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Friday, October 21, 2011

Uncharted 2: Among Thieves - Game of the Year Edition Review

Written 1/29/2011
Note: Screenshot and video courtesy of Google Images and Youtube respectively.
I thoroughly enjoyed the original Uncharted, and that’s no secret from my review of the game. It was smart and funny with excellent gameplay, visuals, and sound to boot. Two years after the original’s success, Naughty Dog gives us Uncharted 2: Among Thieves; IGN’s overall Game of the Year for 2009. Is this sequel worthy of such an honor? In a word, definitely! Why didn’t I pick this up sooner again?
Visuals and Presentation

Visually, Uncharted 2 is an absolutely beautiful game and tops the original in basically every way. Models are textures and much more detailed, environments look and feel much more intricate, and the effects are simply stellar. The water and snow in the game are particularly nice from both a visual and technical standpoint. When anything comes in contact with water or snow, only the parts that actually touched the water or snow are affected. With water, it can become anywhere from slightly damp to completely soaked. With snow, the effect can best be seen on characters, as it will pile up on your boots and legs, as well as any other body part it touches, and thaw out realistically. Footprints also remain in the snow (as far as I can tell) indefinitely.

As excellent as all of the eye-candy on-screen is though, the animations outshine everything else by and far. They are so smooth and believable that each character’s personality can clearly be seen without them ever saying a word. Drake’s animations are full of stumbles, ducks from cover while covering his head, startled jumps, and flailing through the air while reaching for something to grab onto. Chloe’s animations on the other hand, are much more refined with better balance and less unnecessary movement. I particularly like her hair animations though, as they are among the most realistic I can immediately recall from any game I’ve played. Stair animations are also present and look fantastic. I know stair animations aren’t very important to many people, but when a developer takes the time and effort to include them in their game, it makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. What, is that just me?

Typically, most of the eye-candy from a single-player campaign needs to be stripped out for the sake of gameplay in multiplayer. Not so in Uncharted 2! Everything you see in the campaign is present in multiplayer, with the only difference being that the water and snow effects on characters are slightly reduced. I have no idea how Naughty Dog managed to do this, but I’ll bet they learned some of the same black magic Valve used when they put such massive groups of zombies on-screen without any lag at all. In all, if you want to see the real power of the PS3 with a truly beautiful game, look no further than Uncharted 2!
Visuals and Presentation Rating:5 Star

The sound in Uncharted 2 is an exact copy of the original’s with the only differences being a few new voice actors and music tracks. Naughty Dog brought everything that was excellent in the original game and added some slightly better writing for the voice-actors, which is really quite good considering how awesome the original Uncharted’s writing was. The music has also been tweaked to better suit the new environments, and it all sounds great. I don’t really have much to say about the sound in Uncharted 2 because it’s all so similar to the first game, which was great. If you’d like more info on the sound of Uncharted 2, I would highly suggest reading my review of the original Uncharted.

Sound Rating:5 Star

The gameplay of Uncharted 2 sort of assumes that you’ve played through the original game until you at least encounter the enemies with laser-sighted weapons, as they will be thrown at you relatively early in the sequel. After that, new enemy types will appear that are much more difficult than in the first Uncharted, like soldiers with riot shields, others with such heavy armor that they almost require headshots, minigun users that look a lot like the Heavy class from Team Fortress 2, and a few other unique enemies that I won’t spoil for you. Allow me to say though, that when you meet these unique additions, you WILL die multiple times. Those guys are brutally hard!

Other than that, the game plays exactly like its predecessor, a third-person shooter/platformer/cover-shooter. I’ve never played Gears of War (I know, where have I been right?), but I’ve seen enough videos of it to say it’s an appropriate comparison as far as the shooter and cover mechanics go. To put it simply, if you don’t find yourself at least some nominal cover, your life in Uncharted 2 will be pretty short indeed. Don’t think you’re entirely safe when in cover though, as the AI will quickly surround and overwhelm you if you’re not careful. The best thing you can do is find cover that gives the AI the least amount of possible routes to flank you, then keep an eye on your weakest angle while thinning out the opposition.

Melee combat has been slightly improved to make it more entertaining, but at its core is still a bit shallow. When meleeing, enemies will now try and counter you. When this happens, time will slow slightly and give you ample opportunity to escape the counter by pressing triangle. While it’s definitely not the most in-depth thing in the world, it can actually be pretty fun; so I suppose I can forgive its lack of depth.

When you’re not running and gunning, you’ll be solving basic to moderately difficult platforming puzzles. You can climb, jump, scale certain walls, and generally anything you would expect from the first game. Occasionally these sections will be a little frustrating because the camera will set itself at such an angle where the controls become a bit confused and unintuitive. It doesn’t happen very often, but it can be a little jarring when it does. Another thing I noticed is that it’s oftentimes difficult to tell where you can and can’t climb. You may see a spot you think you can jump to, but Drake simply refuses to go in that direction. To make life a little easier on you, when this happens, keep moving about until Drake reaches out his hand in the direction you want to go. If he never reaches out, you can’t go that way, simple as that! Trust me, looking out for that will save you a lot of confusion. Other than these core mechanics, you’ll also encounter situations where shooting yourself out isn’t exactly an option. I’m not going to spoil them for you, but let me say that they are all fantastic and a lot of fun.

Multiplayer mechanics are identical to the campaign, but the necessity of cover is downplayed in favor of more traditional running and gunning. Cover is still important mind you, but not as used as in the campaign. The gametypes are mostly your standard fare of Team Deathmatch, Capture the Flag, Territories, King of the Hill, etc. While unoriginal, the solid core gameplay mechanics still make them quite fun. The co-op gametypes are a little more original, with Co-op Objective setting you and two others in the middle of a point in the campaign to find a treasure at the end of the sequence. Co-op Arena is basically the same thing as Left 4 Dead 2’s Survival mode or Gears of War 2’s Horde mode, with you and two others tasked with surviving as long as possible while the enemies become increasingly more difficult. These modes are highly dependent on teamwork, and I would strongly discourage you from going out on your own to be the hero unless you’ve got the bite to match your bark. Finally, there’s an experimental gametype that’s...well...experimental! Overall, Uncharted 2 is a very solid gameplay package with some slight annoyances in the campaign, but some fun multiplayer to make up for it!

Gameplay Rating:4.5 Star
WARNING: Spoiler Alert!
Where the original Uncharted focused on Drake’s heritage and almost solely on his character development, Uncharted 2 focuses more on the overall story and almost everyone’s character development; including their individual relationships. The game begins with Drake enjoying the good life on the beach, when he is approached by Flynn and Chloe. They ask for his help in discovering Marco Polo’s missing expedition and the hidden city of Shambhala, A.K.A Shangri La. After some hesitation, Drake agrees, and the story sets off in truth. I don’t want to spoil too much, but I will say that the story, like the gameplay, is an awesome Summer-Blockbuster action script with healthy doses of betrayal, love, humor, and edge-of-your-seat scares. The story is also told simply, so it’s pretty hard to get lost even if you halfheartedly pay attention. The only thing that may be a little confusing is trying to determine where one character’s real loyalties lie, as they constantly switch sides until the very end of the game. This should by no means distract from the excellent and well written story of Uncharted 2 though!

Story Rating:4.5 Star
Replay Value

Usually a game’s replay value rests solely on its campaign or its multiplayer. Uncharted 2 is one of those rare games where both portions are almost equally replayable. After completing the campaign, the Bonus menu allows you to purchase anything from new skins, to different rendering filters, to cheats, to concept art galleries, to behind-the-scenes videos with the Naughty Dog team. Aside from multiplayer being just plain fun, you can also buy perks, skins, etc in a fashion exactly like that of Modern Warfare 2. As I always say though, it all depends on how much you enjoy the game to begin with. If you enjoy shooters or action games at all, you can get quite a bit of time out of Uncharted 2 should you so desire.

Replay Value Rating:4 Star
Final Thoughts and Overall Score

PS3 fanboys (and fangirls) should be very proud indeed to have an exclusive game of Uncharted 2’s caliber. Whether you’ve played the original or not (though I suggest you do simply because it was great), Uncharted 2 is easily accessible and a blast to see and play. If you own a PS3, you are doing yourself a great disservice if you don’t even try this game. Great job Naughty Dog! You’ve earned every accolade you’ve been given and then some! I’m really looking forward to Uncharted 3 now!

Uncharted 2: Among Thieves – Game of the Year Edition Overall Score:5 Star

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