Uncharted 2: Among Thieves review
Naughty Dog have tended to stick to what they know best. Back in the PSone days it was the Crash Bandicoot series, moving on to the Jak and Daxter games for the PS2. On the PS3, we saw Uncharted: Drake's Fortune, released in 2007, which was a different direction for Naughty Dog, featuring a more realistic touch. Uncharted 2: Among Thieves promises to improve this realism, and throw in a few more special touches.
The game plays almost like an extensive and highly interactive movie. The plot follows handsome, charming, 30-something adventure seeker Nathan Drake as he, after some persuasion from some old associates, attempts to find the historical and mystical treasure of Marco Polo. These old associates are two new characters to the Uncharted storyline; Harry Flynn and Chloe Frazer. They will often accompany Drake in the storyline, along with some other familiar faces such as Sullivan. Most of the game will have someone by your side providing backup, and they tend to do a decent job of it. They manage to shoot and cover with seeming intelligence almost replicating a co-op friend, except that they never die.
The whole plot is like a movie in that there is always action, adventure, romance and drama no different to your Indiana Jones' or your Star Wars' (but with less sci-fi) and is quite as compelling, but has the added benefit that you control the pace. Naughty Dog promised less gunfights and more puzzle-platforming and they certainly made that clear in the game. If you liked the climbing and the puzzles from Drake's Fortune then you will enjoy Among Thieves exceptionally more. From the very start you have to climb a train wreckage which sets the tone of the game with astounding resolution. The look of Drake climbing the brilliantly detailed and fully fleshed carcass of a train carriage would easily take the player's breath away, and will feel completely fluid between controlling Drake and watching a pre determined piece of action, such as Drake narrowly avoiding a falling chunk of chair. This frequent back-and-forth between actual gameplay and sequences is so smooth, it makes it look easy, and adding on top of that is the distinct overhaul on visuals that makes the whole experience a fresh and entertaining one. The graphics are truly exceptional for the PlayStation 3, with Naughty Dog explicitly taking more advantage of the powerful Cell processor (watch the unlockable videos for a behind the scenes look into the development of the game), Drake's adventure will take the player through many exciting and visually compelling settings, from an eastern European looking desolate war-torn city to the brilliant-white snow covered Himalayan mountains. The latter being where the story starts, with Drake awakening on the aforementioned destroyed train carriage hanging off a cliff.
The controls are ever so slightly tweaked in Among Thieves. The grenades have a dedicated L2 button now, rather than being selected like a weapon. This allows you to shoot and throw a grenade easily, tripping up all your foe's with a foot-wrenching blast. The cover system is still very prominent if you want to ensure Drake doesn't die every time you come across an enemy, and is still as easy to conduct as pressing a button. Blind fire has been included this time around, allowing you to seep away any henchmen too close for comfort. Blind fire does come at a cost of reduced accuracy, so it is only really necessary to take out the nasty men running at you. There is a plethora of weapons this time around too, including the golden weapons which are more prominent in multiplayer. AK-47s, Colts, pistols: there are a few weapons of each type, and some more. A particular favourite of mine is a gattling gun that Drake finds hard to haul around and uses both hands, but it is satisfying nonetheless in its destruction.
Along with the new variety in weapons is the variety in enemies. It may not be something every player thinks about, but there are some distinctly different henchmen-style enemies, which may need different approaches to defeat. For example, there is a heavily armoured enemy who wields the aforementioned gattling gun, and the method of defeat is (if lacking in grenades the player is willing to throw at his feet) to sneak around the (puzzlingly) unarmoured back and take a few shots. This prompts for more cooperative play in multiplayer, where one player can distract the foe, the other running around the back and taking him out.
This time around, multiplayer has been included for Drake and co. Multiplayer uses the same winning formula of the running, shooting and climbing of the single player campaign, but lets up to ten people duke it out in a variety of modes. The modes vary from the tried-and-tested deathmatch and elimination, to the new and popular plunder, where there is a golden idol and both teams aim to grab it and bring it back to their base before the other. The multiplayer seems very polished and lag-free, except for the feeling of intensity, as if there is too much power and everyone is crazy. Don't feel disheartened when dying frequently or even without much warning. It takes some effort to keep your wits about you, looking for opposing team members. The game follows a levelling system but instead of XP you have money. The more money you earn through kills or completing tasks, the higher your level. The levels only affect one thing, boosters. Every player has the ability to wield two boosters at a time, each slot being able to be filled by its own set of boosters, so that means there are two sets of boosters. Boosters are bought with money earned but each one has a level requirement. The boosters range from the subtle to the sublime. The first few are extra clip capacities or better blind fire aiming, ranging all the way to seeing through walls, to half health (for you, not the enemy. I don't know why someone would have this either). Days have been lost playing multiplayer due to its incredibly engaging formula.
Tagged onto the multiplayer is co-op. This allows you, and up to two friends, to go through some of the levels in the main campaign together, obviously. There is a difference between the normal campaign and playing it in co-op with friends, though. The levels are more concise, in that they start at a distinct point and end at a distinct point, and there's no running through the entire game together, which is a shame, as it misses out a few of the levels which would be interesting to play in co-op. The missions seem to focus more on the gunfights too, with many more enemies running at you, almost endlessly, until one of the protagonists (of which you can choose from all the characters in the main story) reaches a checkpoint. Even then, sometimes the enemies keep coming. The co-op multiplayer is definitely not as fun or as intense as the core multiplayer, and there is certainly room for improvement by perhaps balancing the gunfighting with some platforming and climbing.
The game took about 10-12 hours to finish on regular difficulty, with rewards promised for harder difficulties (remember picking up treasures? They're back, but there are less of them, requiring you to look harder). It is hard to decide whether the campaign or the multiplayer is the most compelling, as both demand time and draw enthusiasm constantly. The whole game seems a giant leap forward for Naughty Dog, and PlayStation 3 games as a whole, and draws a lot of hope towards the next item from the developer.