Uncharted: Among Thieves
The wait is almost over, the sequel to Naughty Dog’s flagship title Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune is only a few days away. Forget Lara Croft’s temples, Nathan Drake is the new ruler and master of this genre. Visiting mysterious ruins, collecting treasures, neat climbing parcours, an excellent hiding mechanism, some stealth-elements, a co-op mode, a fully fledged multiplayer,… Uncharted 2: Among Thies has so much more to offer!
At the end of 2007 Naughty Dog joined the scene with a new franchise that quickly found a fanbase amongst both journalists and gamers. Eventhough Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune played like a dream and was an audiovisual treat, the game had a few shortcomings. For one, the game was relatively short and didn’t have much to offer after you would have completed the singleplayer. On top of this a lot of elements felt like they were borrowed from other games, without actually adding anything to Uncharted. The developers took all the criticism to heart though and have added a boatload of singleplayer content. To top this off they even threw in a co-op and a multiplayer mode.
In Uncharted 2 you’ll once again follow Marco Polo’s footsteps in order to recover a stone of invaluable worth. An adventure that leads him to the densest of jungles, the picturesque Nepal, gold-decorated temples and the pearl white mountains of the Himalaya. To accompany you in all these travels you will meet Chloe Frazer, a very sexy yet tough lady. Throughout the story ex-model Elana Fisher and Seniar Sullivan will provide further aid. To avoid spoiling the storyline however I will not go into any more detail. Let it be known that the story is a 12 hours long adrenaline-rush. Anger, frustration, wonder, betrayal, friendship, humor, tension: everything you’ve come to expect from a blockbuster title is in this game!
The conversations between the characters have a very natural feel to them and don’t come across as forced or played in any way. Especially the bond between Nathan Drake and the two ladies is amazingly well represented. You feel genuine empathy for them and you appreciate the ‘difficult’ situation they are in. There is a constant stream of brilliant and most of all funny one-liners. More often than not I caught myself smiling whilst playing the game, and wished I could share this experience with others. Most jokes are tied to a certain place, so it is very possible that during a run through of the game you will not have heard them all. For example: at a certain moment you give Chloe a little push so she can reach the ladder. In the background you can admire the beautiful mountain view, but obviously also Chloe’s behind. Drake goes on to say “what a nice view here”, after which Chloe looks at you smilingly and asks if you’re talking about her bottom or about the scenery. There are countless situations like these throughout the game, all equally funny and light hearted.
Something that becomes obvious quickly is the ammount of variation this game has to offer. The first Uncharted was situated mainly on a green island where you were ambushed by a different group of bandits every few minutes. These generally came from one direction and usually you’d hide and shoot until everyone was killed, to then look for another hiding spot and eventually repeat the same process. Uncharted 2 takes the vertical element much more into account, resulting in there being a multitude of places where enemies can appear. The AI of the opposition can still be a bit of a letdown, especially during stealthy passages, but they did become less predictable, and more mobile.
Also in terms of gameplay alternation seems to be key. Every few chapters you’ll find yourself located on a different continent, you may be trying to shoot down a helicopter with a turret or maybe you’ll get to use your brain to solve a huge puzzle. The game is much more than the intense shoot-outs, because side by side with the exciting action are the more calm platform and puzzle parts. A large part of the game will be spent navigating the terrain to get from A to B. You’ll be lurching from liana to liana, executing a few impossible jumps along the way to end up having to climb the most insane towers.
After playing InFamous and Assassin’s Creed it was a bit difficult to digest Drake’s climbing. In both aforementioned games you can climb pretty much any lamppost, box or wall. This is not the case in Uncharted 2 where the climbing mechanism is essentially very linear. There is only one way to complete the game and that’s the route Naighty Dog has mapped out for you. Don’t look at this as a minus though, this linearity will only really be apparent once you try to follow unnatural and impossible paths.
The gameplay itself hasn’t really changed much though, but a few differences did make it in. When shooting blind you’ll now see a crosshair so that you get an idea of where you’re shooting. The close-combat has been reworked a bit as well. It all looks more dynamic and movie-like. The best addition probably is the use of stealth-kills. It is up to you wether you choose to go in guns blazing to then quickly look for a hideout, or to take the sneaky road and slowly take out all the enemies one at a time. This way you usually can kill a few enemies before all hell breaks loose. The execution of a stealth-kill is rewarded with extra grenades or a good weapon.
Let’s talk graphics. This game really is inredibly pretty! The screenshots look good, the videos look good, but the game itself is spectacularly beautiful. Every house, every temple, every stone have all been built from great textures. Everything has a great finish, is amply detailed. The environments are very colorful. Nepal is a beautiful location to be roaming through. Ramshackly buildings, colored flags, broken flower pots and torn waterlines add to the whole cozy and agreeable atmosphere.
Once you get to chapter 16 all the stops are pulled out. A small atmospheric town in the Himalaya just oozes so much peace and quiet, so much atmosphere, that for a moment you forget you’re playing an action game. Doddering Drake continues on, with his only means of communication sign language. A few greetings to the local Tibetans and you’re sold. For your information, the game does not require an installation on your Playstation 3′s harddisk, and all the 26 chapters are playable without a single loadscreen. Hence: much kudos to the developers!
The animations, but especially the excellent voice-acting in Uncharted 2 are the cherry on the proverbial pie. The use of motion capture technology makes every facial expression as true to life as possible. A small point of criticism is Drake sometimes reaches out to grab things you did not want and vice versa. The game is very cinematic and can easily be compared to an excellent Hollywood movie. If Steven Spielberg is lord and master in his trade, then the men of Naughty dog take the cake in their business.
Besides this great singleplayer Uncharted: Among Thieves also offers an online component. This feature is more than a simple knockoff of the singleplayer, it composes of some very good and in-depth features. For starters the online aspect can be split up into two parts, namely the competitive and the cooperative sides. In the competitive mode you’ll get standerd options like you’re used to find in games like CoD, Killzone and HALO. There is a point- and levelsystem where every action, every kill and every assist earn you Dollars.
With this hard earned cash you can buy upgrades like perks, weapons, skins, themes and a wide range of other things. You can go into action on seven different maps, all based on the levels you encounter in the singleplayer part of the game. There are no less than ten gamemodes to choose from. As such you have some variants of Deathmatch and Team Deathmatch,about three different Capture The Flag adaptations… and then some.
In the cooperative mode you can choose from two general variants spread out over three expansive maps. In the first you’ll be looking for treasures as a member in a party of three. In the second you’ll be completing assignments. To finish it off there is also an Arena mode, where you and your team have to fight off hordes of enemies. Think of it as an Uncharted variant to Gears of War’s Horde mode.
Another neat feature is how you can record everything that’s happening online. It’s not only possible to tape everything from your perspective, but you can also look through the eyes of others, or select one of the fixed camera locations in the map. There is more though: you can even use a green-screen option to paste a self-selected background behind Drake or others.
Uncharted 2: Among Thieves has most certainly succeeded in meeting the great expectations I had for the game. It is a game where the whole exceeds the sum of all the individual parts. It perfectly knows how to combine humor, action, betrayal, amazement and various different gameplay elements all together into a mix with fireworks as a result. Beyond this Uncharted also contains a good multiplayer component which will add to the replay value. The game isn’t perfect, but the small issues are obliterated by all the things that are good and do fit well together. I for one have my Game of The Year this year, and if you look at the top games 2009 has had to offer so far, that is a huge compliment.