Review by Gruel

"Easily one of the best games on PS3"

I was a little late to the party on the original Indiana Jones tribute turned action/platformer, Uncharted: Drake's Fortune. I borrowed it from a friend about a year ago, but never made the time to play it. I eventually returned it without even seeing the title screen. I eventually did buy it and plowed right through the campaign just a few months ago in July and immediately went gaga for the game and kicked myself for not playing it any sooner. Now the sequel is out with Uncharted 2: Among Thieves, and developer Naughty Dog manages to improve in all areas and alleviate the few nitpicks I had with Drake's Fortune, which results in an instant classic and a definite game of the year contender.

Rarely do I find myself this invested in any game's plotline, but Naughty Dog knows that secret ingredient to keep me hooked to the very end no matter what twists they may throw me for a loop for. Uncharted protagonist and resident treasure hunter, Nathan Drake is back and kicking it at the beach when he is propositioned by his old friend Chloe to track down the lost treasure of Marco Polo. Like Brett Favre coming out of retirement every year, Nathan accepts the offer without much hesitation, but winds up in another rollercoaster of a ride. Among Thieves starts off its story with an increasingly popular storytelling device in films, the flash forward moment of the hero in a completely screwed up situation. The story unfolds from there in a very movie like fashion. The quality and pacing of the narrative unfolds and feels like it is a motion picture. As I took in the many twists and turns of Uncharted 2, I could not help but get the craving to watch National Treasure again.

Like its predecessor, gameplay in Uncharted 2 primarily consists of two things: stop ‘n pop shooting ala Gears of War, and climbing across gaps from one platform to another ala Tomb Raider. There is some added gameplay variety sprinkled in throughout Nate's quest in the form of a stealth mission that introduces several stealth attacks that are quite handy throughout the rest of the game. I groaned when I first heard there was going to be a stealth mission, but mercifully it is over quickly and to my surprise I actually did not mind it. There are a number of puzzles blocking Nathan's path again, and he has his trusty, worn out notebook to assist him with all the clues he needs. There is the obligatory on-rails vehicle stage, but just like before Among Thieves makes it standout as one of the genre's best ever instead of going through the motions like almost everyone else.

The stop ‘n pop shooting is far more gratifying this time around. I was fine with how it was in Drake's Fortune, but Among Thieves adds in a few more tweaks and seemingly doubles Nate's arsenal of weaponry so he has far more options to eliminate the bad guys. Going in and out of cover can be a little touchy like in most stop ‘n pop shooters nowadays, but it happened to me here far less frequently than in Drake's Fortune. Eliminating the Sixaxis motion controls also helps combat, instead of wasting time arching out each grenade toss via motion controls like before, they can be almost instantly directed where they need to go now with a click flick of the right stick.

One of the few legitimate complaints I have with Uncharted 2 is that for such a linear game, some of the platforming parts sure can be misleading. More often than not it was a jump that seemed perfectly in reach for Nathan compared to previous jumps he made, but instead he plummeted to the abyss(Naaaaate!). This possible huge dent in Uncharted's armor is again alleviated by its reliable hint system. I feel a little cheap making use of it every now and then to point me in the right direction, but it is incredibly helpful and only aids in keeping the action rolling. There were several times throughout the game where I thought for sure I was heading in the right direction which instead turned out to be an alternate path leading to a hidden treasure collectable(yes!). Speaking of treasure, there is now 100 pieces of treasure, and most of them are well hidden beyond the beaten path compared to before(first time around I found 46 of 50 treasures, but in Among Thieves exploring like I did before only resulted in discovering 37 of 100 treasure so be on the lookout!).

Among Thieves has replay value through the roof. I completed Drake's Fortune just shy of 15 hours on Normal difficulty doing poorly exploring for the aforementioned treasure collectables, but most people I talked to who also beat Among Thieves told me it only took 11-12 hours for them. Beating Uncharted 2 on Hard unlocks a Crushing difficulty for the pro players who really demand a challenge. Just like in Drake's Fortune, gold can be accrued to unlock bonus costumes, alternative color schemes and behind-the-scenes documentaries.

The real big bonus for Uncharted 2 is the addition of online multiplayer in both competitive and cooperative play. Competitively up to 10 players can play in a standard array of modes like deathmatch and Capture the Treasure. There are Boosters (aka Perks) and other bonuses that can be unlocked just like the bonuses in single player for online pay too. Unlock most other third person shooters that seem to tack on a multiplayer mode for the sake of having it listed as a feature on the back of the box, the competitive multiplayer is surprisingly fun. The Boosters keeps are very helpful, and most levels allow you to work in the game's platforming mechanics to reach highly sought out vantage points.

Unfortunately, Among Thieves' primary adventure is not playable in co-op, but there are three separate missions that can be played cooperatively with up to three players, where players must work together to make it to formerly unreachable locations from the main campaign. Among Thieves also features a Gears of War style Horde mode, titled Survival mode which sends wave after wave of increasingly difficult adversaries in your direction. Then there is Gold Rush mode, which is an interesting and entertaining hybrid of Survival and Capture the Treasure mode.

Uncharted 2 uses the same kind of “VoCap” technology for its animation and voice acting, where the actors act out the scene and perform voice over simultaneously instead of alternatively like in almost every other game. This results in the cut scenes coming alive and every line of dialogue having incredible aplomb. Among Thieves features another all-star score. Uncharted's main theme will go down as one of the most recognizable from this generation of games. There are other good selections too, but is easy for them to get washed out in the background during the action. I always thought Gears of War and Halo were great at making their thunderous beats kick in and come alive at pivotal moments during gameplay, perhaps Naughty Dog can should take a page out of their book to make sure its excellent score does not go unnoticed.

Uncharted 2 pushes the PS3 to its limits; this is evident in the absolutely stunning backdrops the camera intentionally pans out to at random intervals throughout gameplay. It is like the developers are going out of their way to make sure you take in all that work they put into the jaw-dropping environments Nathan traverses. Each level has a unique style of scenery compared to the first Uncharted which primarily consisted of tombs and jungles. There are still tombs and jungles to traverse in Among Thieves no doubt about it, but there are oh so many more rich and diverse locals here like a war torn urban city, one of the longest trains in videogame history, a frozen yet beautiful ice cave, a Tibetan village, and that's just scratching the surface.

Uncharted 2 is the PS3's must have game this year, and that is saying a lot because the PS3 has already had a blockbuster year of exclusives with stiff competition from titles like Killzone 2, Infamous and Demons Souls. Aside from delivering another truly epic single player game that is better than the first, the all new multiplayer portion of Among Thieves is well worth your time too. Without question, Uncharted 2: Among Thieves will go down as one of the best games this generation.

Reviewer's Rating:   5.0 - Flawless

Originally Posted: 11/04/09

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

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