Any game that is exclusive to one console has a lot of pressure on it to perform well, as it is often seen as flagship software. Certainly when Naughty Dog released Uncharted: Drakes Fortune exclusively on PS3 back in 2007, it was seen as one of the best examples of the hardware's capability. I remember in an interview the Naughty Dog team commented that they used about a third of the PS3's power, and they produced what was quite simply a stunning looking game. It had some limitations in its gameplay, but it had great character development and an intriguing story. Fast forward a couple of years, and the second game Uncharted 2: Among Thieves is out. The pressure is back on the team to release a successor better than the first, and be a flagship for the PS3 once again. As we have seen time and time again though, sequels don't always fare so well. This game is an exception.
The game is set a year after the first and Nathan Drake finds himself on the trail of Marco Polo and the “wish-fulfilling” Cintamani Stone. He is enlisted by some friends to find the fabled treasure, but soon finds out he isn't the only treasure hunter interested in the stone. I won’t say any more than that in this review as the story is really one of the highlights of Uncharted 2. The team at Naughty Dog have done a brilliant job of taking the elements of a great action movie (with the exception of there actually being a plot in this game) and merging it with improved gameplay from Uncharted 1. The result is brilliant.
The characters are diverse, well scripted and well voice acted. What separates them from other games is not just character development from the plot or cut scenes. It's the small details that bring them to life. Comments and banter between Nathan and Co in response to the actions happening on screen make the journey much more authentic and provide plenty of laughs.
The story is Hollywood Blockbuster-esque with adventure, world travel, plot twists, love interests, and of course firefights, lots and lots of firefights. Uncharted 1 saw you move to an area, face a large number of enemies with a variety of guns and some limited melee attacks, then move to a puzzle and repeat. The mechanics were solid but did get a little repetitive. What the developers have managed to do in Uncharted 2 is expand Nathan's repertoire so he can perform stealth attacks, counter attacks, and sneak around bad guys. The enemies come thick and fast but there is more variety in the types and difficulties (some of them can take a serious hammering before going down). The fight scenes didn't feel as repetitive as there was more choice in the way to move through a section clearing out the enemies. It is great fun sneaking up on a bad guy to break his neck, then hanging off the edge of a cliff and shooting some poor sucker in the head, before falling to the ground below and taking out 10 enemies with your M4.
Chapters are set in a variety of locations, and the dynamic environments add to the cinematic feel of the game. Whether it's a collapsing multistory building, a moving train, or escaping a rampaging tank, you will be kept on your toes. It is great fun and really adds to the gameplay.
The first game was remarkably easy to pick up and play with on-screen prompts for most actions. Uncharted 2 keeps this ethos with the first level acting like a tutorial or refresher of the controls. On-screen prompts continue throughout the game. Although the fighting is much more diverse in this second game the pathway is still very linear. This didn't detract from the experience for me (as I see it as a necessary evil as part of the storytelling) but I know some people will find it restrictive. There are multiple difficulty settings to suit veteran treasure hunters and newcomers alike, and 100 treasures to collect scattered throughout the game to add replay value. A new addition to the gameplay is multiplayer. There are competitive modes with the normal variety of deathmatch and capture-the-flag games, and a co-op mode where you try and clear maps with two other online players. I usually find myself as cannon fodder in competitive online multiplayer games, and this sadly was no exception. The co-op added nice depth with the ability to not only clear out the bad guys but also complete mini objectives and earn cash to spend in the game store unlocking items.
There were only a couple of small issues that came up. Occasionally the game was picky when trying to hop onto a ladder or similar and when you’re running away from gunfire which was annoying. The other minor issue which might bother some people is the waves of enemies. On some levels when you enter an area a wave of enemies flow in and you take them out. You think it’s all over so proceed out of cover and then another wave come and you do the same area all over again. Not that big a deal, but it did slow the flow of the game sometimes.
I will never forget the first time my friend was over playing Uncharted 1 when it first came out. He literally had his jaw dropped and stood around panning the camera, saying “This is phenomenal.” The first game certainly set the bar high and is still one of the prettiest games on the PS3 in my opinion. So Naughty Dog had established they could use the PS3's graphical prowess. The question was could they improve and take it to another level. Uncharted 2 is absolutely beautiful. With the game being set in different locations around the world, the team has been able to truly showcase their skills. Sure you have your lush forests with streaming light and waterfalls, and your dark, dusty ruins but the snow capped mountains, villages, and war-torn streets also look incredible. Attention has been paid to every detail, and the claim by the team that they used up 100% of the PS3s power is believable. Colours are rich, textures are accurate and there are very few glitches in frame rate or draw. Facial expressions, wet clothes, explosions - everything is beautifully rendered in high definition.
The voice acting in Uncharted 1 really impressed me. It felt natural and professional, and really brought the characters to life. Uncharted 2 takes this further. I would go so far as to say it's the best I've heard. The writers did a fantastic job of creating a witty, dynamic group of treasure seekers with individual personalities. It makes Nathan Drake and Co believable, and helps draw you into the game. When Drake and Sully are having banter just after a fight or in the middle of solving a puzzle, it feels like you are eavesdropping on a couple of old mates giving each other a ribbing. The sound effects are satisfying with guns making a meaty noise, explosions give the surround sound a good run for its money, and small background details like animal noises in jungle scenes haven't been missed. The music perfectly creates an atmosphere of adventure, intensifying during the gun fights and dropping off while exploring a cave. I really couldn't ask for more in the sound department.
With a fantastic single player story, a variety of weapons, treasures and difficulties for replay value, and lots of multiplayer options, Uncharted 2 is great value and should make it onto your shopping list A.S.A.P.
The verdict on Uncharted 2: Among Thieves is simple - if you own a PS3, get this game. With a great story and characters, breathtaking graphics, and some of the best voice acting I've heard, you will enjoy this blockbuster ride from beginning to end.
AAG SCORE: 9.5/10
- Great story and cinematics
- Well fleshed out characters and brilliant voice acting
- Solid single player and multiplayer options
- Occasional control issues
- Sometimes waves of enemies in the same spot can be annoying
Reviewed & Written By Khye Davey