Uncharted 2: Among Thieves (Review)

NOTE: I was not able to play the multiplayer component of Uncharted 2, hence why it is not mentioned anywhere below.

So last summer I played and reviewed Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune when it was a whopping four years old. Not allowing history to repeat itself, I purchased the three year old Uncharted 2: Among Thieves off of the Playstation Store and played the hell out of it. I completed Uncharted 2 in less than two full days, which is a rarity for me these days. Is this a good or bad thing? Considering the fact that I beat it so quickly due to the fact that I couldn’t put the game down, this is a very good thing!

When I reviewed Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune last year I had trouble believing how any game could top it and I couldn’t fathom how Uncharted 2 was supposedly miles ahead in practically every category. After playing the game, I now see how a near perfect game can still be improved upon. While the first Uncharted was an amazing experience that was near perfection, Uncharted 2 is even closer and is perhaps as close to perfection that I can imagine a video game ever reaching.

Before I actually talk about this game, there are a few more things I want to say that truly are indicative of just how amazing the Uncharted series is. I’m a guy who hates 90% of shooters out there and I also detest most games that simply have shooting sequences. This is pretty evident by the fact that my reviews on here are pretty light on games with guns. Considering my strong disdain for shooters, shouldn’t someone such as myself not like a series such as Uncharted? You would think so, but for some reason the shooting sequences in these games don’t bother me in the slightest as I become completely immersed in Drake’s adventures. Whatever Naughty Dog did with Uncharted, which resulted in someone who hates shooters considering this to be one of the greatest video game franchises of all time, it is surely nothing short of miraculous. I hate shooters, yet this game I am about to talk about is my favourite game on the Playstation 3 and surely one of my all time favourites for years to come. Wow. Anyway, I have a game to review! Let’s get to that now, shall we?

Those pesky enemies with riot shields are back.
Those pesky enemies with riot shields are back.

Uncharted 2: Among Thieves picks up some time after the first game. Nate, Sully, and Elena have seemingly gone separate ways. However, when a quest to find the mythical city of Shambhala emerges, Drake isn’t long in recruiting sidekick Sully to help point him in the right direction. Joined by the exotic and fiery Chloe, as well as Elena shortly afterwards, Nate’s journey in search of Shambhala leads him to Borneo, the chilly Himalayan mountains of Tibet, a war ravaged city in Nepal, and several other locales. Each area you visit is perhaps more beautiful than the last as this game just looks better and better the further you progress. Despite the game being a few years old, the graphics are still very impressive for a console game. My roommates were watching me during one of my Uncharted 2 marathon sessions and commented on just how good the graphics are. Naughty Dog really outdid themselves with the visuals in this game.

What makes Uncharted 2 such a beauty to look at? For starters we have the character models which have been vastly improved since the first game. In my review of Drake’s Fortune I mentioned that the voice acting didn’t seem to sync with the characters’ lips at all times and some animations weren’t as good as they could have been. All of these problems have been completely ironed out in Uncharted 2. What impressed me the most in this game easily had to be just how good the lip syncing and facial animations are. Nate and Elena were never this realistic looking in the original game. The range of facial expressions that the characters show off in Among Thieves is nothing short of impressive. I have never seen such expressive characters in a game before and it really helps to make these characters feel alive. Sure the locations, environment lighting, and even the weather effects all look absolutely stunning, but the characters are the show stealers here by miles.

Of course the characters wouldn’t be as believable if they didn’t have a stunning soundtrack and amazing voice acting to back them up. Uncharted 2 doesn’t just look amazing, it sounds it too. Greg Edmonson’s compositions are able to bring each and every scene to life so strongly due to the music in this game being that good. We’re talking borderline movie quality here. Fortunately the music never outshines the stars of the game. Nolan North returns as Nathan Drake and his performance here is so unbelievably well done that it makes his portrayal as Nate in Drake’s Fortune look amateurish! Emily Rose also returns as Elena Fisher and does just as well in her respective role. Emily once said that, when they debuted the Uncharted 2 trailer at E3, the audience went into hysterics with their applause when Elena appeared on the screen. She really has become a beloved character and having her in the Uncharted games is just as mandatory as including Nate.

One woman isn't enough for a man like Nathan Drake.
One woman isn’t enough for a man like Nathan Drake.

A few other voice actors do amazing jobs here. Richard McGonagle once again dominates as Victor Sullivan while newcomers Claudia Black (as Chloe Frazer), Steve Valentine (as Harry Flynn), and Graham McTavish (as bad guy Zoran Lazarevic) all throw in stunning performances. Also remember Odo from Deep Space Nine? The talented actor who portrayed him, Rene Auberjonois, has a scene stealing role in Among Thieves as well. Rene’s years of experience really shine through as he portrays the elderly Karl Schäfer.

Clearly I’m in love with the artistic side of Uncharted 2, but how does it play? Very well is your answer. For starters it is worth noting that gun fights are much better here than they were in the first game. The cover system has been improved and is much more responsive now. It feels like Drake is able to take cover more easily and use more objects as cover than he could in the previous game. Melee combat also feels a little more worthwhile now which is fantastic considering how I felt it was perhaps the weakest part of the original game. That is not the case in Among Thieves as Nate is now able to sneak up on enemies and take them down using stealth kills. The whole “brutal combat” system from the first game has been removed as well, and now it merely takes a few well placed button presses to dispatch an enemy. I found that sneaking around and performing stealth takedowns was incredibly fun and, in a lot of situations, it was just as viable as charging in with your guns blazing. Of course sneaking around and picking enemies off one by one is a much slower process, but it also saves a lot of ammunition.

Regarding ammo, it’s just as plentiful as it was in the first game. This is a great aspect of the game because, unlike in Drake’s Fortune, fire fights don’t exceedingly long. In the first game it was not uncommon to fully clear a room of bad guys only to have an even larger backup force enter the room. This could happen several times in one room and it made some fights take quite a while to get through. This never happens with Uncharted 2. Backup forces seldom arrive and, when they do, it actually makes a lot of sense unlike in the first game. No longer will droves of enemies rush into the room from the entrance you just used! Still, ammo may be depleted quickly late in the game due to a few game changing encounters that pop up later on. Without spoiling anything, the late game bad guys change your strategy up similarly to the surprise enemies in the first game, but the ones in this game are capable of dishing out far more punishment. Fortunately there is also a late game weapon that can take down the end game enemies pretty easily.

There is tons of climbing and jumping around in Uncharted 2. I’m pretty sure you’ll spend more time scaling walls and making heroic jumps in Among Thieves than in the first game. While this is a breath of fresh air for me (I wanted more of these sequences in the first game), I do have one small complaint. In the original Uncharted I more or less always knew where to go because walls that could be scaled were pretty easy to spot. Uncharted 2 wasn’t like this and I found that some walls I had to scale weren’t very obvious at all. I don’t ask for games to hold my hand but, when I run around a small area for a few minutes looking for whatever it is I have to climb and eventually have to wait for the game to give me a hint, I feel like something is wrong. This only happened a few times throughout the game, but it was definitely enough to hamper the cinematic flow that the game has. Essentially my beef with this part of the game isn’t that it was difficult or anything of the sort, no. My issue is that it simply broke the immersion a little.

The fact that this is actual gameplay and not a cutscene is astounding.
The fact that this is actual gameplay and not a cutscene is astounding.

Like in the first game there are only a few major puzzles which all make use of Drake’s handy notebook that he carries. Without Drake’s notebook, the puzzles would pretty much be almost impossible for most gamers to solve. Fortunately the game will let you know when the notebook is required. I attempted a few puzzles without first looking at the notebook and let me tell you it was a big mistake! Use the notebook whenever the game suggests you do so. Not only will it prevent you from scratching your head for half an hour, but it will also make you feel so much like Indiana Jones that it’s unreal. One puzzle late in the game that involves opening a secret passage is perhaps the best example of this and anyone who has played Among Thieves should know which one I am talking about.

So overall, how is this game? It’s simply amazing. The cinematic cutscenes are beyond anything I’d expect to find in a video game and the smooth gameplay keeps you moving all the time which allows the movie-like flow to maintain itself all throughout the game. The soundtrack is just phenomenal and the characters, from their relationships with one another to their superb voice actors, are the greatest in any video game I have ever played. You end up caring so much for Nate, Sully, Elena, and Chloe that it is unreal. These do not feel like mere video game characters at all, they feel like real people who have invited you along for an exciting adventure… and what a hell of an adventure it is. Uncharted 2: Among Thieves is one of the very best video games ever created and anyone who has decided to skip the Uncharted series, for whatever reason, is making a huge mistake. Uncharted is the video game equivalent to movies such as Raiders of the Lost Ark, Star Wars, or The Shawshank Redemption. No sane person would miss seeing such defining films such as those, and no sane person should pass up on the Uncharted series. Naughty Dog has redefined what an adventure game is, and it is no surprise that the new Tomb Raider game is seemingly aiming to copy what made Uncharted so wildly successful.

This game is the absolute cream of the crop of video games. If you have not played Uncharted 2: Among Thieves (let alone Drake’s Fortune), then do so immediately. You will not regret it for even one second.

Final Score

10/10

Pros:
+ Amazing soundtrack that rivals major motion pictures.
+ Stunning production values and amazing cinematic flow to the gameplay.
+ The most believable and likeable characters to ever grace a video game.

Cons:
– It wasn’t long enough (it was, I just want MORE Uncharted!).
– That wasn’t really a con though, was it?
– Neither was that. Wait… what’s going on?

Advertisements

Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune (Review)

I’m very late to the party having just played and finished Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune while most people have completed Uncharted 2 and are anxiously awaiting Uncharted 3. Even though I’m a bit behind with Uncharted, I’m still going to review Drake’s Fortune because there may be others out there who, like me, never bothered to play the Uncharted games for whatever reason and would like to know what the games are all about. Well, to my fellow PS3 owners who are late to the Uncharted party, I can safely say that it is indeed a party very much worth attending!

In Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune, you play as an adventurer and treasure hunter named Nathan (Nate) Drake who claims to be the descendant of famous English explorer and navigator Sir Francis Drake. The story involves Nate tracking the foot steps of his famed ancestor in an attempt to find the legendary treasure of El Dorado. Joining Nate on his adventure is long time friend and fellow adventurer Victor “Sully” Sullivan who is never short of cigars and wise cracks, and the spunky television reporter Elena Fisher who is looking for the story of a lifetime. Unfortunately for Nate and his motley crew, rivals of both Nate and Sully find out about the plan to locate the treasure of El Dorado and decide to beat the heroes to it. If 1980s action flicks have taught us anything, it is that treasure seeking bad guys are always pricks and have an unrealistically vast amount of gun tootin’ henchmen working for them. Drake’s Fortune does not stray from this as primary antagonist Gabriel Roman employs a huge army of pirates to deter Nate and company from reaching the treasure of El Dorado.

Platforming sequences will often lead Nate up and over walls.

Undoubtedly the best part of Drake’s Fortune is the fact that the game feels like an interactive movie. The cutscenes are truly among the very best out there thanks in part to the incredible script and voice acting in this game. Nate is voiced by the never-out-of-work voicing superstar Nolan North and he certainly gets the job done here very well. Emily Rose also brings the character of Elena to life, making her easily one of the most believable and realistic video game girls out there. Sully is voiced by the awesome Richard McGonagle, who has one of the best voices in the industry by far. The three main characters are so well written and so believable that, during cutscenes, it’s not unusual to view them as actual people rather than as video game characters. This is especially the case with Emily Rose, who happens to look pretty much exactly like the character she voices. Hollywood, you’d better cast her as Elena in the Uncharted movie if you have any sense!

The supporting cast is also fantastic. While there are three protagonists, there are also three antagonists. Eddy Raja is an apparent ex-friend turned rival of Nate, Gabriel Roman is a treasure loving crimelord who loaned Sully a great deal of money (which was never paid back, hence the hostilities), and Atoq Navarro is a smug archaeologist hired by Gabriel Roman to assist him who really comes into his own later in the game. Each of the antagonists are well voiced, with many fans still loving the cocky and energetic Eddy Raja to this day. “Don’t mess with Eddy Raja!” Indeed, Eddy. Beyond the three antagonists, the only other voices players will really hear are of the pirates who under the command of Eddy and Gabriel. Most of Nate’s encounters in Drake’s Fortune will be with these pirates and, for the most part, they are well voiced. I could not help but notice that they sound a lot like the terrorist NPCs in Rainbow Six: Vegas 2 and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the same guy did the voice work for both Uncharted’s pirates and Vegas 2’s terrorists.

The supporting cast are not only memorable, but they're also handy as AI partners.

It is 2011 now and Drake’s Fortune is probably still one of the very best looking games on the Playstation 3. While the game does show a bit of age in some areas, it is still very pretty to look at and is certainly more pleasing to the eye than even many games released this year. This is a pretty wild accomplishment for a game that is four years old! The weakest point of Uncharted’s presentation is probably in the character models themselves. Facial animations look a little unnatural at times, and there are very obvious clipping issues with hair. Elena’s blonde hairdo in particular is prone to clipping quite a bit, and it’s painfully obvious whenever you see the back of her head in a cutscene. I’m also a little displeased at exploding objects in Drake’s Fortune. At one point in the game players must navigate a jet ski up a raging river that is, for some unknown reason, littered with exploding barrels. Ignoring how odd it is that there is a neverending stream of these barrels floating down the river, when you shoot one of these barrels to make them explode, the barrel will simply vanish and be replaced by an explosion. Even for a 2007 game, this is a really tacky looking effect which I thought we started to phase out during the last generation of consoles. Aside from these minor issues, the graphics are still very good for the most part. Jungle areas in particular are incredibly detailed and beautiful to look at. A few textures here and there look a little blurry or dated, but they are incredibly easy to miss unless you play this game with the intention of nitpicking and looking for graphical flaws.

In terms of gameplay, I can pretty much say that if you’ve ever played a Tomb Raider game then you will know exactly what to expect with Drake’s Fortune. Simply replace Lara Croft with Nathan Drake and bang, you’ve got Uncharted! For better or for worse, the gameplay in Uncharted really doesn’t do anything new that we haven’t seen before. However, for everything gameplay related that Uncharted does, it does well. The gameplay can be divided up into three categories: gun fights, platforming, and puzzle solving. Since this is a third person game, the gun fights are a little tougher to get used to than they are in first person shooters and the aiming can be horrifically difficult to get used to. Making Nate point and aim his gun can be a slow process. This isn’t Resident Evil 4 or 5 where the character can whip out their gun and point it anywhere in a fraction of a second, no. Aiming Nate’s gun is a pretty slow process as he moves his arms around at a snail’s pace, if you are the kind of player who blindly charges into battle, you’re going to die because of this. Due to the aiming being fairly slow, pretty much all of your firing will be done behind cover. Pressing the circle button will make Nate leap behind any piece of cover nearby, protecting him from the endless onslaught of ammo being flung his way by Eddy’s pirate goons. The key is to find cover, wait for the pirates to stop firing, and then pop your head out and get off a few good shots. I would advise most players to go into the options and put the aiming sensitivity slider around the middle of the bar. I found that if you have the aiming sensitivity too low then aiming is pretty much as slow as molasses which doesn’t help when you have to pop out of cover to take down a sniper before he gets a headshot on you. In contrast, putting the sensitivity all the way up makes it too hard to aim well. Lining up a headshot is extremely difficult with maximum sensitivity, as even just the slightest tap of the analog stick will cause your crosshair to whip around further than you want it to.

Four years later and this game is still gorgeous. A remarkable feat by Naughty Dog.

The only other issue I have with the fire fights is that it is not uncommon to kill all enemies in the room only for half a dozen more to spill in from another entranceway. It isn’t so bad in games where reinforcements come once every five or six fights, but in Drake’s Fortune you had better expect a constant stream of reinforcements in any room that is larger than the typical school or work cafeteria. When almost every large opening or room becomes a five to ten minute long shoot out, things can become a bit tiring. Unfortunately for Drake’s Fortune, there are a lot of these rooms. Around the middle of the game when Nate is working through a series of ruins with Elena, there are several very long fire fights that really just drag on for too long. Gamers who decide to check out Drake’s Fortune primarily for the platforming and puzzle solving aspects will probably be a bit turned off with the repetitive gun fights. Thankfully, for most of the game Nate will have either Elena or Sully alongside him providing support in shoot outs. On less stressful difficulty settings, players who aren’t too exceptional at shooting games will surely love their AI partners who don’t just stand around or behave erratically like in most games of this game. Elena and Sully take appropriate cover and are pretty decent at taking down enemies on their own. It is entirely possible for the AI partners to clear out areas for less skilled players, though this would probably take a bit of time and I wouldn’t advise doing this at all unless you are a player who REALLY despises shooting games. Unfortunately for players of this kind, towards the end of the game everything is turned upside down as enemy encounters change drastically (I won’t go into details for the sake of spoilers) and you’ll be without a partner for the last few chapters. The change of pace in terms of how encounters work is actually very well done and will force pretty much everyone who plays the game to change their strategies. Everything the game teaches you essentially becomes irrelevant as the fights become completely different and it is a lot of fun adapting to the changes.

There is also melee combat which involves running up to an enemy and mashing the square and triangle buttons to perform what the game refers to as brutal combos. These are pretty unfulfilling overall and just feel really out of place for some reason that I can’t really pinpoint. I would advise avoiding melee combat if your gun skills are more than up to snuff. I’m not even close to being a good shot, but I only ran out of ammo a few times later in the game and had to backtrack for more, so the melee combat isn’t an essential aspect of the game and it can be beaten very easily without going all Rocky Balboa on every pirate you meet.

The platforming sequences are pretty much ripped straight out of Tomb Raider. Nate will scale tons of cliffs, fortress walls, and vines throughout his travels. Most of the platforming moments just involve climbing up walls, shimmying around a little bit, and jumping to adjacent walls and such to find a way past obstacles. These sequences rarely last long and are, in my opinion, very under-utilized. Drake’s Fortune could have potentially a very incredible platformer but instead we’re only treated to Assassin’s Creed or Tomb Raider-esque climbing moments once every twenty or thirty minutes and they rarely last longer than a minute or two. This is a shame because they’re often quite fun and I enjoyed having to stop and look around for things to climb and jump to.

Melee combat is woefully unfulfilling and most players will probably opt to use firearms.

The puzzles of Drake’s Fortune are pretty straight forward and usually just involve flicking switches. The most advanced puzzle is one around the middle of the game when you have to point four statues in different directions to open a hidden passageway. Another puzzle indicates that you have to make two large church bells ring simultaneously to proceed. Well, that would be pretty hard in any other game, but in Drake’s Fortune Nate has guns. Yeah I just ruined the bell puzzle, but even a five year old would be able to figure that one out in approximately five seconds. Drake’s Fortune has very basic puzzles that will rarely, if ever, make you stop and wonder how you are supposed to even proceed. This isn’t all that bad since it keeps up with the steady pace of the rest of the game. It goes hand in hand with the quick platforming sequences, though the overly long gun fights usually bring the steady pace to a screeching halt for a few minutes.

Overall, there is no shortage of awesome things to say about Drake’s Fortune. It isn’t without problems, but the issues this game has are extremely minor and can be overcome, if not completely forgotten, by devoted players. The game only takes about eight hours to play through, but there are dozens of hidden goodies that will be missed on the first play through the game. By finding hidden treasures littered throughout the world and performing various tasks that award trophies, players will amass medals ingame which will unlock various bonus features such as playing with fun screen effects filters, using any gun in the game whenever you want, to even playing as Elena, Sully, or any of the game’s antagonists. There’s quite a bit to do in this game besides enjoy the fantastic story. The gameplay is blast, the characters are extremely likeable and memorable, and there’s tons of hidden goodies. Fans of adventure games will find lots to love in Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune.

Pros:
+ An unforgettable cast of characters who you’ll fall in love with.
+ Script and voice work are both among the best ever in a video game.
+ The game is still beautiful four years after release.

Cons:
– Aiming controls can be fairly sluggish.
– Melee combat feels out of place and depressingly bare-bones.
– Some shooting sequences can drag on for too long.

Final Score

9.5/10