Uncharted 2: Among Thieves Review 04/01/2010


Many have given it the accolade, “game of the year”, and it certainly makes a strong case for such a title.

I feel like in the two years I have been playing my PS3 that I have spent 95% of that time playing first person shooter action games. Many are of course very good, such as Killzone 2 and the mighty Modern Warfare, and all are proper balls out unrelenting action games. This is why it was a bit of a relief and a huge pleasure to get my hands on Uncharted 2, which, although inevitably action packed, offers something a bit different. I didn’t know much about Naughty Dog’s action adventure title having never played the first one, “Uncharted: Drakes fortune”, as it seemed to slip under my radar amongst all the other launch titles for the PS3. However, many have said it is not only the best title at launch, but still one of the best experiences available on the system, coupled with the fact that the sequel has won a quite a few “game of the year 2009” awards from several highly rated sources, means that my expectations are high. So how good can it be? You play, in a third person perspective, a professional thief called Nathan “Nate” Drake, who is hired, along with his mate Harry Flynn and a new comer Chloe Frazer, to steal a Mongolian oil lamp from an Istanbul museum. Although initially sceptical, he is convinced to take the job when he is told that this lamp could reveal a way to find the lost treasures of Marco Polo’s doomed fleet in its final voyage. In a nutshell: Marco Polo, who lived around 1292, spent 20 years in Mongolia with Emperor Kublai Khan, and then decided to pack up all 18 of his ships and 600 crew and leave for Persia bringing with them a rare mysterious treasure that supposedly makes it’s wielder immensely powerful. Only Polo reached his destination however, a year and a half later, with only one ship, just a fraction of his crew left and he never revealed what had happened to his fleet or what the mysterious treasure was. After stealing the lamp, Drake then goes on a vast adventure across all sorts of countries, such as Nepal, Borneo and the Himalayas hunting down this artefact, looting ancient temples and underground tombs to find all the clues that will lead him to Marco Polo’s treasure. This may not sound too hard or that great, however not only does he have to tackle what ever devious booby traps await him at every temple he finds, plus he has to be wary of characters he meets along the way who are more than willing to double cross him for this prize, but he is in a race against time to find the stone before the particularly ruthless and unpleasant Zoran Lazarevic finds it first. Zoran is not only a war criminal, that most believe to be dead, but he is more than willing to kill and blow up all and everything in his way using his own personal army of heavily armed soldiers. He only wants the treasure for his own gain and for the rumoured power it bestows upon he who claims it.


What’s good?

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The gameplay is the best thing here. Uncharted 2 has a various array of gaming formats/elements, all of which are executed very well indeed. It has a mixture of lots of fast paced action and gun fire, like Call of Duty or Killzone 2, stealth elements and skills, similar to the king of stealth games: Metal Gear Solid or Assassin’s Creed and lots of exploring, climbing and puzzle solving, very much on a par with tomb raider, God of War or Assassin’s Creed, again. None of these three really stand out above all else, for example its not a far better shooter than it is a stealth game, as you really have to embrace the whole experience and become a pretty decent player at all three to fully enjoy and appreciate:



Firstly the action – Predominantly this game has mostly action and gun fire at its heart and there are a lot of guns to fire, soldiers and beasts to kill, tanks and helicopters to destroy and a lot of varying weapons to use in order to do it. This is made really good fun by the excellent cover system when under fire, which by the simple use of the circle button makes Drake snap to literally any surface in the level, pop out and fire. He can also jump between cover and pick up/swap any weapon dropped by a vanquished foe. Although you can only carry two guns at a time and very little ammo, so don’t bother holding on to a favourite gun, there is a surprising amount of fire power here. There’s an array of machine guns, AK47’s for example, but also different hand guns with varying power, like 9mm pistols and Desert Eagle 5.0’s, shot guns, sniper rifles, grenades, grenade launchers, RPG’s and at various points you will use massive mini guns and gun turrets. You will need to use all of these at one point or another as often there are situations you can’t sneak around and you will have to blast your way through. The action set pieces are pretty spectacular as well, a truck chase through the mountains was a highlight, as you have to jump from truck to truck whilst under fire and teetering on the edge of a snowy cliff face, as is the mission on a train where you will have to get to the front carriage, killing soldiers and avoiding being blown up by attack helicopters. There is not really a level or action set piece that doesn’t stand out and all are hugely good fun and exhilarating to play, with explosions, car chases and gun fire aplenty.



The stealth and sneaking – There is a large stealth element to this game as well and often you are far better off sneaking and skulking around taking down enemies silently, rather than opening fire immediately. You are often far better off doing so if you can help it as well, especially on the harder difficulties. Generally you will enter an area unnoticed and there will be a group of soldiers patrolling around, often looking for Drake. You have to use the terrain and blind spots to take cover behind things and use the square button to take enemies by surprise and silently finish them off. You have to have your wits about you at all times and keep lots of eyes on all the patrols, their movement patterns and choose your moment to strike very carefully. This is always entertaining as you pull them or push them off ledges or cliff faces, smack their heads off a wall or boulder they may be sitting on/leaning against, simply land a decent punch in their face or on their neck and, mainly, a quick grapple and snap of the neck (you cant necessarily choose these actions, but the game applies the most appropriate at the time). The noise it makes when you do sever a spinal chord is excruciating. It is gruesome. It’s quite difficult at stages but it adds a really entertaining tactical element to the action and gives you an alternative in how you play the game. Plus if you ball’s it up, with the exception of the first mission, you can just whack out your machine gun, start blasting and hope that your gun slinging skills are adequate.



The exploring and puzzle solving – There is a lot of exploration to be done in this game. Although essentially the game is very linear, as there is always one and only one way in and out of area, it always makes you feel like you figured out the method of advancing. In order to explore you have to climb, jump and swing round the most vast levels and Drake demonstrates that he has the free climbing abilities of the most skilled glue handed spider monkey. He will climb walls, rocky mountain cliffs, snowy chasms, collapsing bridges and moving trains. There is nothing he can’t climb. Climbing is one of the most fun aspects of the game and doesn’t require any additional knowledge or extra skill. Like in Assassin’s Creed you just have to point in the right direction and use the X button accordingly and Drake does the rest. The clever part is that it never feels like it’s doing everything for you, even though it so very obviously is. Whenever you swing across a bottomless chasm, or escape a train carriage hanging over a cliff or generally climb something where one slip would lead to your certain death, you feel like you did it and it was your skill that overcame that particular peril. It is brilliant. The puzzles are also pretty good fun. Often when in a tomb or trying to find clues to the next piece of the quest you will have to solve a puzzle. This generally involves pushing the correct things on buttons, turning specific switches in certain ways and aligning symbols in the correct way to unlock doors. There won’t be anything unexpected to anyone that’s played such games before. You will often have to consult Drakes Journal for information and although some will seem quite hard, you should eventually figure them out without too much trouble.



The story is really good and Drake is an immensely likeable chap. The plot on Uncharted would put most Hollywood dross to shame. There’s lots of action, betrayal, love, excitement and unexpected moments, with a bit of the paranormal thrown in for good measure. It’s not weak or quickly put together and all details have been thought of. The characters are all brilliantly executed, necessary and none come across as annoying or pointless (unlike 90% of the cast of Transformers 2). Zoran, for example, may as well have a top hat, twiddle a moustache and tie women to rail way tracks due to his “big bad guy” persona, but his merciless nature and savage actions overcome any stereotyping and he never comes across as comical or ludicrous, just a proper bastard who is there to be hated. Drake on the other hand is one of the most likeable characters in gaming. He manages to be funny and cocky without being annoying or arrogant, acts bravely all the time but always showing he has compassion and generally manages to be a top notch good guy throughout. He often comes out with little comments and quotes whilst playing some action set pieces, such as when a giant heavily armed helicopter starts firing missiles at him on a train, he shouts “how am I supposed to take out a helicopter!” It really made me laugh as how are you supposed to take out a helicopter single handed? He shouts with fear whenever traversing a terrifying gorge or cliff, which of course you would, or says stuff like “what now!” or “give me a break” whenever a heavily armoured soldier comes into view with a giant mini gun and generally comes across as the reluctant but brave and ultimately human hero. It’s a pleasure playing as him.



The graphics push the boundaries of “unbelievable” further still. It seems every time I pick up a game these days it has the sharpest, most colourful vibrant visuals I have seen so far, but Uncharted 2 has advanced my expectations even further still. I was taken a back by the visuals in Resident Evil 5, which are amazing, but Naughty Dog has blown my mind with this epically beautiful title. It is unbelievably good, especially in HD. Everything is so detailed and so vibrant with colour and no matter how large a tomb is, how populated a small town is or how vast an icy canyon is, it doesn’t miss a beat. It never slows, or lags either, at any point and the load times are very few and short. I know bluray’s can hold a lot of information but I’m still flummoxed as to how they fit this on one little disc. All the cut scenes look cinema ready as well and even the snow moves realistically when you walk through it. It has to be one of, if not the best looking game I have ever played.


What’s bad?

The cover system does not always work perfectly and is a bit “clunky”. In order to hide behind things you have to use the analog stick in the right direction and press the circle button. Then to switch to different cover you have to hold the analog stick in the direction you wish to go (towards the cover you wish to jump to), press the circle button and he leaps to this different covering position. But if you don’t get it 100% right Drake will do some stupid things. For example, he will jump to the other side of a wall and stick their like discarded gum and be hiding in full view of the heavily armed enemy, who will inevitably blast you into biscuit crumbs, the whole time you’re trying to get him to unglue himself from a totally uncovered position. To perform a roll whilst running you simply press the circle button on its own, but if you don’t get the directional buttons quite right he will simply leap out from behind cover and roll out in to the open, and inevitably get blasted into atoms once more. It does not happen constantly but often enough, and it is very infuriating to have to concentrate on so much stuff firing at you, avoid grenades, and ending up jumping in front of a giant gun turret even though you so clearly don’t want to do that. I know its human error but the system, although easy to use, relies on you getting your directional input spot on and sometimes you can get very disorientated, which of course mucks it up. You also have to press circle to stop hiding behind cover, and move normally to avoid a grenade for example, but sometimes he will simply take cover somewhere else very close by if you try and input the controls too quickly and you get blown up. As you hammer the circle button in panic he simply cements himself to other nearby walls or general cover and gets blown up by the grenade regardless. The controls are just a bit clunky and all actions have to be done really distinguishably from each other or errors will inevitably occur and on the harder difficulties this results in swift death. I appreciate that this system would be hard, bordering impossible, to make flawless by it doesn’t stop the fact that you will get infuriated at various points with it.



It’s so hard and unclear to figure out what you’re supposed to do a lot of the time. When your not unloading bullet after bullet you will generally be in an area that requires you to find a way out of it, because a door is locked, or something has collapsed and blocked your path. You really have to have an eagle eye in these scenarios, and they are frequent, as there will always be a slightly jutting out brick, or bent girder or one little thing that Drake can climb up like a chimp and move on. This is relatively fun most of the time, a bit of a brain teaser, but about 30 – 40% of the time these things are too hard to spot, especially the sticking out bricks as they look just like a normal wall. For example, on one level you are completely trapped in a market square with no way out and you are expected to know that you have to climb the sign in the middle of the area, a slightly skew whiff wooden lamppost with knackered looking advertisements hanging on it. It doesn’t look in anyway like it could be scaled, when compared to the stuff you normally look out for, so how are you supposed to know that? Some of the things that can be climbed are so subtle and indistinguishable from things that can’t that practically everything looks like it can be climbed. If it can’t, however, Drake simply doesn’t hang on. So if you think a cliff face on the other side of a bottomless gorge can be latched on to, the only way to tell is to jump across and if Drake plummets to his death, you thought wrong. Naughty Dog are clearly aware of this problem as if you spend a long amount of time in one area, basically showing that your stumped, a “helpful hint” pops up and tells you what to do or where to try and get to. It is of course good that it lets you know, but I was annoyed that I didn’t/couldn’t figure it out for myself, plus isn’t that just rectifying a problem they created? It does seem a little pointless and it can be irritating as you are constantly wondering where the hell to go next.



There’s an enemy in this game that is far too hard and tough and they will drive you mad on your first encounter. When you get fairly far into the game you will come natives of the secret city of Shambala. I won’t go into details about who they are or why they are in the game, as it will spoil the story, but they are big, fast moving and absolutely lethal. On the harder difficulties they will kill you with one or two hits, which they do have to dish out in hand to hand combat, but they are so fast it doesn’t take them long to get you, rugby tackle you to the floor and, if you get the on screen prompts wrong, kill you with one blow. This may sound hard, but its far worse still than that. They are also armed with the best weapon in the game, a golden double crossbow that can kill in one direct hit, that also has an unlimited supply of ammo (but you wont when you pick it up) and, trust me when I say, they are very good shots. Even worse still they are incredibly tough and able to take a huge amount of damage. You will unload magazine after magazine, shot gun shell after shot gun shell, bullet after bullet and an untold amount of grenades into their faces, at point blank range, before they eventually fall. It’s ridiculous and they are so superior to poor mortal Drake that you really do wish they had some sort of flaw to give you the slightest break or chance. Of course they can be defeated, and the key is to “run and gun”, which is running in one direction and using the analog to shoot in another (but it is quite inaccurate), and basically never stop moving or take cover. You just end up running in circles every time you encounter one, which is fine in terms of a method of defeating them, but it just looks stupid. It’s really hard though and even though you wont have to kill them all the time, as sometimes you simply have to survive a certain amount of time, these guys, especially on your first play through, will test your patience and your skills.



There are not a lot of reasons to play again and again. A minor gripe would be that, despite the huge length of the single player campaign, there is not a lot to keep you coming back to it. The game is enjoyable enough so that you will have a few goes at it, but there is nothing in terms of any customising, weapon purchasing and upgrading or anything like that. There are a lot of guns to fire here but the game really try’s to discourage you from holding on to a favourite weapon, or having a weapon at all. You can hardly carry any ammo at all and often, even if you ended an action set piece with a good gun, it will remove it from you after the cut scene. In Resident Evil 5, you collect weapons throughout and all are customisable and upgradable, so when you tackle the game for a second time you have all this marvellous weaponry at your disposal, making earlier levels hugely fun, and the more times you play through the more money you can get for upgrades, such as unlimited ammo or more powerful weapons. I felt like Uncharted 2 really needs something like that and there does not appear to be any reason why it couldn’t be incorporated. There are treasures to find, 100 of them scattered throughout the game, but it is really only worth finding them all if you are a trophy collecting junky or wish to play online. The online stuff is pretty good, and you can play through levels with two friends, helping each other shoot and climb through the level, or fight against them, but it is online only and not a split screen two player. But as far as the single player campaign goes, which is the games main appeal; there is not a lot to keep you coming back again and again other than the joy of the gameplay. I appreciate I am being maybe overly harsh; however I feel it’s harsh but fair. Once the intrigue of the story had gone I only played it a couple more times to test my abilities on harder difficulties but then I tired of it.


Conclusion:

There is not really much to dislike with Uncharted 2. It does so many things so well and I loved the combination of action set pieces, stealth/sneaking and exploring and climbing. Some of the scenes in this game are utterly brilliant, particularly the train ride, truck chase, helicopter chase in Nepal and every tomb you uncover. The puzzles are all good fun, if a little obvious, and the death defying free climbing that Drake does will have you on the edge of your seat. The story is really interesting, with lots of intrigue and entertainment and all the characters work well, especially Drake who is one of the most likeable and funny hero’s in any game. Plus the graphics are outstanding. The cover system works well most of the time, but it can sometimes trip over its own feet. Your also going to have tough time trying to fathom where the hell to go or what to climb quite a lot, although on screen help generally dissolves this in the best way it can. There are also a few enemies that are overly tough to take down which will get frustrating, but none of these minor gripes spoil the experience. It is a hugely fun and well executed title and you are quite a blithering howling mad buffoon if you don’t stick this in your PS3 at some point. Game of the year? Well the competition is tough, with the likes of Modern Warfare 2 in the market, but it is easily in the top 3 and a “must buy” for PS3 owners. CA.


Summary:


Is it user-friendly/easy to get into? – 9.5

Very easy to pick and play, and despite the shooting, covering and free climbing looking complicated it really isn’t, and you will be leaping over canyons, climbing vertical cliffs and blowing up soldiers in no time.


Is the story any good? – 8.5

It is a little cheesy in places, some lines are a bit cliché, and it’s a little predictable, but generally it is all you would expect from an adventure story line. Action, humour, intrigue, intensity, twists, love and betrayal. You will enjoy it.


How does it look? – 10.0

Amazing, awesome, brilliant etc. The best I have seen on the PS3 (until the next game I’m sure).


How does it sound? – 9.0

You don’t really notice the background music to be honest, but all voice acting is excellent as are all sound effects.


Is it good to play? – 8.5

Mixes several gaming styles and they all work very well together. The cover and firing system works well, although it is a little clunky. Climbing is very thrilling and very easy to do, but it’s hard to figure where the hell to go a lot of the time, and if you don’t get it right, the majority of the time, you plummet to your death.


When will I get bored? – 8.0

The single player game will take a long time to complete as it’s massive. The re-play-ability of the single player campaign is a bit thin, as once the story is unveiled the intrigue has gone and there is no customising, upgrading or weapon purchasing, for example, to be done at all. Trophy collecting and treasure finding addicts are the only ones that will get huge amounts of game time from the single player. The online stuff saves it to an extent, as its good fun to play with online friends, but it’s not a lot different to the single player campaign.


OVERALL – 9.0

Review created by C. Armstrong.

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