Review by Mektige00

"A new standard in gaming."

The first Uncharted was a game far beyond its years, but the attention it garnered was both positive and negative, with criticisms against things like iffy platforming segments, enemies soaking up bullets, and some bad design flaws (such as using the Sixxaxis for throwing grenades). From the beginning, Among Thieves has aimed to further expand the positives and highly reduce the negatives. For the most part, it did.

The game once again puts you in the shoes of Nathan Drake, treasure hunter and all-around smartass. This time around, however, Drake has a new sidekick to add to the roster of characters. Chloe is a shifty thief-type who has a history with Drake in an obvious intimate manner. Along with some other more familiar faces, the game has an array of interesting characters.

The opening sequence alone will get your attention settled directly on awe-inspiring and very tense gameplay. As Drake, you must climb your way out of a train that has derailed over the side of a mountain in the blistering cold snow. This scene sets the tone for the rest of the game, giving you an epic start to an even more epic adventure.

You soon find out, however, that the train scene is merely part of the story's latter events, as the game takes you back four months later with Chloe and her business partner try to entice Drake to take part in a heist. I won't ruin much, but the story is told perfectly, and it unravels with excitement, twists, and over-the-top moments that would easily fit in a summer popcorn flick. The one downside to this is that I found the game repeated too many elements. For example, I couldn't count on one hand how many times someone almost fell off a cliff of some sort but was saved at the last moment by their partner grabbing their wrist. That's not to say that they game doesn't keep things original, as the story takes you to a bevy of unique locations, each as beautiful as the next.

Speaking of beautiful locales, the game's graphics have already been herald as the greatest on any console to date. From sprawling mountain ranges covered in lush snow to the deep jungles, you'll never find anything in the game that won't make you want to stop and take it all in. I'm sure I added an extra hour or two to my first playthrough's time just for standing around admiring what a job Naughty Dog has done with this game. Many will argue that the game's graphics look "glossy", which they do (especially the character models). However, it's distinguishing and makes the game look realistic, yet not frighteningly so. To sum things up, we may not see better graphics until Uncharted 3.

Musically, the game shines. Orchestrated songs keep you in tune with the characters and gameplay. The sound effects are well done as well, and the voice acting is beyond anything I've heard. There's no doubt that Naughty Dog recruited the best possible actors and actresses for the voice roles.

The characters themselves are endearing and well-rounded. This game, unlike the first, shows a side of Drake that is a bit darker, and reveals some about his past in the form of Chloe's return. While the story carries itself enough in cutscenes, the gameplay segments have you spending a lot of time next to a partner, sometimes multiple. It's during these times that the story feels most engaging, as the banter between the characters keeps things on a personal level and makes you feel like you really know them. Also, be prepared for cracking some smiles, as Drake is back with his witty one-liners, a few of which had me laughing out loud. There's no mistaking that this is the best cast of characters the game could've incorporated, all the way down to the main antagonist whose quest for power seems cliche until things are revealed to be a bit more convoluted.

The meat of the gameplay is shared between exploration and shooting. The first game suffered from too little exploration and way too many endless waves of enemies to shoot. Fortunately, this has been worked out and improved drastically. Among Thieves has almost perfect pacing, and though I felt one or two segments of exploration may have dragged a bit, it was never to the point that I felt I was bored or taken out of the experience.

On the exploration side, you'll find a few puzzles to solve, which you can get hints for using Drake's journal. They're simplistic and easy to overcome, keeping the gameplay from hitting frustrating stops. However, the exploration isn't perfect. Much like the first game, some of the platforming is definitely annoying. Not because it's in any way complex, but because although the game holds you hand for it, it sometimes just doesn't want to work right. There were a few times in the game that I found myself struggling to get Drake to "just do it", and instead of moving the direction I'd need him to, he'd wobble around on a ledge and grab the wrong thing. On top of this, his floaty animations between jumps are a hoot, as jumping from one "platform" to the next will often result in a jump that is too far, but instead of falling, Drake simply looks as if he kind of floats that extra foot or so and makes the jump. I'm thankful I didn't have to spend a bunch of time timing perfect jumps, but it's still a bit jarring to watch. The only other complaint is of the repeating manner, as it got a bit repetitive that I had to continuously boost someone up a ladder and have them toss it down to me. Not a few times, but constantly. This repeated event had me rolling my eyes every time. Even with these complaints, the exploration is fun and engaging and never had me actually removed from the experience due to minor annoyances.

When you're not exploring beautiful areas you're having intense shootouts. Trust me when I say that this game may have less waves of constant enemy onslaughts, but it's far more difficult. Enemies are a bit smarter in Among Thieves, and staying on your toes is a must. All of the different guns at your disposal serve a purpose, and ammo is plentiful enough that you should rarely need to worry about conserving it excessively. All of the gunning controls feel solid, and the new L2 grenade system works infinitely better than the first game's horrendous Sixxaxis gimmick. The enemies still soak up far too many bullets, especially in the latter half of the game, but if you can look over that, there's not much negative to say about the gunplay. Plus, you don't have to worry about any more horrible jetski moments from the first game, which pretty much makes up for any very minor faults.

Lastly, we have multiplayer. In most games of this type, multiplayer is tacked-on and played moderately for a few months by some of the die-hard fans. In this case, the developers have exceeded expectations and created one of the most fun multiplayer experiences ever made. 5-on-5 deathmatch is just the beginning of the fun, as we've been given multiple co-op and objective-type modes. Co-op puts you in small areas from the story and has you leap, shoot, and discover your way through it with two other friends. The sense of both cooperation and competition keep things fresh, as you'll want to help your friends and yet see if you can grab a slightly higher score as them. The standout mode is one in which you and two buddies will be attempting to get a golden treasure from one side of the map to the other, while being bombarded by enemies. While one person drags the treasure along, the other two have to cover him, and as the stages go on, it's not easy! Toss in a great leveling system, tons of things to purchase in an in-game store, and the strategy that comes with what perks you have equipped on your character, the multiplayer is simply stunning. Naughty Dog could've delivered the amazing single-player mode and people would've still bought the game like nobody's business; the fact that they one-up'd themselves by adding multiplayer is spectacular, and we get to reap the benefits for ages to come.

Despite some minor flaws in the way of repeated event types, some frustrating platforming, and some seemingly-invincible enemies, Uncharted 2 surpasses the original in almost every way, and sets a new standard for gaming. Chances of playing another beautiful and story-rich tale of this caliber any time soon is close to impossible, as the game goes above and beyond what you'd expect. With the added multiplayer, tons of unlockables, and characters worth revisiting time and time again, Among Thieves has raised the bar - don't waste any time on picking this one up; it's worth full-admission.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Originally Posted: 10/15/09

Game Release: Uncharted 2: Among Thieves (US, 10/13/09)

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