Uncharted 2: Among Thieves
You may have already heard wonderful things about these set-pieces – one gaming website even ran a feature on their top five moments the very day Uncharted 2 was released. The problem of course with writing about such a game, whose biggest pull is the promise of thrills beyond anything previously experienced, is the risk of spoilers; I’m loath to go into detail, as much as I want to discuss certain sections and how they compare to and often surpass anything Infinity Ward, Bungie or Epic have crafted in the last few years. Suffice to say Uncharted 2 is a game seemingly designed with one eye on frenzied internet conversations; gamers will be swapping their own personal highlights from now until the inevitable third title (a potential for dialogue ironically undermined by the automatic – and incredibly banal – updates provided by the in-game Twitter link). Even the gunfights are uniformly exciting, allowing enough scope for strategy within each unique location to compensate for their similarity.
This is not to say that Uncharted 2 is one mindless ride, for Naughty Dog has also really paid attention to the idea of momentum. Rather then bludgeoning the gamer into submission with a relentless succession of death-defying feats, a clever use of the narrative structure and some expert pacing help build the experience into one which, to use the comparison again, recalls prime Spielberg. Not only does the opening chapter tease with its promise of perils to come, but the first few locations and objectives then serve as a neat reminder of the earlier game (the jungles of Borneo especially are almost a ‘greatest hits’ of Drake’s Fortune). There are also enough puzzles to punctuate the action, while one entire chapter – without giving too much away – is beautiful in its simplicity and emphasis on pure exploration, like playing a fabled next-generation Zelda.
It is in these areas of game design – the integration of the story, the spectacle of the action – that Naughty Dog has made the biggest strides. Beyond these features lies practically the same game as before, with an identical cover system and controls. There are only a few tweaks; one is the greater frequency of co-op moments that take place between Drake and, depending on the plot point, one of the many partners he works with throughout. These are pre-scripted, so a potential fully-fledged online co-op campaign could be something for a future game. Money earned throughout the game can now also be used to purchase bonus material, from documentary curios and concept art to graphical filters and – best of all – an alternative look for Drake that needs to be seen to be believed (one word: doughnut). It all adds up to a comprehensive single-player package. In this context the initially controversial online features could only ever be a bonus.
Thankfully they too are imbued with the spirit of the main game. Split into competitive and co-operative sections, there are a healthy number of game types within each mode; from the regular deathmatch to the now familiar Horde/Firefight template of battling successive waves of enemies, it’s a successful addition to the main game. In particular it works so well because a lot of thought has clearly gone into the arenas and the ranking system, with a now familiar combination of mini-objectives constantly showering medals and points upon the player. This lends the multiplayer a degree of substance that deflects any criticism of it being considered an after-thought. With consistent post-release support the Uncharted 2 community could well become the PSN’s equivalent of that built up for Gears on Xbox LIVE. Meanwhile, other forthcoming marquee games with seemingly ‘tacked-on’ multiplayer (Bioshock 2, cough cough) would do well to take notes.
If the first Uncharted was an early reassurance that Playstation 3 would one day be home to format-exclusives of genuine quality, then Uncharted 2 deserves – by a mile – to be the machine’s system-seller. In a season which has been dominated by the release of a certain other sequel, Naughty Dog might just have quietly slipped in and stolen the thunder. This will never win awards for originality, and other games this generation have been more audacious, ambitious, and plain louder. But none have left the sweet aftertaste that Among Thieves does; none have left me wishing I had enough time and luxury to jump straight back in and take the entire journey again. It’s destined to enter the annals of gaming’s classics in years to come.
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