Quick Take: Naughty Dog has once again achieved excellence.
There are plenty of great games out there for console owners, but titles that can be slapped with the label “masterpiece” are few and far between. Uncharted 2: Among Thieves, one of the most anticipated games of the 2009 holiday season, is one of them.
Uncharted 2 picks up a year or two after the events of Drake’s Fortune. The charismatic Nathan Drake returns from what seems like an extended period of “laying low” and runs into fellow thieves from his past. A simple job turns into a whirlwind adventure that whisks Drakes across the globe. Anything more would spoil a stellar story that must be experienced firsthand.
The fantastic story in Uncharted 2 is bolstered with strong, likeable characters. Nathan Drake, who comes across as a carbon copy of actor Nathan Fillion, is one of the most enjoyable game personalities I have come across. Sure I love the bad asses like Marcus Fenix as much as the next guy, but there is something very appealing when playing as an everyday guy. Interaction between characters real and lifelike, as well as reactions to the crazy situations they are being thrust into.
Having not had the pleasure of playing the first Uncharted, it is easy to pick up the controller and begin the expedition without having to rely on knowledge culled from its predecessor. Once in, game play is revealed to be a hybrid of the best sort. It functions as a third person shooter, a cover and stealth game, and an adventure platformer. Although you will be required to perform the same basic actions from chapter to chapter, your experience is never dull. From sneaking up on your enemies, to scaling cliffs, to urban combat and solving puzzles, Uncharted 2 immerses you in the game.
Drake’s Fortune sent Nathan trekking through the jungles on a single tropical island. As the story plays out in Uncharted 2, Nathan traverses through a half dozen different geographical locales which only benefits the game’s pacing. There is always movement forward towards an ultimate goal, not just zig zagging across the same landscape. Nathan and his friends have to get to the mountain pass, find and explore a temple, make it to that village, etc. Everything flows, and contributes to the bigger story arc.
“Active Cinematic Experience” is the catch phrase Naughty Dog calls their approach to Uncharted 2. Once you start, you never really leave the game. All the cinematic cut scenes are using the in game rendering engine, meaning players will go from game play to cinematic and back in the blink of an eye. Whole levels will change around you or be destroyed while playing. It is truly a sight to behold.
“Best visuals ever” is a phrase fans and critics seem to throw around every five minutes this console generation. Uncharted 2 is an absolute feast for your eyes. Is it perfection, no, but it is pretty darn close and as of right now sets a new bar for console graphics.
First impressions upon firing up Uncharted 2 for the first time are missing any graphical leap above the likes of Resident Evil 5. The jungles of Borneo reverse that leaving ones’ jaw slack for the rest of the adventure. The massive environments are likely the most detailed and gorgeous ever put into a console game. Textures and lighting are nothing but insane and each chapter outclasses the previous. The visuals alone warrant picking up this game as a Playstation 3 showcase.
Hiding within the pretty veneer are some odd environmental omissions. I say omissions because I do no believe these were isolated glitches in the visuals. It may seem trivial to some, but when a game looks this spectacular, gamers want to see how good the details look; bullet holes, water, smoke, fire, glass, etc. On more than one occasion empting full clips into a perfectly rendered vehicle did not so much as crack the windshield. Opening fire at a tropical bird standing two feet away from an AK-47 made it squawk and nothing more. Some bodies or objects do not splash when thrown into the water. These may be picky gripes but they do stand out when traversing levels.
The visuals are complemented by an amazing score, voice cast as well as sound effects. Watching some of the bonus videos, developer Naughty Dog performed an immense amount of field recording, to maintain that sense of realism, and it shows. The subtle ambient sounds sprinkled into the background help draw you into this world.
Uncharted 2: Among Thieves is a must buy for the single player alone, much less the new addition of multiplayer mdoes. It is not very often that a game comes along where you cannot put down the controller until the credits roll. A title that shows polish in every aspect of its design is a rare gem. Sure I can be picky with a few missing visual details or repetitive enemies, but none detract from how good, and how fun this game is. Uncharted 2: Among Thieves is probably the best game I have played in 2009, and Hollywood could take a lesson from what the team at Naughty Dog have created.
– Jason Krahn
Shop for Uncharted 2: Among Thieves at Amazon.com.