Uncharted 2: Among Thieves is a masterpiece of cinematic gaming.
If that sentence can't convince you to buy the game, here's another: Uncharted 2 is a wonderful action/adventure title that seamlessly combines platforming, combat and puzzle-solving into one of the best-looking PlayStation 3 games to date. Did I mention it has some pretty sweet multiplayer? If you're looking for a good game and have $60 to spare, you need to get Uncharted 2 right now. (Why are you still here? Go!)
Uncharted 2 picks up sometime after the original Uncharted, opening in grand fashion with Nathan Drake climbing out of a train that's hanging off a cliff. Once you get past the quick tutorial, the game goes back to explain how our hero ended up in such a precarious situation.
The story plays out in a series of chapters, each one usually a single set piece that ends with Drake either escaping from a ridiculous scenario or getting himself trapped in another one. There are lots of memorable sequences in the game; from speeding trains to leaping between cars in a convoy that's racing along an icy cliff, you'll constantly be on the edge of your seat during the 10-hour adventure.
In Uncharted 2, there are three distinct types of gameplay you'll encounter during your adventure: platforming, combat and puzzle-solving. While the platforming can feel a little bit canned at times due to the extremely linear nature of the game, it doesn't change the fact that it's fun and beautiful to watch. All of your platforming is controlled with the left analog stick and the X and Circle buttons. It's simple and intuitive, and within minutes, you'll be performing death-defying feats worthy of a circus. As Drake, you'll climb up walls, leap to a set of poles you can swing across, jump to a lamppost and finish up by leaping to a ladder — all while several hundred feet off the ground. This may sound a bit dangerous, and it is. Expect your character will die … a lot. Thankfully, there are very frequent checkpoints as you traverse the massive levels, and you'll never find yourself repeating more than a few minutes of content. At one point, the game actually froze on me, and when I rebooted, I was in the exact room as I was before the glitch. The deaths never get frustrating, and you learn from your mistakes over time.
You'll find that platforming is often heavily commingled with combat, which is the second major gameplay component. If you're hanging from a ledge and an enemy is standing right above you, feel free to pull him off the ledge to get rid of him. If you're hanging from a pole above a throng of enemies, hang by one arm and drop a grenade into the crowd below (make sure to get yourself behind cover as soon as possible).
Even if the situation isn't as ridiculous and over-the-top, you'll often find yourself leaping over huge gaps to get to a cover location. The combat plays out like your standard third-person shooter with a cover system. While the cover system doesn't always work the way you want it to (and will result in a lot of cheap-feeling deaths), it's usually very intuitive, and in no time, you'll be ducking and weaving behind cover to prepare for the perfect kill. As far as combat is concerned, there isn't a very large variety of enemies. You're often fighting the same baddies; the enemy difficulty increases as you progress by throwing more — and tougher — enemies at you (i.e., mercenaries with full body armor). The combat is intense and rewarding, and it's a tremendous relief every time you finish with a group of enemies and get the "all clear" signal. You must remember to take cover, use grenades and wisely equip your two available weapon slots.
The combat smartly keeps the HUD to a minimum. It's completely missing from non-combat scenarios, and it only takes up a small corner of the screen when you're in combat so you can keep an eye on ammo and grenade supplies. Uncharted 2 lets you know how close you are to kicking the bucket by slowly fading out the color on-screen as you take more damage. By the time you reach death's door, you'll hear Drake's rapidly beating heart and playing a black-and-white version of Uncharted 2.
The combat also includes a stealth element. If you drop into a group of enemies and none of them notice your presence, you're welcome to try taking them out without being noticed. The benefit is that you don't have to engage in a massive firefight right away, and every stealthy kill seems to drop a grenade, which is a very precious resource. Unfortunately, the stealth combat is also the weakest aspect of the gameplay. It never manages to feel as intense as regular combat, and it's very poorly explained. It also didn't help that the stealth section is fairly lengthy.
Puzzle-solving sections, the final type of gameplay in Uncharted 2, don't come up very often, and it's this section of gameplay that has seen the most significant revisions since the original title. While Drake's journal is still a major factor in solving puzzles, gone are the simple puzzles and the one-page hints. In their place are fewer puzzles, but each one is longer and more challenging, though never too complicated.
Tying together all of these elements is an incredibly sharp presentation with some of the best graphics and animation on the PlayStation 3. I really can't talk enough about the graphics and animation. The animations flow seamlessly between one another to make all the movements seem completely natural. The facial animation is quite possibly the best I've seen in gaming to date, and the pre-rendered cut scenes really feel like I'm watching a movie, with the slightly sharper visuals and some fantastic animation work. As I was playing the game, people would stop, sit down and start watching me play because of how good the game looked. It is that good.
The audio also stands out as absolutely superb. All the main voice actors deliver spectacular performances, in no small part because they recorded their lines as they did the motion capture for the cut scenes. Everyone sounds completely natural and believable at all times; this is Hollywood-caliber voice acting. The guns all sound spectacular, the ambient noise is perfect, and the soundtrack delivers a Hollywood quality experience, even if it seems like a bit too over-the-top at times.
There's plenty of replay value in the single-player campaign. For most gamers, it will take 10 hours to beat it on their first run-through, but after that, there are five different difficulty levels to play through as well as a full set of Trophies to get, treasures to find, and bonus features to unlock.
Once you're done with the single-player portion of the game, there's a massive multiplayer component with both cooperative and competitive gameplay. Co-op pits you and your ally against almost impossible odds and requires incredible teamwork to succeed. Making matters even worse is that unlike the single-player game, where you return to a checkpoint when you die, you have a limited number of continues in co-op mode. If you run out, it's back to the drawing board, so communication is vital here. The other co-op mode is survival, which is exactly what it sounds like. It's also fast-paced and fun to boot.
Heading into the competitive arena, there are a bunch of levels adapted from the game's single-player, and plenty of modes, although most people seem to be playing Deathmatch and Plunder (a Capture the Flag variant). Getting into a match is pretty easy, with an operational party system in place and a way to let everyone vote on the game type and map. Unfortunately, more than five minutes often elapse from the moment you press "Find Match" to when you're actually playing. This is borderline unacceptable.
As you play in multiplayer mode, you'll find yourself leveling up based on money rewards for your gameplay performance. It's very similar to the challenges and experience system present in the Call of Duty series, with one significant difference. In Call of Duty, you're rewarded with new perks and weapons as you level up, but in Uncharted, you have to unlock access first and then use your money to purchase the perks, multiplayer skins, etc.
Uncharted 2: Among Thieves is one of the best games this year on the PlayStation 3. It has incredible cinematics and provides a thrill ride in a single-player campaign that doesn't feel too short or too long. The deep and incredibly fun multiplayer features everything that makes the single-player segment so great: amazing visuals, near-perfect audio and a sharp presentation that makes this among the best of the best. It's better than the original Uncharted in every way, and it's easily one of my contenders for Game of the Year 2009.
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