Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune is, without a doubt, one of the best PlayStation 3 exclusive titles. Great production value with equally great gameplay from a company originally known for their platformer games like Crash Bandicoot and Jak and Daxter. The game followed much of the same equation used in Tomb Raider, but with a more human character that wasn’t all T&A. Uncharted 2: Among Thieves, is the sequel to this critically acclaimed game, developed by Naughty Dog and published by Sony Computer Entertainment exclusively for the PlayStation 3.
From the start the most apparent thing about the game is it’s astounding visuals. Each character in the game is beautifully rendered. While not bridging the uncanny valley, Uncharted 2 does a great job of creating highly detailed and brilliantly animated characters. Much like the first game, the environmental effects that effect the characters are very realistically portrayed. This is overly apparent so when entering the snow covered areas in the game, during which snow sticks to the character’s clothing in just the right places in suitable amounts for a realistic amount of time. The only really annoying detail of the characters are the eyes, which seem overly glossy and too bright.
The environments in Uncharted 2 are just as detailed, often more so due to the minor fine details here and there. The levels seem more varied in this game as opposed to its predecessor. There are a share of jungle levels, but the more urban environments are a real shining point in the game, often taking your character’s ability to scale to an amazingly inventive point not really seen in the last game. The collection of random environmental elements that work to your benefit in combat take the sometimes frustratingly difficult fire-fights, into a purely strategic exercise.
The gameplay is much like it was in the last game, with a few minor details refined or added, without anything ever being lost in the process of refining the gameplay. Grenades are mapped to a single button press, allowing you to more quickly prep and toss them rather than requiring you to change to them in your weapons slot. Melee combat is much more entertaining, dealing with an attack/counter attack system when it’s used in the single player. Aiming is much more precise this time around, allowing you to focus even further for more clean shots. Most importantly, any of the motion control functions from the first game are completely gone.
What is a very welcome feature to the new game is the addition of stealth kills. Prior to a big gun fight you often have the chance to silently slim down the enemy forces by sneaking up on the enemies, and disabling them, sometimes rewarding you with a special weapon. This addition to the game allows for more controlled chaos and is often more fun than the actual firefights, as you use both the vertical and horizontal planes to take down enemies. There is no transition from one of these points to another, and the choice to utilize this entirely up to you. The stealth works much better than other games that force an often poorly designed stealth section on a player.
The environments lend themselves well to the refined gameplay, but game still suffers from the same fault as the original game. The game is absolutely unrelenting in the gunfights. In the beginning they are a breeze, but much later turn into an uphill battle, sometimes literally. The addition of the heavily armored enemies adds another layer of mounting pressure from the enemies in the game that leaves you feeling heavily outnumbered. Part of this comes down to the hit enemy A.I. who understands a flanking maneuver better than most online players do. That’s not to say it’s not entertaining, just often more difficult on the normal difficulty than most shooters on the hardest.
The writing is just as great now as it was in the last game. Although the story itself suffers from some of the traditional cliches of action and archeology movie plot points, the witty sarcastic dialogue more than makes up for this. The delivery by the great voice acting cast drives it home. Nolan North, voice of Nathan Drake, does an unsurprisingly great job with all of the returning and new cast fitting their roles perfectly. The only place the game falls in this respect is the overall focus of the story and the strange twist in the relationship between Drake and Elena.
The game’s production values, graphics and voice acting aside, are astounding. The soundtrack, composed by Firefly and returning Uncharted composer Greg Edmonson, is well crafted but unfortunately very subtle, largely drowned out amidst all of the gunfire and explosions. The game direction is superb, the camera itself acting as a personality lending itself to an high action movie standard very rarely seen these days on the silver screen.
One of the biggest additions to Uncharted 2 is the online play, adding both cooperative levels and competitive multiplayer segments to the game. The coop is unlike most coop modes, in that you don’t play through the game with a second person experiencing the same story, but rather levels from the story with new objectives not tied to the game’s story. The coop isn’t as strong as the single player, but offers a nice alternative to playing through the same levels with characters that have more intelligence than a sack of flower.
The competitive multiplayer is much stronger and more layered than the coop is. The game plays much in the same way as it does in single player, with the only exception being that you’re fighting along side and against other players. The levels are well designed and utilize the vertical plane much better in combat than it does in single player. The level system and upgrades are well tuned and don’t really feel like something that will make or break your ability to beat your enemies. The multiplayer is exceptionally balanced, and surprisingly fun. The feature doesn’t feel tacked on, but well thought out and almost plays like the single player was built on the multiplayer. In all the online functionality adds a lot of replayability and a nice change if you want to take a break from the single player.
Uncharted 2: Among Thieves is a solid sequel, doing precisely what video game sequels should do. The high quality direction, music, graphics, and voice acting establish a quality that sets the tone for the entire game. The writing, while not strong by its story, has strong witty dialogue. The single player adds a well tuned stealth feature to help ease the ofttimes difficult firefights and controls that work much better than the first game. The addition of the online multiplayer a welcome addition that almost outshines the single-player mode. If you own a PlayStation 3 you’ll be doing it a disservice if you do not play this game.