. Like the single player, I noticed that UC2 also follows in the footsteps of popular titles that came before it, and the influence I think is even more prevalent in the multiplayer modes. When reading the game’s credits after finishing it, I quickly noticed that Naughty Dog gave out a special thanks to the teams at Infinity Ward and Bungie, both of which are decorated veterans in the online shooter realm. In UC2, similar to the Call of Duty system, there’s a level-ing up feature where you earn cash for upgrades and “boosts” (like perks found in COD). And just like the Halo franchise, there’s an intuitive online party system with matchmaking built in, making it extremely easy to jump in and out of matches with your buddies in tow. Uncharted 2 is the best reason to play online on the PSN. Hands Down.
Going into this review, as much as I liked the original and even after reading other reviews I was still pretty skeptical. Usually when games receive as much attention as Uncharted 2 has, they never really live up to it. I can say with confidence that UC 2 delivers on everything it sets out to do. The characters and story grabs you for the 10+ hour ride, and never let’s go. Uncharted 2: Among Thieves should not just be on must buy list of current PS3 owners, but of gamers in general as it will go down with the all time greats as it sets a new standards across the board. It took about 4 years of waiting but “Next-Gen” gaming has officially arrived. What are you still doing here? Run to the game store right now!
Uncharted 2 takes gaming to another level in just about everything it does. Of course, just like any other game out there, originality isn’t its biggest perk; but what it does borrow from other games, it improves on with brute force. And because it perfects on just about every plausible category, I would dare say that’s its one of the best games that I’ve embraced in my years of gaming.
Graphically, Uncharted 2 can be considered one of the best games to appear on consoles. Although it’s not native to the family of 1080p, as most of us would have prayed for, Uncharted 2 definitely brings forth a set of visuals that will astound even blind people. The one thing people will notice from the start is the ridiculous lighting effects that Naughty Dog has conjured. Yes, conjured – because some of the stuff this game has pulled has to be related to magic. If anyone pays attention to lighting in games, they’ll take notice at how much this feature drastically dramatizes the overall feel and look of a game. Fortunately, Naughty Dog has taken this very way of thinking and emphasized it in their latest series involving pretty-boy treasure hunter, Nathan Drake. Of course, we can’t give all the credit to the lighting effect, right? Right. Facial animations are considerably well done, especially when noticing – since the cutscenes are in-game engine – that the voice acting is up-to-par with it. Whatever method these guys used for making this should be printed on a HOWTO for other developers to take into practice. It’s not like other games where characters will talk and you’ll just see their jaws flopping up and down even when pronouncing words like “fallopian tube;” You see teeth and tongue used in the very way we apply our linguistic skills day-to-day in Uncharted 2 – something that adds an element of realism to the game. One thing that Uncharted 2 does well is graphics. Textures, animations, just about everything that are thrown in the mix to create the visual experience this game brings is definitely awesome, to say the least. The overall feel of environments was just incredible. There were times when jumping from one platform to another where I almost threw up, seriously. There are top contenders in the graphics field this generation, but what Naughty Dog has done sets this title on its own plateau compared to other games that we’ve seen so far – it is the visual orchestra that we can undoubtedly dub a masterpiece.
When I played through this game, it felt as thought I were playing through a well scripted movie. The gameplay in Uncharted 2 was smooth and, at times, felt unbelievable. The cinematic-esque sequences experienced in-game while doing things you only experience in high-end blockbuster Hollywood movies was breathtaking and only concluded in one form of expression which was a “Holy shit!” spewing out your mouth, followed by a smile that only confirms that the game is amazing. It wasn’t overdone or underdone – it was a blend of moderation with a hint of a surreal experience that wow’ed all at the right times. The controls were really easy to grasp. Some people would complain with getting used to the cover system. Unless you have claws for hands or just can’t comprehend when or how to press a combination of buttons at a specific time to, let’s say, take cover, you shouldn’t really have a problem here.
As close to a perfect game as Uncharted 2 might be, one thing that really ticked me off was the A.I. Playing the game on hard, I figured that enemies would not only be much more aggressive, but a tad smarter. Apparently, this wasn’t the case. There were times when they would pass me whilst I was in cover – and these are places where they should have seen me – where they would just ignore the fact I was there; almost as if Nathan Drake had paid them off to suppress the thought that he was there to kick their ass. As you progress through the game, the later chapters feel as though the game was just rushed. It was indeed entertaining, but there was so much that could have been, and should have been, done that it makes you question whether or not Naughty Dog was rushing the game toward its completion. When or if you play the game, you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about. I’m not going to sit here and tell you specific parts only because it will deteriorate the experience for you. But, when the time comes, you’ll see for yourself.
I spent a day and a half playing Uncharted 2. I only stopped playing the first day because I couldn’t play a game with my eyes closed even though my hands were still in the process of continuing through the game – even if it meant arthritis was kicking in. The game is that good. It’s not a perfect game per se, but I’ll be damned if it doesn’t come close to it. Uncharted 2: Among Thieves is a well crafted game put together by a well gifted team. What you experience in this game will put whatever movie or game you’ve experienced thus far to shame in almost every way. Those of you who continue to ignorantly call Nathan Drake and the Uncharted series a rehash of Tomb Raider can only wish that the series could offer as much excitement and depth. Nathan Drake is what would have happened if Indiana Jones and John McClane from Die Hard both, by some form of miracle, conceived a child and raised him – like in Three Men and a Baby – with James Bond. What the game did it did considerably well – and that was entertain the shit out of me and kept it that way throughout the entire time. Once I finished the game, I would have loved to give the game a standing ovation. However, the first stages of carpel tunnel were kicking in and clapping wasn’t going to happen. If you own a PS3, this is a definite must buy. I’d give this baby 5/5 stars.