Review: Uncharted 2: Among Thieves
If you're reading this review solely to get more ammunition for your discussion board fight, here you go: Uncharted 2: Among Thieves is a five-star game and arguably the best PS3 exclusive to date. Now run along while I tell the genuinely curious what in fact makes the game so great.
Uncharted 2 stars Nathan Drake, treasure hunter and purported descendant of English privateer Francis Drake. Two old friends ask him to help break into a Turkish museum in order to steal an artifact, which in turn will point the way toward Marco Polo's lost treasure. It wouldn't be a video game if this plan went smoothly so it doesn't. The ensuing story will be quite familiar to anyone who's seen an Indiana Jones film or played any of the Tomb Raider games - Drake and his gorgeous female companion(s) travel the globe trying to stop a madman from getting his hands on the treasure. Somewhere along the way, there's a "Oh, I meant the beautiful mountainside was a nice view, not your ass, busty generic female companion" joke. It's not the most original story but it's nonetheless compelling because of the endless string of tight spots that Drake manages to get himself into. If Uncharted 2 were a book, I would describe it as "page-turner." Even if I wasn't really that keen on Drake, but I still felt the urge to make sure he survived each cliffhanger (literal and figurative) and ultimately I finished the 11-12 hour campaign in two sittings. The dialogue, decently clever and performed well by the voice actors, makes everything more palatable.
One of the nice things about roving treasure hunts is that they take you to really exotic locations. Drake's quest will take you through cities, ruins, jungles and mountains. The character models look nice and all but they're nothing compared to the scenery. You probably won't pay it any mind while you eagerly race through the game's campaign but seriously, just take a few moments to enjoy the view. A lot of praise was lavished on the graphics of another PS3 exclusive this year, Killzone 2, but Uncharted 2 looks a whole better in my opinion. That might just be because UC2 takes you to nice-looking places like the Himalayas and Borneo while KZ2 was set on a war-torn industrial world. Point is, the game looks purty.
Because Uncharted 2 is set in the real world (give or take some weird shit toward the end of the game), you're not going to see as diverse a collection of enemies as other shooters like Gears of War 2. For the most part, you'll just be fighting mercenaries. Though there are a couple parts in the campaign where it can get repetitive, for the most part the combat stays fresh because of the well-designed levels. The enemies might not change much but you'll fight them in many strange, exciting circumstances - on the back of a train, in a collapsing building, etc. You can only carry two weapons at a time (a pistol and a long arm weapon) so you're almost always on the brink of running out of ammo. Sure, you've got plenty of cover to hide behind but there's often situations where enemies attack from two or three directions. Enemies will group up and advance on your position so you can't just pick them off at your leisure, either.
What's interesting about the campaign is that it has many stock video game moments but they're executed here better than they've ever been done anywhere else. For example, in one level you're fighting on the back of a truck. Other trucks filled with enemies drive by and you need to shoot them. This has been done numerous times before but there's one big difference here - you have to constantly switch trucks because the ones you're riding keep getting blown up by enemy fire. This is all manual jumping too, with no Quick Time Events or anything like that. There's little mini-cutscenes throughout the game, don't get me wrong, but the game keeps you in the driver's seat in a lot of situations that other games might just cover with a lazy QTE.
As a tightly-scripted third-person shooter with a cover system, UC2 is going to draw a lot of Gears of War comparisons. However, it's a lot more agile than Gears. UC2 features a lot of platforming action, with Drake climbing up cliffs and swinging across chasms and that's integrated into the combat as well. As with fellow PS3 exclusive inFamous, there's a lot of vertical combat where you're fighting enemies above and below you. You're able to hang off ledges for cover and attack enemies while dangling. In one of the most cleverly crafted gunfights, Drake is attacked by enemies on all sides while hanging from a high street sign. You're forced to slide back and forth along the sign and climb over to the other side as needed to avoid the incoming gunfire.
Another deviation from the standard third-person shooter mold in this game is the stealth system. For the most part you don't need to be stealthy but it's a good way to thin down the enemy ranks before the shooting begins. You can perform silent takedowns on enemies by pressing the Square button. The takedowns are context-sensitive so they're a lot of fun to watch. Creep up behind a guy standing on a ledge and Drake will simply shove him off. If you're climbing up that ledge, you can grab him by the shirt and yank him down. The stealth is pretty forgiving, too; if the enemy sees you before you land your takedown, you can fist-fight him and knock him out without alerting anyone.
Hand-to-hand combat is controlled by two buttons: Square for attacking, and Triangle for countering enemy blows. It's not all that complicated but its animations are as great as the takedowns. It's good that it's simple because you'll often find yourself brawling in the middle of a gunfight - again, the enemies tend to charge your position. The seamless transition between melee and ranged combat is nice in single-player and a godsend in multiplayer.
Uncharted 2's platforming is on the whole very smooth. The camera behaves itself for the most part and though there's a lot of crumbling ledges and falling rocks to encounter, they're usually visual flourishes and can't hurt you. The only challenge comes from figuring out what types of environment you can climb; whenever I plummeted to my death, it was generally because I was trying to jump and grab an unclimbable wall. Even this problem didn't crop up much because Drake has a companion for many of the platforming sequences so you can merely follow that person's path through the level. You could say that these segments of the game are sort of pointlessly unchallenging but as someone who has generally terrible reflexes when it comes to platforming, I'll offer this silver lining: UC2's climbing sequences provide a change of pace from the combat.
The game's puzzles are kind of in the same boat. It's almost like Naughty Dog knew that most people were playing the game for the shooting so they kept everything else relatively painless. There's probably like three or four large puzzles in UC2, generally centered around some elaborate mechanism in an ancient temple. For assistance, you can consult Drake's journal, which usually has a diagram or two that shed some light on the puzzle. Drake himself will say something like, "Oh, I get it, each symbol on the floor corresponds with a different switch" (or whatever) to goose you along as you flip through the journal. You can also get a hint from the game by pressing the up button. Rather than simply telling you what to do, the game provides you with little bits of information so you can figure it out yourself. All the puzzles are pretty easy, though, and generally aren't reflex-based. There's only a couple of moments where you've got to pull some switches and then quickly climb/jump to the next location. The puzzles are very impressive setpieces though and they're a necessity in any treasure hunting epic.
As you play through the single-player campaign, you'll earn money for kills and other accomplishments (like killing three guys at once with a grenade). A store accessible from the game's menu allows you to spend this money to unlock costumes, weapons, visual modes (ex: black and white), behind-the-scenes movies, art galleries, and cheats. The extras could make for an entertaining second play-through but you can use this money on the multiplayer store so most people will probably just do that.
Like Metal Gear Solid 4, UC2 is going to be viewed primarily as a single-player campaign but it boasts an impressive online component as well. There are six competitive multiplayer modes to be played on seven maps for up to ten players. The staple multiplayer shooter modes are all represented here: Team Deathmatch, Plunder (capture the flag, with a heavy piece of treasure), and Turf War (capture and hold as many territories as you can). The other three are slight variations on these modes. Elimination separates Team Deathmatch into rounds, with no respawns until the end of each round. King of the Hill tasks you with capturing and defending a single spot on the map. Points are awarded for every few seconds you defend the spot and once your team has been driven off it, a different location is designated "the hill." Finally, there's Chain Reaction, another "capture the territory" mode in which you must capture each point in a designated order. None of these are all that different from what you've seen in other games but the maps are modeled after locations from the campaign so you've once again got plenty of the vertical combat going on.
Naughty Dog also included three co-op multiplayer modes. The first two are called Gold Rush and Survival and are a bit like Gears of War's Horde mode. You and two other players must fend off waves of enemies. In Survival, the wave of enemies is finite and you simply have to kill all of them to advance but in Gold Rush they'll keep coming until you steal a piece of treasure and bring it to a chest on the other side of the map. You can revive downed teammates and you're given two retries per match if you all die. These matches capture what I like best about the campaign: those back-to-the-wall moments when ammo is running low and a squad of enemies is advancing on your position.
No doubt someone will ding Naughty Dog for not adding co-op support to the full campaign. They do offer a decent consolation prize in the form of Co-op Objective, though. Co-op Objective has three standalone missions playable with up to two other people. They're based on parts of the campaign but devoid of the storyline so you won't spoil the single-player experience by playing them. The three missions are not as well-scripted as the campaign and, even combined, are only a fraction of its length. However, I suppose there are some spots in the single-player campaign that wouldn't have really worked for two-player co-op, like the puzzles. These missions are a fun hour or so diversion and earn you some good cash for the multiplayer store. It's unfortunate that you can only play them online and not through split-screen, though.
The multiplayer store, like its single-player counterpart, allows you to unlock new skins. You can also grab weapon upgrades for co-op mode, taunts, and boosters. Boosters are like the Perks from Call of Duty 4's multiplayer. Mostly they're bonuses to your reload time or accuracy but there are a couple standouts, like "Situational Awareness" (allows you to see enemies through walls while standing still). There are also Badges of Honor, which take up Booster slots but actually give you a penalty of some kind; in exchange for wearing a Badge, you receive more money for your accomplishments. While you'll have a lot of money on hand from the campaign, you won't be able to buy all of this stuff until you reach the appropriate rank (determined by money earned through multiplayer matches).
Unlike some shooters, you don't earn new weapons through UC2's multiplayer. Weapons are sprinkled throughout the maps in classic deathmatch style. There's about twelve guns in the game in total, which probably isn't enough to make unlockable weapons feasible. I'm not sure if I'd keep playing just to earn a Booster that makes me run quieter. The wide range of modes available through the game's online component will keep you entertained for at least as long as it took you to get through the campaign, though.
Every time a PS3 or Xbox 360 exclusive turns out to be great, there's a temptation to say some melodramatic bullshit like "A great blow has been struck in the console war!" I didn't feel bad for Microsoft or Xbox 360 owners when I played Uncharted 2, though. I felt bad for Eidos. They've been trying to breath life back into Tomb Raider for years and along comes Uncharted 2, a similarly-themed game that trumps Lara Croft in every way. UC2 features many elements from other recent action games but Naughty Dog has pulled these various old ideas together to create something new and great.
Publisher:Sony Computer Entertainment
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