GAMING GREATS: Uncharted 2: Among Thieves (2009)

Nathan Drake returns in one of the greatest video game sequels of all time. 

Who made it?: Naughty Dog (Developer), Sony Computer Entertainment (Publisher).

Genre: Third-Person Shooter/Action-Adventure/Platform.

Platforms: PlayStation 3.

Format: Blu-ray disc.

Release date: October 16, 2009 (UK).

Hype can do one of two things for a highly anticipated upcoming title. It can spark interest in a game that no-one really cared about beforehand, or it can increase buyers’ expectations to a level that, no matter how good or great the product may be, it will never be able to reach those daunting heights. Sony’s blockbuster, Uncharted 2: Among Thieves, had been so hyped and awaited for so long that you’d have figured by default that acclaimed developers Naughty Dog couldn’t do much to meet fans’ and critics’ lofty expectations. Remember back, if you will, to when I reviewed the first Uncharted and raved about it. I was completely enamored by Drake’s Fortune at the time and couldn’t, in a million years, fathom what would or could make it any better than it already was.

Oh, how wrong I was! Among Thieves has received perfect scores, endless amounts of praise, and resounding cries of “Game of the Year”  upon release. It is one of the best action games, best adventure games, and perhaps best games of all time.

Playing through Uncharted 2 is like being the director of your very own ten-hour action movie replete with engrossing shootouts, death-defying stunts, amazing set-pieces, and beautiful visuals. Among Thieves is the virtual equivalent to a Michael Bay film but with better actors (or in this case, voice actors) and endearing characters. But not every gamer will appreciate what it dishes out. There will be plenty who will complete the single-player campaign and exclaim, “That’s it?!” There’s literally no focus on any kind of realism and, trust me, your suspension of disbelief will be tested. But that’s the beauty of it. As much as we as consumers feel that over-the-top action movies are insulting to our intelligence, the same will more than likely be said about Uncharted 2. If you’re into grounded fair that plays more realistically, there are still plenty of other games you should consider purchasing. This is Indiana Jones land and all the better for it.

Some of the more engrossing aspects of Among Thieves are the numerous elaborate “stunt” sequences that would ordinarily define any big-budget summer blockbuster. During one such sequence, returning hero Nathan Drake (again voiced by Nolan North) will find himself jumping from moving truck to moving truck as he narrowly dodges RPG rounds, as well as hurling himself out of a crumbling building’s window that, consequently, just had its supports blown to pieces by an attacking helicopter. There’s even a moving train segment that ends in one of the game’s most beautiful displays of pure visual prowess. Among Thieves‘ entire package is simply jaw-dropping from the time you pick up the controller to the time you put it down. One minute you’re climbing up huge, lumbering structures and making incredible leaps-of-faith, and the next you’re blowing and shooting shit up as you fight to stay alive against insurmountable odds. Perhaps it is more an interactive action/adventure flick than a game, but that was clearly Naughty Dog’s aim from the beginning and they best a few motion pictures of the period.

Keeping in tone with the “bigger is better” approach to sequels, the developers didn’t rest on their laurels. The mechanics were greatly improved in the two years between games. The platforming segments feel more natural and more fun, shooting is as good as it’s ever going to get, and enemy AI is greatly updated. I loved that Naughty Dog ditched one of the biggest problems from the first game – enemies that were able to soak up nearly a full clip of ammo and keep coming for more. Not only was this a nuisance in intense firefights, but having baddies that were constantly moving didn’t help, either. I’m happy to say that the so-called “breakdancing targets” have been done away with. There’s also the ability to play stealthily whenever possible. Surprisingly enough, it is fully-functional and works better than I would have ever anticipated.

Drake also learned some new moves over the years. Hand-to-hand was revamped and no longer requires combinations of the square and triangle buttons to pull-off hard-to-perform combos. Naughty Dog saw fit to relegate all melee attacks to only the square button and, Not only are combos much easier to perform, they are even more satisfying here than in the first game. Apart from this, Nate can also shoot while hanging from various objects in the environment. This gives the game a nice vertical feel and allows for more variety in gunfights.

I was also relieved to find that the puzzle-solving elements were given more depth, even if they aren’t as frequent as the first game. Each of these segments in Drake’s Fortune felt criminally easy and way too simple despite their abundance. The puzzles in Among Thieves, however, require a bit of digging through Drake’s journal to solve (and this time around, you can actually scan through the numerous pages in order to find solutions instead of being presented with the correct page no matter what). It’s obvious to this gamer that Naughty Dog didn’t place as much emphasis on these segments, but by giving you puzzles that weren’t as easy and also much more complex, they feel more rewarding.

But I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the graphics, and they truly outdid themselves here. It’s been rumored that the first Uncharted used about 30% of the PS3’s Cell processor whereas Among Thieves uses between 90%-100%. It’s also been said that the game’s files take up all available space on the Blu-ray disc. Considering the sheer amount of detail strewn across ten or so hours of gameplay, as well as the astounding differences between each respective locale Drake will visit, this all comes with nary a framerate drop, no in-game loading screens, and more surprisingly still, no installation process. Uncharted 2‘s visuals do not disappoint. Graphically, it’s right up there with PS3 favorite Killzone 2 for its generation, with much broader design and a variety in colours. One chapter has Drake traversing a moving train as his surroundings slowly transition from dense jungles to snow-capped mountains. It’s awe-inspiring to just sit back and watch this happen as the lighting shifts tone to pronounce the snowy textures. Drake then says aloud, “Jeez, I should have brought a jacket!” It’s this attention to specifics that makes Uncharted 2 such a joy to play.

No matter your stance on shooters, adventure games, or platformers, Among Thieves is a must and one of the best games I’ve ever played. The explosive action, brilliant cut-scenes, mouth-watering visuals, superb voice-acting, memorable characters, and mesmerising story is only scratching the surface as to why this game should be in every PlayStation owner’s collection. I can sit here and talk all day about how great a game Uncharted 2 is, but it means absolutely nothing until you experience what will undoubtedly become one of the most fondly-remembered games in history.

Useless Trivia

(Via Wikipedia)
  • The actors act out the scene wearing specially designed motion-capture suits. Their performance was used to provide both the motion capture and voice work. The actors would even rehearse together in a room and had discussions with the creative directors of the game before carrying out the performance to create the highly realistic and cinematic dialogue throughout the game.
  • A critical and commercial success, it was named by Metacritic as the most critically acclaimed game of 2009, and won Game of the Year awards on IGN, Eurogamer,Game Informer, Joystiq, Kotaku, Giant Bomb, AIAS, X-Play, Game Developers Choice Awards, and the Spike Video Game Awards for the year 2009.
  • Game of the Year Edition was released October 12, 2010. Among other features, this edition includes all previously released downloadable content (with the exception of the Sidekicks Skin Pack), four motion comics, and Pinball Heroes: Uncharted for the PSP. Besides being available as an individual “Greatest Hits” title, Uncharted 2 and Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune have been released together, as a “Greatest Hits DualPack”, and an “Ultimate Combo Pack” which includes a metallic blue DualShock 3 controller.




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