I Don't Usually Roll With Thieves, But Exceptions Can Be Made
With all the hype riding behind Uncharted 2: Among Thieves, most PlayStation 3 owners are likely already familiar with Nathan Drake's latest treasure hunting expedition, and for good reason. The first Uncharted was a brilliant Indiana Jones-esque action-adventure, so it would be reasonable to expect the same from its sequel, right?
Well here's the problem: my inner-pessimist was expecting the exact same game with a tacked on multiplayer mode. As I was purchasing Uncharted 2, I imagined that it'd be a solid adventure with visuals as stunning as the knockout original, but I felt that it might be too derivative to warrant spending sixty bucks. Boy, did I ever miss the mark -- enough so that if I had a girlfriend, I'd hope that she'd slap me, because I was completely in the wrong.
Actually, it's a good thing that I don't have a significant other, because Uncharted 2 was love at first sight. Immediately after beginning my adventure, I fell into a state of paralysis. I didn't reach this state because of a deadly fall I took off my exquisite couch; rather, it was the game's impeccably detailed environments that rendered me motionless. I kid you not: never before had I seen environments as impressive as those in Uncharted 2. Everything from centuries old Ottoman architecture to dense Indonesian forests left me in a state of awe.
What's really amazing however, is that Uncharted 2 has far more varied environments than its predecessor. You'll travel to populated mountain villages, trek through war ravaged city streets, spelunk inhospitable snowy caves, navigate forgotten cities surrounded by dense vegetation, and so much more. Rarely will you find a game on current generation consoles that is as colorful as Uncharted 2. Due to its use of a diverse color palette, Uncharted 2's environments come to life in a way that games of the previous console generation could only dream of.
I remember being amazed by Metal Gear Solid 4's meticulously detailed environments only a year ago, but Uncharted 2 takes video game visuals a step further. In the forests I mentioned earlier, you'll find shallow puddles that react realistically to a character's movement, you'll encounter photorealistic replicas of vegetation you'd find native to a particular area in the real world, and you'll observe realistic lighting effects and shadows. The environments are so beautiful that they'll literally cause players to stop in their tracks to observe everything occurring around them. They're really that distracting.
More realistic environments aren't the only improvement to grace the latest installment of the Uncharted series, however. Other enhancements include an improved storyline, increased gameplay variety, and the removal of many niggling flaws from the original.
I enjoyed the story of the original Uncharted due to the way in which it was told, but I have to admit that it was a relatively basic affair. With Uncharted 2, Naughty Dog tells a far more interesting tale in an equally stylish manner.
Like the first Uncharted, Among Thieves relies on popular legends for its material, but the slew of original (and returning characters), exciting locales, and numerous plot twists make what could be a cliché adventure something special. Even if Uncharted 2 relied strictly on legends, that wouldn't necessarily be a bad thing, because the tales of Marco Polo's travels and lost cities are exciting enough to have inspired explorers for countless generations.
The basic material of Uncharted 2's plot which involves a search for Marco Polo's lost fleet and a fabled treasure is quite exciting, but even better are the story's unique elements. These include flashbacks, playable cut-scenes, and stomach-churning plot twists. Through clever use of playable flashbacks, the story causes the player to think about how Nathan Drake arrived at certain situations. Many games have featured playable flashbacks before, but here, previous events are experienced by the player in a manner that isn't confusing or boring.
Even more interesting than Uncharted 2's mysteries generated by flashbacks is the game's unique use of cut-scenes. The Metal Gear Solid games along with the Final Fantasy franchise are often lambasted by action-game fans for their heavy reliance on cut-scenes, so Naughty Dog wisely decided on a different approach. Instead of including fewer cut-scenes this time around, Naughty Dog increased their presence, but made many of them playable. You'll still find storytelling sequences that play out like a movie, but you'll also control Nathan Drake in sequences that could previously only be done in static cut-scenes.
In most other cinematic video games, the player would simply watch as the main character tried to escape death by climbing a railcar jutting over the edge of a cliff, but in Uncharted 2, the player will actually partake in this event. As you climb the railcar, various components of the train will come loose, which can result in your death if you're not careful. However, if you act quickly enough, you'll narrowly escape and move on to the next scene. For a video game enthusiast, it's readily apparent that scenes like these are scripted, but still, it's quite amazing that players can actually control their character during these sequences.
Uncharted 2's interactive cut-scenes bring players a step closer to truly feeling immersed in a video game world, but it's important not to forget about other elements of its story such as its dramatic plot twists. None of the plot twists will surprise players as much as those found in a game like Knights of the Old Republic, but they certainly add to the excitement and tension of the tale. Uncharted 2's plot twists had me constantly guessing what would happen next and made for a less predictable tale than that of its prequel.
As with the first Uncharted, the voice acting, character animations, and soundtrack are phenomenal, so I don't really need to go into detail there. Instead, I'll reveal Uncharted 2's treasure chest of gameplay enhancements, and its minor flaws that keep it from being solid gold.
The first Uncharted had a decent control setup, but it had some issues that kept it from feeling intuitive. One of these annoyances was the tacked-on motion control. Tilting the controller to toss grenades was more of a hassle than anything, so thankfully, Naughty Dog mapped that particular feature to the left shoulder buttons in Uncharted 2. As a result, I found myself using grenades regularly in the game's many firefights. I was able to control the arc of my throws quite well with this seemingly minor addition, so overall, this was a welcome change.
With the first Uncharted, I was also annoyed with the lack of weapon variety, so I'm happy to report that Naughty Dog beefed up Nathan Drake's arsenal in this sequel. You'll still find pistols, automatics, and grenades, but this time there's more basic weapon types, in addition to heavy weaponry such as portable chain-guns. Nathan can also equip defensive gear such as riot shields, which can be quite useful when he's under heavy fire.
Uncharted 2's wealth of weapons keeps the fighting from growing stale, but I'm also happy to report that aiming feels more precise. In the previous Uncharted, it felt like the game didn't award me headshots as often as I landed them, so it was nice to see a more accurate aiming and hit detection system.
Besides these combat enhancements, I also experienced a noticeable improvement with Nathan Drake's core controls. Unlike the Nathan of the first Uncharted, this intrepid explorer usually grabs on to ledges after accidently walking off a cliff. He also responds more often to button presses, and has revamped melee controls.
Instead of Nathan's melee attacks consisting of simple button combinations, his moves now require him to pay attention to his opponents' actions. For example, if Nathan punches a guard by tapping square, and the guard reacts by grabbing him, the player can quickly tap triangle to reverse the situation. These sequences may turn off some players, since they're performed in slow motion, but I greatly prefer them to the clumsy melee attacks of the original.
Besides revamped standard melee attacks, Nathan can now assassinate enemies with a single button press if he manages to sneak up behind them. These stealth kills are quite fun to perform, as they result in animations that match the situation at hand. For example, if you're climbing a cliff and manage to take an enemy from behind, you'll toss him over the edge before his comrades know what hit them.
Nathan's new moves and streamlined controls generally provide for better combat and platforming, but the game certainly isn't flawless. Occasionally, Mr. Drake won't find cover or a ledge when you press the appropriate button, he'll sometimes jump off an edge when he shouldn't, and you may even encounter a technical glitch such as Drake shaking as if he had a seizure.
Also, players may occasionally find themselves redoing segments due to being hit by shotgun shells that seemingly came out of nowhere. This can be a bit frustrating when you've completed a lengthy battle, but fortunately, it won't occur as often as in the first game. And even if it does, there are more frequent checkpoints. Thankfully, most of the above flaws are quite minor, especially considering that Uncharted 2 has photorealistic environments, lifelike animations, and several AI allies on-screen simultaneously.
It's also worth noting that Uncharted 2 has a surprisingly enjoyable multiplayer mode. There's plenty of variety to be found with Team Deathmatch, several objective modes, and brief cooperative missions that are different from the solo game. I experienced no lag during play sessions, and I was able to find matches as fast as I would in a Halo or Call of Duty title. Oftentimes, the ranking system didn't match me up with similarly ranked opponents, but I didn't mind, especially since I was able to perform better than some Level 30 players in my first few rounds. Most of the multiplayer modes are similar to what you'd find in other shooters, but the addition of climbing gives Uncharted 2's multiplayer a unique feel that makes it worth playing.
Uncharted 2: Among Thieves may not have completely reinvented the Uncharted formula, but it managed to take what was great about the first game and improve those aspects in nearly every way. What could have been a simple rehash turned out to be a phenomenal game that should be experienced by every PS3 owner. Uncharted 2 is not only one of the best action-adventure games I've experienced -- it increased what I expect from the medium as a whole. Previously untouchable titles like God of War and Zelda now have stiff competition on their hands, so developers better hit the books before their labors of love are rendered obsolete. If they don't, the Uncharted series just might steal their greatest treasure: their fans.
· Uncharted 2 is easily the most visually impressive game you'll find on a console
· Features a variety of impeccably detailed environments
· AI teammates don't hinder your performance
· Excellent voice acting is accompanied by a wonderful soundtrack
· Tells a more complex tale than the original with dramatic plot twists and flashbacks
· Introduces some great new characters
· Several control enhancements were made (say goodbye to the Sixaxis)
· The excellent single-player experience is accompanied by fun multiplayer modes
· You may encounter a minor glitch or two
· Occasionally, your character won't find cover when he's supposed to
· Nearly completing a lengthy battle, only to die by a surprise shotgun blast. Matchmaking fails to pair up players with similar ranks