In 2007, Naughty Dog and SCEA blew everyone away with Uncharted: Drake's Fortune. The third person action adventure played like a movie, one that you couldn't pull yourself away from and wanted to "watch" again as soon as it was over. No doubt a sequel was on the way, and in the last several months nearly everyone has gotten a taste of Uncharted 2: Among Thieves (UC2), thanks to plenty of publicity and the multiplayer beta. This past Tuesday, I managed to get what was probably the last available copy of UC2 in town, and earlier today I completed the campaign. Is it as least as good as the first? Am I ready for more? The answer to both of those questions is a firm, 'hell yes.'
If It's Not Broke -- Just Make It Even Better
I've yet to meet anyone who hasn't like the original Uncharted; I know I sure did back when I reviewed it. The game was very well received and lots of people have played through it more than once. What makes it so darn good? It's a combination of great design and execution. First impressions were made with the game's gorgeous visuals and awesome sound effects. The characters were fresh, interesting, and sincere. It was easy to like them and you cared for them almost immediately, something most games can't do in ten hours, much less ten minutes. The story was captivating and well told. The gameplay, from the controls to the checkpoint system to the awesome blend of platforming exploration with heart pounding firefights, has yet to be matched. Uncharted did just about everything right.
So why change a thing? It's pretty clear the developers were thinking that as well, but that isn't a bad thing. After all, if it's not broke, don't fix it, right? Of course, like any good game developer, you want to build upon your success and out do your previous endeavor. To that end, Uncharted 2's biggest addition is the multiplayer component, which I will discuss a bit later on in this article. First, I'd like to take a closer look at the adventure that awaits the single player fortune hunter.
If you're worried about spoilers, fear not. On an average review I might feel comfortable divulging bits and pieces of the story to help explain some idea, I'm not going to do that with UC2. The passage on the back of the box is about all you should know going in, and make sure not to spoil it for yourself by reading up too much on the game. The single player campaign is something every gamer should experience for themselves. This is the type of game that reminds you why we play games, and that's about as positive and concise of a compliment I can give for a game.
So with that said, what parts of the campaign do I feel comfortable with mentioning? Well, the adventure begins when you are convinced by an old friend, Flynn, and his partner Chloe, to hunt for Marco Polo's lost fleet. As legend has it, the famous explorer lost thirteen ships packed with treasure and some 600 passengers around Asia centuries ago. A wealthy client of Flynn has tasked him with finding an old oil lamp, thought to have some significance in finding the sunken ships. Our hero, Nathan Drake, agrees to take on the challenging hunt. As the player, you will control many events over the next four months of Drake's life. The story takes several twists and turns throughout the twenty-six chapter, twelve hour thrill ride.
Naughty Dog got so much right with Drake's Fortune, that they didn't even change the font in UC2, much less the controls. The control scheme is comfortable and familiar. Players shoot with R1, reload with R2, aim with R3, throw a grenade/propane tank with L1, aim a grenade/propane tank with L2, jump with X, interact with Triangle, duck and roll with Circle, and punch with Square. Some of these controls vary depending on what state Drake is currently in; for example, when climbing, you can press Circle to lower yourself down to the next hold.
As with Drake's Fortune, gameplay in UC2 is a potent mix of guns blazing action and platforming (climbing and jumping). Much of the campaign has you running about with one of the other main story characters who will help you reach areas and fight off enemies. These NPCs can't die, which is a good design decision. I do wish that during combat, the NPCs would use something besides their weak, default weapon however. A lot of the co-op moments breakdown to just giving a player a boost so that they can help you reach a new platform or double teaming a door, too. After about the tenth time of this 'boost' sequence, I was really hoping for a little more variety. Another small nag I had with the gameplay was how some moments climax with a simple lever pull. In other words, you'll climb and jump your way through an area for several minutes, only to reach a massive lever that you just have to tap Triangle on to activate. It's a little underwhelming, although that's directly opposite of nearly every other moment in the game.
I've never played another game that blends action with exploration as well as UC and UC2. Every time I thought that "okay, from here on out it's gonna be all guns," I was wrong. Another massive tomb would open up, or some other platforming challenge would stand before me. What's even cooler is that these modes transition so well from one to another. Stealth combat seemed to be more emphasized this time around than in Drake's Fortune, meaning that often times before a firefight broke out, you could sneak around and pull off some stealth kills. Melee combat is a big part of the action too, and it could be something that is even more fleshed out next time around. As it stands, players attack by tapping Square, and counter with Triangle. The variety of animations for stealth kills and fighting surprised me, and it's yet another fun and positive part of the whole package.
The campaign took me just over twelve in-game hours to beat, and I only found like 38 of the 100 treasures that are out there. When I played through Drake's Fortune back in 2007, I found 51 of 60, and I tend to think I'm a pretty thorough gamer, but UC2 has got me humbled. I would have liked to have seen a little more detail on the Treasures other than a close up picture and a name, but it's still immensely satisfying whenever you come across one. Treasures and Medals go towards Trophies as well as purchasable upgrades and unlockables upon the game's completion, just like with Drake's Fortune. These bonus options and tweaks are enough, combined with the excellent gameplay of course, to warrant at least another play through.
But unlike with Drake's Fortune, UC2 includes more than just an awesome campaign. Multiplayer is included, and it's not just Deathmatch, as we all know by now. Like many, or even most of you, I too participated in the exciting Multiplayer Beta. The full game includes Deathmatch, Elimination, Plunder, Turf War, King of the Hill, Chain Reaction, Survival, Gold Rush, Cooperative, and Machinima modes of play. Most modes, except for Co-op, have seven maps that span a variety of environments that were in the campaign. Some of the modes are fairly similar to one another like Turf War, King of the Hill, and Chain Reaction, but they have their nuances that make them significantly different from one another. Plunder was my favorite from the Beta and remains a current favorite, although I'm digging the Survival mode too that sees wave after wave of CPU enemies coming after you and your buddies. Medals and Trophies are available for multiplayer, further adding to the overall replay value of UC2.
Ultimately, there isn't much more you need to know about the game that you don't already now. It's a must buy and will likely nab several game of the year awards. I could go on, but there's really no need -- stop reading, and buy this sucker if you haven't already.