Uncharted 2: Among Thieves was one of my most anticipated games of the year, a PS3 sequel that promised not to break the formula of its outstanding predecessor yet would still introduce some new elements to keep the series fresh (hello, multiplayer!). Just the thought of Nathan Drake, a modern day Indiana Jones, coming back for another adventure warmed by beating heart. Now that I’ve actually played through Uncharted 2, my heart still beats fondly for the snarky adventurer, but more things changed between the first and second game than just the multiplayer options, to the point that the game — while excellent — feels more like a stand-alone title than a true sequel.
One of the biggest changes is the inclusion of new environments, which all tie into the new game’s plot. In Uncharted 2: Among Thieves, Nathan Drake finds himself traversing the Asian and Indian continents looking for the lost fleet of Marco Polo and a sacred treasure that Marco Polo went to great lengths to hide: the mystical city of Shangri-La. Since it spans two continents, the game has players working their way through a more diverse environment lineup that ranges from lush jungles to snowy mountaintops to several urban environments. Although the reasons for Nepal being a bombed-out shell provide a few eyebrow-raising “really?” moments, if you remove your brain for a moment and just experience the new levels, you’ll easily forgive game-developer Naughty Dog for the forced “warfare” feel. The diverse levels also provide more than their fair share of eye candy, and they prove that the Uncharted 2 game engine is capable of producing far more than great-looking foliage. Heck, just the lighting achievements alone are worthy of stopping to appreciate.
These new levels provide multiple opportunities for new gameplay, and by “new,” I really do mean “this is very different from the original.” In the first Uncharted, the game seemed to tweeter between wanting to be an adventure game and wanting to be a third-person shooter. Although the end result was quite enjoyable, the gunplay suffered from enough miscues that there was certainly room for improvement. Rather than improve that model, though, Naughty Dog basically skipped the shooter elements altogether in Uncharted 2: Among Thieves. Make no mistake, Uncharted 2 is definitely an adventure game.
The shooting sequences that do exist have been beefed-up with a cover mechanic that like a slightly clumsy version of that in Gears of War, and ammunition that’s much more plentiful this time around. The latter change addresses many gamers’ complaint of bullet scarcity in the original, but it removes one of the challenges I actually liked in the first game that forced players to actually think through their battle tactics more deliberately. The new melee system, which even goes so far as to include counter moves and reverses, also flies in the face of an increased bullet count, because with ammo this plentiful, there’s really no need to go mano a mano.
The only logical reason for including this much ammunition seems to be getting players past the gunplay sequences as fast as possible, because truly, Uncharted 2 is an adventure game through and through. The focus definitely eliminates the first game’s genre confusion, and the end result is a great experience, but it’s imperative that gamers who liked the first game know what they’re getting into. Uncharted 2 is much more akin to Tomb Raider, with more lever pulls, puzzles, platforming and swinging than Drake’s Fortune ever sniffed. The execution of it all is nearly flawless, but a few lever-pulling puzzle sequences are long to the point of tedium, and as stated before, the change in gameplay style really makes Uncharted 2 feel more like a stand-alone game than a sequel.
This feeling of a different game is furthered by the fact that the cast is different for much of the plot, although Nate’s original love interest and partner in crime do make appearances at different points. This actually turns out to be a good thing, because the writing and chemistry between Nathan and Chloe (the new girl) aren’t nearly as strong or developed as they are for Nathan and Elena (the lady from the first game). In fact, whereas the original Uncharted The Energy RC-Micro home theater system delivered the sound for this review.provided laugh-out-loud moments from the beginning, the snarky comments and personality-driven interchanges don’t reach the same level of quality as the original until Elena makes her grand entrance in the ninth level. The storytelling and pacing is much improved from the first game, particularly the use of flashbacks in the earliest levels, and the production values remain top notch. But the chemistry that really brought the characters to life in the original is essentially missing for most of the game. True, the fact that I’m even talking about chemistry and interactions means Uncharted 2 is on a plane above most other videogame characters and writing, but when you elevate your game as Naughty Dog has, you open yourself to elevated critique and expectations, so I don’t feel entirely unwarranted in bringing these things up.
The final change in Uncharted 2 is the addition of two multiplayer modes: co-op and competitive. In the co-op mode, up to three players can make their way through modified versions of the game’s single-player campaign and experience a bit more gunplay than in the offline experience. The competitive multiplayer actually provides a bit more fun, with Drake-ified versions of Deathmatch, CTF and Territories. These modes are more enjoyable than their standard corollaries because Nathan Drake’s a heck of a lot more agile than the bulked-up super soldiers normally featured in these modes. In some respects it almost feels like Splinter Cell’s multiplayer, minus the dark quarters and with the addition of chasm-leaping escapades. Naughty Dog could’ve done far worse than these multiplayer additions, and in fact, many developers do.
It feels a bit odd to see the sequential numeral in Uncharted 2: Among Thieves, because the game and gameplay feel so different from the original. Nathan Drake, a few characters and the developer are essentially all that remain from the first Uncharted, and there are both good and bad things that come along with that. The gameplay is much more focused, the multiplayer elements are a fantastic addition, and the overall pacing is much more polished than the first go-round. Yet the writing doesn’t have quite the same panache or character chemistry as the original, some of the puzzles feel artificially long, and most of the compulsion for players to think through their combat has been removed by adding to the ammunition count. Yes, these are nitpicks; I’m fully aware of that. Uncharted 2: Among Thieves is a fantastic game, and every PS3 owner should experience it. But if and when we see an Uncharted 3, there is still room to improve on Naughty Dog’s fantastic formula.
- Score: 9.3
— Jonas Allen