Uncharted 2: Among Thieves [Available on PS3]
Developer: Naughty Dog
Release Date: October 13, 2009
It’s no secret that the PlayStation 3 struggled for a long time to consistently host top-notch, exclusive software. Many consider the months after initial launch as a dry spell of sorts. Things started to look up during the 2007 holiday though, as Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune was a standout title that captured our attention. It was a new IP appearing on a scene where risks have become less common. Needless to say everyone was pleasantly surprised, though this was no shocker from a Naughty Dog studio with a proven record with Jak & Daxter. Uncharted is a blast with killer production values, story, and gameplay. It definitely made itself known, earning COE’s PS3 Game of the Year. Well here we are two years later and Uncharted 2 has taken the market by storm. Dare I jump the gun and label it Game of the Year for the PS3 once again? Perhaps I shouldn’t, but the chances seem good.
Uncharted 2 chronicles the spectacular adventures of contemporary treasure hunter Nathan Drake, supposedly descended from the famous historical figure Sir Francis Drake. Nathan, however, makes a living from not always reputable means. Among Thieves explores the side of his life that was only alluded to before, so you can likely understand where this is going based on that subtitle. This time, Drake calls for the assistance of fellow thieves for locate a lost fleet of ships previously owned by Marco Polo that disappeared decades ago along with plenty of treasure. The course of plot is hardly straightforward though, because we’re talking about Nathan Drake here.
The Uncharted universe is so entertaining because of the great adventure story appeal, comparable to great film adventurers like Indiana Jones (granted I made this comparison last time). Some plot devices come off as a little over-the-top, but that’s part of the fun. There’s one foot rooted in reality, with another firmly planted in fantasy, resulting in a healthy balance between credibility and the fantastic. It also doesn’t hurt to have characters who are entertaining, funny, suspicious, evil, witty, and most importantly, loveable. You can’t help but adore Drake and root for him the whole way through. Familiar faces also return, and while completing the original Uncharted isn’t vital to understand Among Thieves, it’s highly recommended because the story is awesome in and of itself, and the game is plenty fun to boot.
While on the subject, AT brings a handful of gameplay changes to the franchise. Some control tweaks have smoothed out the experience. The Gears of War-esque combat is wonderfully married to the Tomb Raider-style exploration driven by climbing and platforming. Drake continues to wow with his exemplary agility, which has been added to with new skills like swinging from bars. New melee options also allow Nathan to pull enemies down from ledges while hanging, which is a ton of fun. The combat is further varied with the ability to grab foes from behind cover. Aiming grenades and balancing on narrow beams no longer require SIXAXIS control either, which was a real pain before. If you really liked that though, it’s available in the options menu. Hand-to-hand combat is simplified too, increasing the ease of battle.
Despite the changes, Uncharted 2 largely plays the same. Drake can use cover, blind fire, shoot from the hip and manually aim. A few new weapons have been tossed in to the already impressive roster. You’ll even find propane tanks scattered about levels, which can be picked up and thrown towards enemies, then shot for grenade-saving fireworks. Gatling gun foes are new threats, but their toy can be used when you take them down, it simply makes Nathan a lot slower. Finally, stealth is more significantly integrated. Before, Drake could instantly kill enemies with a sneak melee attack, but opportunities to do so were rare. Now it’s encouraged, even making things easier. Plus Drake does this automatically around enemies, making these kills less cumbersome to pull off. You’re not required to be stealthy, as this isn’t Metal Gear Solid, but I welcome having the choice.
The addition of multiplayer is easily the biggest change. While it seems that that every new release has a shoehorned multiplayer, Uncharted 2’s actually feels right at home. Competitive matches support five versus five, with the teams split between the plot heroes and villains. You’re allowed to pick a skin based on the side you’re assigned to. Modes include standard deathmatch, which is fun for strictly combat. There’s also base-capturing, and even capture-the-flag, but with a twist. Instead of scoring a flag, teams must grab a treasure that spawns at different places on the map and return it to their spawn point. The catch is that the treasure is a very heavy pure gold, so whoever is carrying it moves at a slower pace, and can only wield one-handed weapons. This really promotes protecting the person carrying the treasure. Plus it can be thrown like the propane tanks. Some well-placed tosses to teammates can send the treasure back to base faster.
If you’re more attracted to cooperative gaming, Uncharted 2 has you covered. Two modes can be played by four total players. One reuses campaign levels, but drops the story. They instead have tweaked layouts to foster the co-op experience. A lot more guns are present, and the same applies to enemies, so your team is at least challenged. If your friends fall, they can be revived, but you’re granted three tries in case everyone dies. The second offering is similar to Gear of War 2’s horde mode. Players fight waves of enemies for as long as possible.
What makes this different from Gears of War, since that is where most of my analogies have been drawn, is the way Uncharted 2 actually plays. Your character doesn’t handle like a tank, thus multiplayer is much faster and exciting. Climbing is also involved. It’s easy to be cornered in some games, but Uncharted 2’s maps are designed so you can climb or jump out of a pinch. This is balanced because you can pull people from ledges, just like in the single-player portion. That alone adds a whole new dimension to the multiplayer, making combat far more enjoyable.
On top of everything are perks that you can earn. These can change how much ammo you carry to increased accuracy with certain weapons. Your rank determines which become available to you. Kills earn you more money, with bonuses for streaks, melee kills, and the like. Certain thresholds of cash have you rank up, and this progression opens up those perks, along with character skins and taunts. Money is also earned from trophies and finding the single-player treasures. If that wasn’t enough, special behind-the-scenes movies, weapons upgrades, and cheats are unlockable too. The hidden treasures are fun for completionists. Combining the single-player, multiplayer, and unlockables, there’s hours of content and so much more value than the first game. The $59.99 is wholly justified.
Technically, Uncharted was a graphical and audio production achievement. Among Thieves manages to take it even further. The amount of detail is simply astounding. There’s so much that it can sometimes be confusing where to go next, or what is and isn’t interactive. That’s how alive the world feels. Textures are crisp and the lighting/shadow effects look great. The game also never slows down. Cutscenes are all done in-game, but look so good that they could pass for pre-rendered. Explosion and ragdoll physics are also improved. An amazing example is being inside a toppling building and you see everything sliding out a gaping hole. We don’t experience this very often. Finally, the thousands of character animations are absolutely fluid. Uncharted 2 is one of the best-looking PS3 games, and in the running for prettiest ever.
The production values lend to the sound as well. Among Thieves has some of the best voice work I’ve ever heard, and it’s awesome that the actors did the motion capture for their characters, increasing the experience’s authenticity. The delivery is perfect. The top-notch sound design and epic soundtrack make this presentation borderline impossible to beat.
Uncharted 2: Among Thieves is a worthwhile PS3 title worth owning a PS3 for. The single-player is a great length, features a great story, and leaves you satisfied. Multiplayer is the icing, if you don’t immediately play the solo aspect again after the credits roll—which is incredibly tempting to do. This game is the full package, and a significant contender for Game of the Year.
Overall (Not an average): 9.6/10