doctor_kaz's Uncharted 2: Among Thieves (PlayStation 3) review

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A nearly endless series of set pieces and exhilarating shootouts

Uncharted 2: Among Thieves is a very easy game to recommend. It takes few chances and it doesn't break a lot of new ground, but it packs a huge punch where it counts. It has its flaws, but none of them detract enough from the gameplay to make a difference. There are so many spectacular firefights and action sequences that it would be next to impossible to not enjoy this game. Add to that some excellent production values (especially the graphics), and Uncharted 2 makes one impressive package.

I liked the first Uncharted. It would have been a great game had it not been for the terrible ending. Uncharted 2 picks up where the first game left off in a bad way – with a weak beginning. Uncharted 2 definitely puts its worst foot forward with too many cut scenes and a really bad stealth level. The stealth in this game has been beefed up over the stealth in the first game, and it makes sure that you know this by ramming it down your throat for the first half hour. The first level of the game is basically a glorified cut scene and tutorial. The second level is a pure stealth ordeal where you insta-fail if somebody sees you and sound the alarm. Fortunately, it is not at all representative of the rest of the game. Stealth is basically optional after that point. You will end up shooting most bad guys, but it is nice for taking one or two enemies out of an area to soften them up and get a weapon. .

Uncharted 2 truly excels when the guns are pulled out and bullets are fired. Some of the most exciting moments in action gaming of the past few years happen during the game's awesome gun battles. Uncharted 2 uses the third person shoot-and-cover system that is found pretty much everywhere in games nowadays, but then it takes it to a level that nobody else has achieved. Everything is refined and polished to near perfection. The AI is solid, the level design provides for great fights, the weapons feel powerful and deadly, and the controls are tight. Enemies use grenades to flush you out, but they don't spam you with them. Enemies also keep you on your toes, flanking you and attacking you from your left, right, or behind. This forces you to keep on the move, never staying in one spot for too long. The game is pretty forgiving and you can take a fair amount of damage, so that if you get ambushed, you usually can survive it if you act quick enough. Best of all, the fights are chaotic and take place in all kinds of crazy circumstances and exotic locations. Uncharted 2 presents a nearly endless string of set pieces and exhilarating shootouts. One of the best scenes takes place in a collapsing building where the floor tilts as the structure crumbles to the ground. You and your enemies stumble around trying to shoot each other just before you jump to another building to avoid a painful death. Another memorable sequence involves running from the back to the front of a speeding train, shooting guards along the way.

Uncharted 2's smooth difficulty curve and somewhat generous save system keep the action moving along nicely. The game is devoid of huge peaks and valleys in the difficulty level, and if you die you rarely have to replay more than a couple of minutes. It is a shining example how polish and playtesting make such a big difference in how fun a game is.

The game doesn't fare quite as well when it comes to its other major gameplay area – platforming. It is never bad, but it is never great either. Unlike the gold standard games of the genre (Ratchet and Clank, Prince of Persia, Assassin's Creed), it is frequently not obvious what objects in an environment you can grab onto. As a result, the platforming requires some trial and error, which leads to some deaths as you try and jump onto a ledge that you can't grab. Even when you aren't dying, the platforming isn't that impressive. It lacks a sense of timing or challenge and the animations aren't very good. For example, sometimes if you are about to come up short on a jump, Nathan will magically teleport about a foot so that he can grab a ledge. One good thing that you can say about the platforming sections is that they do a great job of facilitating the story and adding to the game's sense of adventure. Nathan explores some truly fascinating environments in this game.

Other than some minor animation issues, Uncharted 2 is a beautiful game. It isn't noticeably more beautiful than the first game, but that is because the first game already looked so amazing that it would be very hard to improve upon. The cut scenes, in particular, look excellent. They are animated as well as the cut scenes in any game I have ever seen. There is a subtle realism to the expressions and body language that the actors show. In just about every other game, you can tell that voice recording and animation have taken place separately. As a result, the expressions and motions don't match the dialog line by line. You also tend to see a handful of animations repeat themselves over and over again. Lots of games are guilty of overdoing the body language, so you also tend to see characters waving their arms around in conversation and fidgeting endlessly. In Uncharted 2, however, the characters look as if they are actually speaking their lines. Everything is so fluid. It is a subtle and difficult to describe quality that sucks you in. The game looks great during the action too. Both the outdoor and indoor areas look gorgeous. They range from ornate tombs full of brightly colored artwork to huge expanses of green wilderness. Uncharted really separates itself from the glut of gray and brown shooters with its nice variety in the scenery and full use of the color palette.

The picture on the box of Uncharted 2 shows Nathan Drake hanging from some cliff edge. In a somewhat annoying way, this picture is repeated in some form or another about a hundred times during the game. Uncharted 2 relies way too heavily on contrived "cliffhanger" moments in an attempt to add drama to the action. By the time you are halfway through the game, you will have lost track of the number of times you have seen one of the following…

A. Somebody jumps across some kind of chasm and another character barely catches him or her by the hand. The camera at this time always shifts to a downward vertical view to show you how much danger the character is in.

B. Nathan is shimmying on some ledge and it crumbles in his hands, nearly plunging him to his death while he mumbles "whoa whoa!"

It is in this manner that Uncharted 2 attempts to mimic big budget Jerry Bruckheimer/Michael Bay action movies with its "cinematic" content. This feature is a growing and somewhat annoying trend in games, since lots of big budget CGI summer blockbusters are complete crap. Michael Bay has never made a movie that isn't utter garbage. Why is it seen as a good thing for games to imitate the lame action in his unentertaining trash?

At least the story and dialog don't fall completely flat like they do in lots of action movies. There is a surprising amount of depth to the characters in Uncharted 2 that doesn't become clear until you are most of the way through the game. What looks like a dull story with stereotyped characters in Chapter 1 actually evolves into a pretty interesting story with a satisfying ending. The banter between the characters is well-written and the voice acting is excellent. Drake's new love interest, Chloe is particularly interesting. She starts off as what looks like an unimaginative "seductress" character but turns out to be a lot more nuanced than that.

Uncharted 2 offers one of many terrific single player campaigns that came out in 2009. It isn't necessarily the best, but it's still a great one. I didn't find Uncharted 2: Among Thieves to be my favorite game on the PS3, but I still found it to be highly enjoyable. This is a "must play" game for PS3 owners who have any interest in action games.

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