Review by Tranzience

"Simply that good"

Developed by Naughty Dog, Uncharted 2: Among Thieves is the sequel to Uncharted: Drake's Fortune. Throughout the course of the game, the player assumes the role of Nathan Drake as he adventures across the world in search of a fabled treasure, shooting and climbing all the while. The game could be classified as an action, adventure, or even third-person shooter title since it dips into all of the genres. If you need a frame of reference, some of the games it is most comparable to include entries from the Metal Gear Solid and Tomb Raider series, and the similarities between these shall be touched on later. More important than any other comparisons that can be made, Uncharted 2 plays like an Indiana Jones, National Treasure, or Mummy movie come to life, for all the good and bad that entails.

One of the finest aspects of Uncharted 2 is its cinematic nature. Much of Uncharted 2 unfolds with such flourishes that it looks like a scene straight out of an action movie – a refreshing change of pace from other games which just look dull in action outside of a few key scenes. One of the greatest boons this lends to the game is that it is just plain fun to watch. Whether Nate is scaling an ancient temple or shooting at some enemies further down the way in the snow, Uncharted 2 goes to great lengths to make the animations smooth and realistic. Everything from the facial expressions to the explosions to the rubble and smoke falling off a damaged car bears the fruit of extensive detail and care put into it. However, many other games look pretty in stills or in a few key places, but they often do so at the cost of being bland or uninteresting otherwise. Not so with Uncharted 2: at no point does the game stop looking anything short of appropriate, detailed, and fluid throughout its 26 chapters. Looking good obviously is not everything, though. Obviously, the point of a video game is to be fun to play, otherwise it may as well be a movie.

This is where Uncharted 2 compares to Metal Gear Solid 4. Both of these games sought to offer a cinematic experience through the medium of a third-person shooting game, bringing an enthralling tale that is both fun to watch and play. To some, Metal Gear Solid 4 failed in this regard because it spent excessive amounts of time in non-interactive cutscenes that stretched on for too long. While Uncharted 2's cutscenes are indeed also non-interactive, they are much shorter than those found in the Metal Gear Solid games. Not only this, but unlike Metal Gear Solid – which told its story almost exclusively through cutscenes – Uncharted 2 develops its characters and unfolds some of the plot through dialogue dispersed throughout regular gameplay. The flow from a normal shootout to a mad dash to get away from a tank is seamless and feels natural, unlike the clunky feeling of being cut to a scene then thrust back into the action in a different area that many games try to pull.

Speaking of running from tanks, there are many such moments throughout the game where the player will do much more than simply run, gun, duck for cover, reload, dash for the next area, repeat. In fact, there are hardly any parts of the game where this archaic formulaic approach is utilized. Much more often, the player will be climbing all sorts of odd structures, meleeing some grunts to snatch up their ammo, dashing and gunning, ducking behind anything that can pose as cover, and etc. There is hardly a dull moment or a repetitive sequence thanks to the game's tendency to throw in new things frequently along with the constantly developing plot.

Back to that climbing bit, Uncharted 2 features a lot of platforming in addition to its gunner elements that make it easy to draw the comparison to the Tomb Raider games. The differences are obvious enough right from the get go, considering that Uncharted 2 is not using sex appeal as a large draw to it. The platforming also feels quite a bit different; it has a more natural flow to it. This is perhaps in part because these sections are easier, since the path to go down is usually fairly obvious. Uncharted 2 does not seek to frustrate the player with finding the right route, but rather how best to go about traveling down that route, or even which route to take considering they are rarely enemy-free. Most of the game's difficulty instead comes from the combat and the puzzles. Mostly the former, considering the puzzles in the game are fairly infrequent and often not really changing either.

Combat in Uncharted 2 is simple to learn, but more difficult to master and fun throughout. The basic idea is that Nate can carry two guns: a smaller handgun – usually some sort of pistol – and a larger, more powerful gun – anything from a rifle or shotgun to an RPG. In addition to these, the character can hold up to four grenades. All guns can be fired multiple ways. First, the player can fire from the hip without aiming by simply pressing the fire button. This is obviously not as accurate as firing while aiming, but it is handy in that this can be done while running and an approximating reticle appears to help your sloppy fire reach its mark. Similarly, while the player can press the aim button to poke out from behind cover and fire, the opportunity is also present to simply press the fire button and blindfire by holding the gun above the cover and firing without jumping out from behind the safety of whatever Drake is hiding behind. The larger, less accurate reticle once again makes its appearance and helps guide the player's fire. These features, the blindfire and running fire, in particular stood out to me as implemented spectacularly as they are both handy and intuitive.

Up to this point, all that has been talked about is getting through the single-player campaign. To be fair, if one simply turned on the game and wanted to go from beginning to end of the campaign, the game does not take long to complete. Two or three days are enough time for even a novice at video games in general to complete the game on the normal difficulty setting. But there is more to the game than just getting to the end. For instance, there are plenty treasures scattered throughout the many areas of the game often hidden in not-so-obvious places. These treasures do little for the single-player experience except unlock trophies, but the money they grant also entitles the player to some benefits of the multiplayer portion of the game. The multiplayer aspect of Uncharted 2 is quite a boon considering the game's combat lends itself fairly readily to multiplayer. It takes little time to find a game, and I have yet to encounter any lag or hear anyone complain of it despite myself having a fairly slow connection, admittedly.

To put it simply, Uncharted 2's only striking flaw is that the single-player campaign is somewhat short. While it does last, however, it is brilliant. The characters all exude a life of their own that makes it easy to cozy up to them. The plot does not attempt to throw the player for a loop with twists every five minutes, but that does not mean it is predictable and bland. The combat is easy to use and especially fun considering the cinematic moments of the game have been injected into it and the platforming bits with grace. In the end, this game is simply a great experience and hopefully paves the way for others in the future.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Originally Posted: 10/21/09, Updated 04/02/12

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

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