Uncharted 2: Among Thieves

This game is brilliant. It's not the traditional way to review a game, giving away the overall impression at the very beginning, but Uncharted 2: Among Thieves is so stunningly incredible that there's little point in dithering around before revealing the inescapable conclusion that Nathan Drake's latest adventure is a promising candidate for the greatest game of the current generation. After following the trail of Sir Francis Drake in the original game, the sequel sees Nathan Drake still on the hunt for lost treasure, this time in search of Shambala, joined by several old associates, in the footsteps of Marco Polo, thought to have been searching for Shambala in 1292. Of course, treasure untouched for centuries is always found simultaneously by a hero character and a tyrannical villain, which is unfortunate for Drake who swiftly finds himself in the sights of a powerful private army. It's a good job he has two lady friends to help him through then.

Uncharted 2

The successful core elements of the first game remain, so players can expect a careful balance of exploration, acrobatic leaping and combat. Each aspect has been enhanced for the sequel though, with an improved cover system, refined weaponry, finely tuned leaping and landing, and some craftily hidden treasure to find. Gone are the days of glinting treasure lying in convenient locations across the level. In Among Thieves, treasure may be hidden above eye level, below the ground, behind obstacles or anywhere else the developers think of, encouraging you to truly scour every level in search of hidden extras. The encouragement to search so thoroughly is welcome, since the levels are a joy to explore. There are occasional sections where it looks clear that Drake would be able to make a particular jump beyond the limits of the level, but these are rare, and the by watching Drake's movements carefully, there are usually clear indicators as to whether a particular move is possible, reducing any frustration.

The combat focus is still very strong though and, despite being slightly less fun than the exploration, it's pretty darn good. The weaponry ranges from small handguns like a .45 Defender through to heavy weaponry like RPGs, SAS-12 and M4s. Though the close-range weaponry, particularly the explosive stuff, is good fun, the Dragon Sniper is one of the most satisfying guns in the game. Though very easy to use compared with many sniper rifles, there's something genuinely rewarding about taking down an enemy sniper using their own trick, done faster. The improved cover system means that a simple button press gets Drake to crouch or lean behind the nearest cover, where he can easily peer out or stretch out a gun to take potshots at nearby enemies. The controls are very intuitive (even more so for fans of the first game), so the combat is easy to pick up. Pleasingly, careful aim is important in the game, with direct headshots ending most enemies in a single pull of the trigger, while some heavily armed opponents will take an eternity to take down without aiming for exposed areas. Drake muscles through the game with health that recharges by taking cover and avoiding damage, just as in the first game, and although it's not a favourite feature, it's implements better than in Call of Duty, and perhaps even improves on the first game.

Uncharted 2

Leaping from ledge to edge to outcrop to beam to bar, and so on, is even better than before, and one of the most enjoyable features of the game. While hanging from a ledge, a quick nudge of the analog stick will cause Drake to put an arm out in the direction intended, if there's something in reach, giving players an indicator about which leaps can be made. Mistakes are inevitable, but in general, Drake leaps exactly as intended, grabbing hold of ledges precisely as you'd expect, making Faith from Mirror's Edge look slightly inept. Though it lacks the flamboyance of Prince of Persia, Uncharted strikes a perfect balance between believeability and excitment. The only hinderance to this perfect gameplay setup is the camera. Though there's never any sign of graphical glitching, the camera is occasionally fixed for particular cinematic scenes. Though it's clear that the game is simply trying to show the best angle, there are some instances where it can be a tiny bit jarring when the camera is no longer under player control. It's an extremely minor issue though, and hardly leaves a scratch on an almost impeccable game.

What really makes the game such superb fun to play though, setting it apart from so many by-the-numbers action games, is the story, which is even more engaging than the first, with some of the most interesting characters ever to appear in a game. The quest for Shambala, the puzzles encountered, the changing alliegances, the dynamic relationships and the incredible living environments are all fascinating elements, each telling a story of their own, combinging together to create an immersive tale that would rival any film, though somehow the game's incredible visual appearance still manages to outdo the exciting story.

Uncharted 2

Killzone 2 may have had more graphical firepower than you can possibly imagine, even a Death Star, but adopting a colour scheme that also matches its Star Wars equivalent resulted in an uninspiring wasteland of guns and grime. Uncharted 2 completely blows away anything ever seen before on a console, and does so with style and imagination. Forget having 10,000 different shades of grey, Naughty Dog have discovered the delights of green, red and all those other mystical colours. Every scene, every building, every character and every tiny little object in Uncharted 2 is so stunningly realized that there is literally nothing in the game that can't be described as absolutely jaw-dropping. One of the most significant illustrations of this fact is that after beautiful cutscenes take place, the camera smoothly pivots back to the player perspective, so seamlessly on occasion that players may take a moment to realize that they're back in control. At the beginning of the game, you'd be completely forgiven for letting Nathan Drake dangle precariously from a train before realizing that the incredible environment in front of you is yours to explore.

At the risk of sounding like a complete fanatic, two more graphical accomplishments are worthy of note. Firstly, the minor screen tearing witnessed occasionally in the first game is completely gone, with silky-smooth visuals never interrupted in anyway by clipping, screen tear or any other glitches. Secondly, other than the initial loading time when the game is first initiated, there are no loading screens of any kind, as the game loads invisibly in the background throughout. The immersion that results is astounding, as you are never torn from the action even for a split second. To ramble on further about the brilliant character models, fantastic motion capture, picturesque environments, lively scenes, spectacular explosions and more wouldn't do enough justice to the visual paradise created for the game. Just look at the screenshots or, better still, try the game out and be utterly dumbstruck at what Naughty Dog have achieved.

Uncharted 2

The technical praise doesn't stop with the visuals though. The sound effects, though somewhat recycled from the first game (which actually adds a comforting sense of familiarity and consistency) are crisp, clear and authentic. Gun noises echo slightly in crowded streets, while each has a distinct sound. Explosions are also impressive, with numerous helicopter attacks, exploding barrels and gas canisters all adding to the atmosphere. The music also continues the themes from the first game, with plenty of new elements to keep things fresh. Fans of the score in the first game will certainly be happy to hear familiar crescendos and phrases that get the senses tingling as you play. It's the voicework, though, that truly sets Uncharted 2 apart from the competition. Nolan North reprises his role as Nathan Drake (and has kept himself busy with games like Prince of Persia), and is joined by superb vocal talent Claudia Black (of Farscape fame), in perhaps the best performances seen in any game to date.

Unlike the first game, the story in Among Thieves will keep players occupied for easily 10 hours or more, and is complemented by decent multiplayer options, most notably the inclusion of a cooperative mode. With the combat slightly less clinical and professional than a traditional First Person Shooter, competitive multiplayer is nice to have, but cooperative play is a brilliant and unmissable inclusion. Though there are no challenging boss fights, the level of difficulty does steadily increase towards the end of the game, leading to an enjoyable, balanced challenge. After completing the game once, Crushing difficulty is unlocked, adding an extra layer of difficulty to the game. It's disappointing to still see multiple playthroughs required to get everything from the game, but with something like Uncharted 2, it's worth playing over and over. There are also plenty of trophies to aim for, though they largely mirror those seen in the original game (find treasures, shoot particular weapons, resort to fisticuffs, that sort of thing). Importantly, there is a healthy focus on single-player action (just two trophies are present to draw attention to the multiplayer, steering clear of the unwelcome 10,000-kill targets in so many modern online shooters).

Uncharted 2

Overall, there's almost no reason to criticize Uncharted 2. Minor camera niggles do very little to distract from an incredible game. Currently, there's nothing more cinematic and beautiful on PS3, and this incredibly enjoyable is a joy to play. Nathan Drake has matured into a perfect hero character for Playstation and even the harshest cynics will struggle not to appreciate Drake and the other main characters. If the rumours are true that there will be a third game in the Uncharted series then it'll be very interesting to see if Naughty Dog can improve on a game that is almost perfect.

Game details

Game logo

Publisher:

Sony

Developer:

Naughty Dog

Players:

1

Online:

1-10

Release:

2009-10-16

Trophies:

48

Review summary

Gameplay:

Supreme in almost every way, a joy to play

Graphics:

The most stunningly beautiful game on PS3 so far

Sound:

Brilliant voicework, great music and sublime effects

Lastability:

Longer than the first and with multiplayer too

9.7

Meteoric

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