Review by FeralBerserker
"Naughty Dog does it again!"
I'll never forget how terribly skeptical I was about Uncharted: Drake's Fortune. Puzzles, jumping and all that sort of business just aren't my thing. But after Uncharted blew me away, I was really hoping that there would be an Uncharted 2. I didn't think Naughty Dog could improve much on Uncharted, but they've blown me away again.
Gameplay Mechanics - 10/10
It seems kind of pointless for me to recap the gameplay mechanics as they're more or less the same as those in Uncharted: Drake's Fortune, but I'll do so anyway. Uncharted 2's gameplay mechanics can be broken down into three simple categories: Puzzle solving, Acrobatics, and Combat.
Puzzle solving is the smallest portion of the game, so anyone looking for a lot of puzzles to solve should be fairly turned off. In all honesty, I can only remember three locations in the game with any amount of puzzle solving. Each of these segments was extremely short, and the puzzles were extremely easy to figure out. You'll generally have to manipulate objects to match archaic characters, or to represent the drawings in Drake's (the main character) journal. Whenever you can't figure out what to do you'll need only the slightest amount of patience. All the answers to the puzzles are provided in Drake's journal, and with a little bit of time and effort can be deciphered. One example is that you'll have to position a statue's arms and hands to match a picture in your journal. It takes about two or three minutes (including the acrobatics involved as well as the time needed to figure out what to do).
Acrobatics consist of climbing, swinging and jumping. All three tasks are easy to execute, and the mechanics for each task are of very high quality. Drake will most often perform half the task for you, automatically grabbing ledges and whatnot when he makes contact with them. Rarely this can cause troubles during combat (i.e. by accidentally grabbing onto a ledge and leaving Drake vulnerable), and even more rarely you will suffer a death because the mechanics fail to work. I can only think of one area where this happened on more than one occassion (aside from operator errors); and when such a thing does happen you will only be set back a couple of seconds, as checkpoints throughout acrobatic segments are encountered extremely often. Throughout the course of the game you'll need to climb ledges and such very regularly, but never in high quantities with long breaks from killing in between. Naughty Dog did a good job of seamlessly blending the acrobatics into the combat mechanics. There are only a few segments of the game where you will need to go through extended periods of acrobatics without any breaks for killing in between.
The combat mechanics are the meat and potatoes of this game, and combat will comprise the vast majority of your time when you are playing. In combat you can utilize many features of the acrobatics to outmaneuver your enemies, and other features include taking cover, melee combat, stealth kills and the proper use of weaponry to fit the task at hand.
Controls are fairly simple and intuitive. You have a jump button, roll/take cover button, melee button, aiming button, firing button, action button, and a button for throwing grenades. Some of these buttons perform dual functions, but multiple operations bound to the same button rarely will cause you any trouble (such as accidentally rolling instead of taking cover). Firing your weapons can be done from cover, while hanging, while aiming or while running. Firing from cover and while hanging will be more or less the same as when aiming your weapon. Run and gunning won't give you a crosshair and will be less accurate than when aiming, but certainly has a lot of applications.
When using grenades you'll see an arrow that displays the arc of your toss and where the grenade should land. You can aim grenades with the right analog stick (like aiming a gun), and then tilt the controller to adjust the height of your throw quickly (it works nice once you get used to it, or you can opt to not use it). Grenades can blow up certain cover that your enemy might be using, or take out nasty enemies who have grenade launchers and such. Also, you can shoot an enemy in the shoulder/arm while they're throwing a grenade and they'll drop it. This usually results in them being blown up, as well as the cover they're hiding behind (assuming it's destructible).
Rolling is usually used to avoid taking flak, and you can roll directly into cover. Utilizing rolling and taking cover is paramount in your survival, especially on Very Hard difficulty (which they call Crushing).
Melee combat has been modified since Uncharted, and also includes most the stealth options that are seamlessly blended into the combat. You execute a combo by tapping the punch button repeatedly, and this will kill most weak enemies without complications (unless on harder difficulties). Other enemies will be capable of blocking your attacks and counterattacking, in which case you'll need to dodge with the action button and continue pounding them with the punch button. Also, if you initiate melee on a wounded target you can often kill them with one strong punch to the face or groin (assuming they're wounded enough). In addition, stealth kills (or sometimes just instant kills) can be executed by attacking an enemy in their rear, which allows Drake to hop on their back and break their neck, or a variety of other animations.
Enemies are unaware of your position unless they spot you or hear you. This allows you to use stealth. Most stealth comes in the form of melee killing, but with a crossbow or dart gun (which are very rare) you can incapacitate enemies stealthily from a range. Otherwise, simply sneak up on your enemies (by staying out of their line of sight) and melee attack them from behind. Drake performs most actions extremely quickly, thus allowing you to stealth kill many enemies in a row without being spotted. Stealth kills coupled with acrobatics skills and the excellent enemy AI allows you with infinite options for clearing the many enemy inhabited areas, which is the vast majority of the game.
Drake can carry two guns (a primary and secondary) and four grenades at any given time. Ammo cannot be stockpiled in excess, meaning you'll often have to loot enemy weapons and use guns that the enemy uses in the area you're in. Weapons can be switched between exceedingly fast by using the D-pad. Primary weapons consist of assault rifles, sniper rifles, shotguns, crossbows, RPGs and the like. Secondary weapons consist mainly of pistols, but include an over-under breach loaded shotgun pistol, a dart gun, and even a micro-uzi.
All in all, those are pretty much the gameplay mechanics. They're a lot more intense and intricate than I let on, but if you put any stock in this review then you'll likely buy or rent this game and find that out for yourself. Make sure to check out the miscellany section below, though, to hear about the enemy AI and other great features.
Miscellany - 5/5
Since I just mentioned it, I might as well start with the enemy AI. Out of the hundreds and hundreds of games I've played from a wide variety of genres, Uncharted 2: Among Thieves has the best enemy AI without a doubt. They are very very smart, and extremely realistic. They'll flank you, surround you, flush you out with grenades and other explosives, take good cover and hunt you relentlessly. As far as them being realistic, to me that means they are fairly accurate but not perfectly accurate, have fast reflexes but not ungodly fast, and cannot magically locate your position. An example is that you can fire upon the enemy from cover and they'll note your position. From this point they'll advance upon your position while their allies lay down suppressing fire, but if you sneak out of that area without being seen they won't know that you've left. They'll continue to advance on your initial position (thinking that you're still hiding there) while you can maneuver around and hit their flanks. Also, you can suppress them with heavy gunfire or tossing grenades and many other things. I can't possibly explain all the greatness of the enemy AI in Uncharted 2 without spending several pages talking about it... So just take my word for it, it's the best AI to date in any game created for any gaming system and any genre. It's about time too, since AI rarely is improved upon. This just makes it all the more exciting, as Uncharted 2's AI is leaps and bounds above anything else.
The map design in Uncharted 2 is equally as amazing as the enemy AI. You'll have firefights in extremely detailed areas that allow you to take cover in a wide variety of positions, advance on several different fronts, and utilize your acrobatic skills to gain height advantages and other advantages (such as flanking positions or to aid in your stealth efforts). You'll also get to see a wide variety of areas ranging from snowy mountains to urban cities and skyscrapers, as well as isolated third world villages and crumbling ruins. You'll be amazed time and time again by the cinematic depth of the maps you play on, while simultaneously be allowed to control the actions of Drake while mind-blowing scripted events take place (like jumping out of a window in a collapsing sky scraper and landing in the building across the street after being attacked by a helicopter). In one chapter you'll even have to leap from exploding truck to exploding truck while racing along the edge of a cliff and killing countless enemies the entire time. It's not often that I'm totally blown away by sequences like this (I usually find them to be tedious and annoying) but the intuitive controls of Uncharted 2 as well as the highly capable main character make such sequences a blast.
Speaking of the highly capable main character, I find it necessary to talk about Drake a bit. Basically, he's a fricking machine. Unlike most main characters who are called elite but are not the least bit elite, Drake is without a doubt elite. He moves quick, he changes weapons quick, he can jump really far and perform all sorts of acrobatic moves that aid in combat. When taking cover he hugs walls very closely, leaving little or no parts of his body in the open, can toss grenades quickly and accurately (as well as pretty far), and excels at stealth killing and melee combat with an admirable speed. Unlike in Rainbow Six: Vegas 2 (where your character is supposed to be elite but takes about 5 seconds to switch his weapon) you will be able to perform any action with great precision and speed. Even reloading occurs extremely fast, and it doesn't take long to switch weapons or hop into melee combat when you're run-n-gunning. In addition, Drake will pick up a lot of slack for you when it comes to jumping across pit-falls and climbing up walls while being fired upon.
This leads me to talking about pacing. The pacing in Uncharted 2 is simply astonishing. You'll spend most your time in firefights rather than jumping, climbing and puzzle solving. Also, when required to jump and climb things it won't waste a lot of your time. Even assassination animations are executed quickly (more often than not), and you'll find yourself cursing at the game very little for reasons like picking a long animation rather than a short one. Also, you will always be running and not even find a walk feature in the game, meaning when running to the next firefight you'll not often be whining about travel time (very unlike Far Cry 2) and other similar things.
Play Time/Replayability - 4/5
Much like Uncharted, Uncharted 2 has a fairly average play time for it's genre. However, you'll find that very little of this play time is spent doing busy work or travelling. You will actually be playing the game for it's entire duration, rather than holding in the run button while smoking a cigarette (you won't get many chances to smoke while playing this game). What makes this section of the rating get a four out of five though is the replayability...
With four difficulty settings (from easy to very hard) and all sorts of unlockables (that are actually worthwhile and enhance the quality/pacing of replaying the game) the replayability of Uncharted 2 is yet another amazing part. You can unlock medals that reward you with points to purchase unlockables, and unlockables come in a wide variety. You get around thirty different skins (costumes) to choose from, can unlock any weapon for availability at any time, get things like unlimited ammo, one shot kills (which is lame), and other standard unlockables. Even further, you can unlock three different filters (making the graphics black and white, or sepia tones, etc.) for aesthetic entertainment, and there are even fast motion (makes everything faster in the game, including the enemies and scripted events) and mirror world (reverses the map layout, which actually makes the game feel a lot different) unlockables. There's endless replayability value to this game... And any hardcore gamer will appreciate the Very Hard difficulty setting (appropriately called Crushing), which will make even the most skilled gamers die time and time again.
So you might find yourself wondering why this section only gets a four out of five. Sadly, I had to dock a point from this section because of some of the chapters of the game. Four of the thirty some chapters consist entirely of jumping/climbing, and last from ten to thirty minutes even when you know exactly what to do. In all honesty, I don't think it's fair to dock a whole point out of five for such a flaw (and not all players will consider this a flaw), but I needed to do this to adhere to GameFAQs rating system as a 10/10 means that a game doesn't have a single flaw (and thus is perfect). However, after completing the game you can skip the chapters you don't want to play, meaning you'll really only have to play these chapters one your first play through. Yet another great feature that enhances the replayability of the game.
Story - Nil
The story wasn't as good as Uncharted's story, but obviously there isn't a whole lot you can do with a treasure hunter plot. All in all though, the delivery of the story was extraordinary. It was delivered with cinematic expertise and even the voice acting aided in it's delivery. Very professionally done. Also, you can skip the cinematics after you've seen them once, which helps with the pacing on subsequent play throughs. Also the realistic dialogue, likable characters and good delivery of dialogue aided in the storytelling.
Graphics/Sound - Nil
Woah. Yeah, the graphics are just as amazing as Uncharted's graphics were. Also, Naughty Dog didn't feel the need to reskin and remodel all the characters (which would have been a waste of their time, thus taking time away from improving the important aspects of the game). These graphics will definitely amaze any gamer, regardless of the fact that they are not important.
Sound was also just as high of quality as Uncharted. Voice acting was high quality and realistic, dialogue was also realistic. Weapon sounds and other sound effects were also of high quality.
Final Recommendation - 9/10 Actual - 9.5
As stated before, I would have loved to give this game a 10/10, but in all honesty it wasn't perfect (as a 10/10 on GameFAQs represents a game without a single flaw) in my opinion. Regardless, this is one of the greatest games ever made from any genre. If you like great game mechanics, superb pacing, an emphasis on combat rather than busy work, a super hardcore main character, professional storytelling, and amazing graphics/sounds then you'll love Uncharted 2.
Reviewer's Rating: 4.5 - Outstanding
Originally Posted: 12/04/09
Game Release: Uncharted 2: Among Thieves (US, 10/13/09)
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