Uncharted 2: Among Thieves has climbed, pun intended, into the busy Fall release season surrounded by rays of sun light, chirping song-birds, and angels with golden harps, crooning in a flurry of praise. If you listen closely, you might even hear Sony firing up the presses for the inevitable Uncharted 2: Game of the Year Edition. Naughty Dog knows how to sell the Uncharted franchise, always surprising potential players, as anyone whose seen the announcement trailer can attest. But is this level of praise truly deserved?
Is Uncharted 2: Among Thieves worthy of 10/10 reviews or a 96 on Metacritic? Did it really deliver improvements over the core-gameplay issues that prevented Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune from drawing the same level of critical praise? Read Game Rant's review of the Uncharted sequel after the jump.
Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune was a visual sonata, introducing gamers to the next generation of tomb raiding. Nathan Drake, as a character had a wit, playfulness that adds relief to tense moments, and charm to the lulls. The game was plagued with a number of minor problems: visual bugs, pop-ins and screen tearing, strange character animations, an awkward cover system, half-baked gunplay mechanics, and more than anything else, repetition — wave after wave of pirate enemies. Ultimately, the strengths of the game as a whole over-powered these minor problems. The story had drama, the voicework was immersive, climbing was intuitive, puzzles were simple-enough, and the gunfights were stimulating. In the end, Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune was an entertaining game.
Uncharted 2: Among Thieves is basically the same animal as its predecessor, with a number of great improvements as well as a number of the same minor problems. The visuals are, once again, remarkable. Moving in and out of cut scenes was flawless, a testament to how great the in-game sequences look. The vistas in Tibet are majestic, the Borneo cityscape is vibrant. It’s clear that Naughty Dog wanted to immerse players in a variety of environments this round, where the first game was limited to the tropics. The variety is great in the campaign, but becomes even more important in regards to multiplayer - where low visibility in the “Train Wreck” level or scalable buildings in “The Plaza” adds multiple approaches to engaging other players.
The story overall, is one of the better plots in the current game market — easy to follow, well-paced, and suited well with to the gameplay. The Uncharted franchise actively attempts to blur the line between movie and video-game, as the “Uncharted 2 Ad: My Girlfriend Thinks Uncharted is a Movie” can attest, which means that, in terms of story, staying true to the characters is more important than ever. As usual, there are twists and turns, but never at the expense of believability.
That said, the flashback structure felt awkward. Certainly the game starts out with a bang — which works for the story, as well as getting potential gamers on board upfront. The flashbacks are presented as more of back and forth at first, then the player is firmly rooted in the past, working their way, chronologically, toward the opening scene. The structure feels imposed onto the player, more for the shock value than it being the cleanest way of moving the player from point A to B — especially when gamers are forced to replay the opening scene when the story returns to it. It’s a great sequence, but being asked to replay it, made it seem like either: a) Naughty Dog thought we were too dumb to realize where we are chronologically (which would have been a result of the way they chose to move through the story) or b) they wanted to show off a great sequence a second time. Either way, it took a bit of appreciation away from my original impressions of the sequence.
The gameplay suffers significantly less from the repetition in the first game. There’s a greater variety in enemies, still mostly mercenary characters, with different strategies necessary to take each down. The addition of the stealth attack mechanic adds a bit here as well, because while the enemies are still mostly the same, Drake now has a few different ways of moving through a room full of enemies — he can thin their ranks with stealth moves, then pick off the rest with gunfire, etc. However, what really trumps the repetition, isn’t that there are a greater variety of enemies or new approaches to taking them out, it’s that the environments are so alive, you feel as though you are stumbling on the mercenaries while they are actively doing something — not standing around an open battleground waiting for you. Your enemies are actively engaged in battles with native populations, not just guarding key areas.
The game is great, but critical praise aside, I couldn’t help wondering if Naughty Dog couldn’t have made the game even better. The gunplay still doesn’t feel as tight as it could be, especially not to compete against Killzone 2 or Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 for player’s online time. Drake has been given a “run and gun” ability this round, which frees the player from simply ducking behind walls and shooting. The move allows the player to adjust the camera, and subsequently the reticule, while moving, allowing players to run into the camera while firing backward at enemies or sprint along rooftops firing downward without having to stop and adjust the aim. The mechanic is a step in the right direction, though the game works against it a lot of the time. The majority of environments are tight, closed-in courtyards or rooms with numerous “cover” obstacles, where running and gunning isn’t typically the strategically sound choice.
Additionally, Uncharted 2, like Uncharted, suffers from a lot of opportunities for trial and error — which are counter-intuitive in an action game. The hint system returns in Uncharted 2, but it's now either overly obvious: “destroy the column” with a camera sweep centering on a specific column, or overly generic: “climb the statue” with a master shot of a large room with zero indication of how to get to the second story of the surrounding building — the level at which the statue is, in fact, climbable. Additionally, checkpoints are so frequent, that after a death, the player will either be spawned ahead of where they actually died or be dropped right in front of a crowd of baddies with the same underpowered weapons you failed to utilize properly the first time. Failed attempt after failed attempt leads players to memorize instead of capitalize on the action.
The online multiplayer adds tremendous replay value to the game. The various modes: deathmatch, plunder, etc. and the co-op campaigns are all nicely conceived and highly enjoyable. The climbing mechanic, as well as the new “run and gun” ability adds an interesting element to an online marketplace full of first person shooters. As a result, an Uncharted 2 match is fast paced and extremely fluid. Though, the melee feature is too heavy in the present version. I shouldn’t be able to unload an entire shotgun blast into another player, but be the one who gets killed after two punches to the face.
I participated in the betas and found the matchmaking in the final version to be a bit scattered. Often, finding a match took minutes, though not always, and many of the teams were unfairly balanced — with a squad of newbies playing against a group of players with 20+ ranks. The boosters, which can be purchased at certain ranks, are a great addition to the experience, but in poorly matched games, keep newer players at a significant disadvantage. In the end, time will tell if Uncharted 2 has staying power in the multiplayer world. It’s certainly fun, but it’s difficult to imagine it becoming the next go-to online experience.
Ultimately, Uncharted 2: Among Thieves is a no brainer for anyone who enjoyed the first game, anyone who owns a PS3, anyone who enjoys video games, or anyone who wishes they could take control of an action movie. Once again, the game triumphs because of a number of terrific achievements. However, Naughty Dog shouldn’t get too inflated of an ego, there’s always room for improvement.
So, how'd you feel about Uncharted 2? Is it worthy of the universal acclaim?
Release Date: October 13, 2009 on PS3