There was a period of time where Uncharted: Drake's Fortune was the biggest game the PS3 had to offer. A lot of the Sony die-hards really wanted the game to come out and kick ass, which was a bit unfortunate. The best game in the world would've had a hard time living up to the degree of hype it got, and Uncharted was simply good. It's a polished, well-imagined game with a couple of annoying levels, but it was a victim of its own hype.
Uncharted 2: Among Thieves is the big-budget, high-explosive sequel. A couple of years after the original Uncharted, Nathan Drake is once again chasing a big historical mystery. In this case, it's the entrance to the mythical kingdom of Shangri-La, in the Himalayas.
When Marco Polo passed through Nepal, searching for the same thing, he wrote of a "city of temples" that hid the entrance. In the modern day, that city still exists, but the region is currently rocked by civil unrest. Zorin Lazarevic, a Serbian war criminal, and his loyal army of followers are taking advantage of the confusion to chase people out of the city. He intends to track down the entrance to Shangri-La via brute force and sheer manpower.
Nate and his mentor Sully try to sneak into the city and steal a clue out from under Lazarevic's nose, but complications soon ensue. One of them is the presence of Elena Fisher, who's gone from the cable-show host of the first game to a full-fledged crusading journalist, and who's come to Nepal to try to bring Lazarevic to justice. Another is Chloe Frazier (voiced by Claudia Black of "Farscape"), another treasure hunter like Nate, but with an amoral streak.
Before long, Nate is engaged in a running battle with Lazarevic's forces throughout the city, trying to stay alive, find the entrance to Shangri-La before Lazarevic can, and keep Elena and Chloe from killing each other. The general theme of Among Thieves is pressure: pressure on the player, who's under fire from all sides, and pressure on Nathan Drake, who's constantly being asked to choose between the right thing to do and the smart thing to do.
Uncharted 2, like the original game, is designed like a playable action movie. The sequence shown during Sony's E3 press conference, where Nate and Chloe are engaged in a running gun battle through what's left of the Hotel Shangri-La, is all in-game, complete with the environment getting blasted to pieces around you.
Nate has picked up a few new tricks since Uncharted, such as the ability to slide down wires or traverse hand-over-hand, but the biggest change in Uncharted 2 is that it blends its two gameplay modes together. In Uncharted, you were either in a pitched gunfight or you were engaged in post-Prince of Persia platforming; the two almost never met.
In Uncharted 2, enemies can show up at any time, and you now have the ability to deal with them. Nate can fight back while moving from point to point, moving rapidly from ledge to ledge while still shooting. You can also use new melee attacks to instantly drop opponents, including dropping on them from above.
Uncharted 2 also includes both co-op and multiplayer modes. The latter pits all of the heroes of the game — Nate, Chloe, Elena and Sully — against all of the villains. In co-op mode, you fight through specially designed scenarios while playing as the game's heroes.
Even if Uncharted 2: Among Thieves had absolutely nothing else going for it, the hotel shoot-out might justify the price of admission by itself. It's one of the best-designed action sequences I saw at this year's show, and if there's even one more stage like it in the final version, Uncharted 2 will be worth checking out. Right now, we're in wait-and-see mode, but I'll be looking forward to getting my hands on the full version.
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