Better to be late to the party than to never have shown up at all. I’ve been putting off the purchase of a Playstation 3 for a while now and with the recent $299 price drop, late generation builds of the consoles, and a library of awesome games having been released this has been one of the most highly anticipated moments in gaming for yours truly.
The Uncharted series has been on my mind since I first caught wind of the series being in development – gamers were long overdue for a new “tomb raider of the lost ark” back then and they’ve found it in Nathan Drake. A real guy’s guy Drake has the swagger and sass of Indiana Jones and Hans Solo combined. Right out of the box there isn’t much to dislike about the guy.
Uncharted 2: Among Thieves is the second (and hopefully not the last) installment of the Uncharted series and from what I understand makes numerous improvements on the first game. Having not played Drake’s Fortune (see above – I just got a PS3 finally) I won’t be able to draw comparisons here but given how much fun I had playing Among Thieves something tells me those comparisons will be soon to follow.
The story presented in Uncharted 2 is one of treasure hunting, double crossing, and high adventure with all the trappings of an Indiana Jones flick. Excellent voice acting and genuinely entertaining dialogue hold up from start to finish. The social dynamic between Drake and his companions throughout the game never get tired or stale. They are always cracking new jokes and making light of some pretty crappy situations that they find themselves in and right from the get go you start to care for the well being of your saucy new friends. More than once during some of the games numerous cutscenes I was glued to the TV just waiting to find out what happens next.
Like a well paced book or movie you simply can’t wait to move through the adventure and on the normal difficulty will do so inside of 10 – 12 hours. Although I was suprised by how little time I had invested by the time the credits were rolling the game had me thinking, “this has to be the end,” at several points in the story but it always just kept moving along. I like that in a game. As with anything good you never want it to end.
I’ve been playing on a pretty sizable HDTV in 1080i resolution and graphically Uncharted 2 looks stunning. Great detail was given to the character models and environments. The beams of sunshine breaking through jungle canopies or ice particles swirling about in the winds on the highest coldest mountains really harness the power of the PS3. Characters stand and move in such a convincing manner that people watching couldn’t tell sometimes if I was playing the action or watching a cutscene. None of the awkward jerkiness or quirky facial expressions show up here – the animation and graphics are some of the best I’ve seen in a game, hands down.
The audio holds up just as good as the visuals do with full attention given to positioning and projection. Voices echo in large chambers and gunfire streaks left and right appropriately making good use of the surround sound. There isn’t much else I can speak to on this matter other than to say that the audio mixing is well done – the voices are never too quiet and the explosions and gunfire are never too loud. It’s just right.
I’ve been playing on the 360 for so long now that my hands have adapted to the larger and wider grip of the XBOX controller. I haven’t held a Playstation control since I picked up the XBOX 360 so I found the controls in Uncharted 2 difficult at first. Trying to aim with those more center aligned thumbsticks just felt clumsy and slippy to begin but as with any game controller I got used to it and after several hours of play I was able to deftly pop out, center my aim on some poor fuckers head, and pull the trigger in rapid succession.
Uncharted 2 borrows adopts a third person approach to gameplay and adopts a cover system that’s been showing up in games since Gears of War. It’s done well here and I rarely found myself sticking to cover or performing maneuvers I hadn’t intended. Scrambling over low walls, rocks, and debris to avoid gunfire felt natural and the character response was excellent.
Drake can carry up to two guns – one sidearm and a rifle sized weapon – along with four grenades to deal with all the trouble he has to put up with. Enemy soldiers will drop weapons to replenish your ammo along the way and numerous weapons you’ll find throughout the game give you plenty of options to find what suits you best.
There are no health packs or any other equipment to worry about here – when you take damage you’ll see a red indicator to tell you where the hits are coming from and your screen will begin to turn grey when Drake is close to being killed. Fall back to cover for a few moments and you’ll regain your composure and it’s right back to the firefight.
Aside from gunplay you can also throw fisticuffs like a god damned action hero! The melee combat is controlled with the square button and depending on the angle of attack the combos you throw out will change up quite a bit. There are plenty of fight animations to keep things fresh and although the fist fighting mostly boils down to simple button mashing there are times where you will need to perform a counter-move using the triangle button to regain the fight advantage. Tougher enemies you face simply cannot be defeated in this manner and when they get a hold of Drake there are some timed button press events you’ll need to perform to slip away. One last note about the hand to hand combat – the stealth attacks. Drake can employ stealth tactics to take out his foes by sneaking up behind a guy or waiting for him to approach a corner. Pressing the attack button at the right time will grab the enemy soldier and execute a quick and silent contextual based kill. My favorite is when Drake comes out from hiding, kicks a guy in the nuts, grabs him by the collar, and drive him head first into a stone column. Brutal!
Of course fighting isn’t the only thing going on in Uncharted 2. Drake and his friends are all great climbers able to scale mountainsides and make death defying leaps across wide chasms. Some of the more vertical segments of the game had me feeling pretty dizzy and nervous at times. Some of the athleticism and acrobatics on display here are enough to make Laura Croft blush and while some of the daring acts can seem a little far fetched at times it’s all great fun and nice way to break up the combat.
Uncharted 2 makes an attempt to convince the player to come back for multiple playthroughs with collectable treasures (100 in all). I’m on my second playthrough on hard mode trying to pick up anything I missed (I only found 30 treasures the first time) and once I beat that I’ll have unlocked an extra hard mode that I intend to play through as well. It’s not often I want to play through the same game multiple times.
Finding that treasure also adds to your in game currency used to purchase unlockable single player content such as player skins, screen filters, and behind the scenes videos. It also is used to purchase multiplayer content such as gun enhancements and perks.
The multiplayer is a pretty standard mixed bag of gametypes that you may expect to find anywhere else. Deathmatch, Last Man Standing, a variant of Capture the Flag, King of the Hill, and so on…
Fortunately the game employs a party and matchmaking system made popular by Halo 2′s multiplayer. So while the adversarial multiplayer may not be anything revolutionary the execution is well done.
Where the online components really start to shine is in the co-op stuff. The co-op supports up to three players (perfect since you’ve only got two friends on Playstation Network…) and there are a couple different co-op modes on offer here. A game mode similar to Gears of War’s Horde mode has the players holding a position against waves and waves of enemy soldiers of increasing toughness. Players have to work together to pick each other up when they get shot up too much although a well placed grenade or rocket will just kill on impact leaving the afflicted player sitting out until the next round. I’m not certain how many waves there are in total. It’s a good challenge though and a nice departure from the single player and when your friends are online.
In addition Naughty Dog has developed three co-op only missions where you and your friends will work together to complete objectives. The best comparison I can draw is the old Splinter Cell: Chaos Theory co-op missions. Working together is absolutely necessary and the hardest difficulties will really put you and your friends skills to the test.
In summary Uncharted 2: Among Thieves is an absolutely blockbuster title and one worth buying a PS3 for – especially now that the price has come down and you have so many other awesome titles to pick up at a discount (I got Metal Gear Solid 4 for $18). With one of the best single player adventures I’ve ever laid hands on and a pretty solid multiplayer offering Uncharted 2 sets a new high water mark for big budget games.
You can pick up a copy of Uncharted 2: Among Thieves for a pretty good price on Amazon.com now too.