(originally published at Smile Politely, 10/29)
From the treks through steamy jungles to the endless wisecracks, Uncharted 2: Among Thieves has a lot in common with its 2007 predecessor. Youâ€™re still controlling the rugged everyman Nathan Drake in an Indiana Jones-inspired adventure, and he hasnâ€™t learned many moves since his first outing. But while the sequel may sound by-the-books on paper, the actual results are astonishing. While the original was competent and easy on the eyes, Uncharted 2 is a game that should sell consoles. I cannot believe how well the final project came together.
Uncharted 2 wastes no time throwing you into the action, as Nathan awakens in a wrecked train dangling from the Himalayan cliff. After a harrowing climb back onto the snowy ground, the game flashes back to a tropical beach. Here, he and new â€œfriendsâ€ Chloe and Flynn discuss how to steal a lamp that may hold Marco Poloâ€™s secret directions to Shangri La. From this initial meeting, youâ€™ll be struck by how well-written and delivered the dialogue is. Not that the first game was a dramatic slouch, but because youâ€™re more familiar with Nathan and company, their actions have much more resonance.
After the beach rendezvous, Uncharted 2 whisks you away to Nepal, where youâ€™ll explore temples, a mountain village, a militarized city and a heavily armed train. The level variety puts the original to shame, as if Naughty Dog was trying to address a complaint nobody even had in the first place. And more impressive, every inch of the additional real estate is populated with tons of furniture, fauna and other assorted knickknacks. Though itâ€™s hard to stop to look at the rooftops when a missile-launching helicopter is pursuing you, a quick glance at the Nepali skyline will astound with its level of detail.
The presentation has received the biggest boost, but there have been subtle improvements to the combat as well. Melee combos are much more forgiving, so that you can mostly get away with mashing the punch button instead of needing split-second timing.Â Enemies also absorb fewer bullets than before and are now susceptible to stealthy attacks from behind. The sneakier options and smoother controls mean that combat zones suddenly become Nathanâ€™s playgrounds, letting you pick and choose how you want to dispose of your enemies.
Unfortunately, while Nathanâ€™s fighting skills have improved, I do wish there were more footholds when itâ€™s time to climb. To go from a sprawling arena to a single, linear path can be frustrating, especially when this path is obscured by plants and debris. The game always gives you hints if youâ€™re stuck, but I think giving the player a few more entry points would have been the way to go.
The main adventureâ€™s 20-plus chapter journey is riveting. It delivers all of the thrills that we had hoped from Indiana Jones last summer, and Nathanâ€™s band of sidekicks exudes warmth that other story-driven games lack. But if video game storytelling isnâ€™t your thing, the new multiplayer options may hold your attention for a little while. You have standard death match and capture the flag variants, but the real treat is co-op, where up to three players can team up to score some treasure. I donâ€™t think the gunplay is going to lure anyone away from holiday biggies like Halo 3: ODST and Modern Warfare 2, but thereâ€™s some to be had for casual shooter fans.
Even if you never go online, Uncharted 2 arguably offers the most PS3 fun this holiday season. The set pieces are exhilarating, the scenery is gorgeous and the characters play off of each other beautifully. Like Marco Polo in his quest for Shangri La, the industry will release an impressive fleet of games this fall, and only a handful will survive on the shelves. Make sure that Uncharted 2: Among Thieves is one of them.