It’s difficult to describe the joys of Uncharted 2 without devolving into a hyperactive eight year old. Part of me looks at its ten hours of nonstop bliss and wants to declare it the bestest gam3 evar, while disdainfully sighing at other consoles for not offering a single player experience that’s equally squeal-worthy. Instead, I’m merely going to preface this review by stating that Uncharted 2: Among Thieves is the year’s best game so far, and anyone that plays it will instantly understand why.
Uncharted 2 is a third-person platformer/shooter that sinks its razor-sharp claws into your unprepared psyche as soon as your finger leaves the start button. In its nail-biting intro, roguish protagonist Nathan Drake is seen clinging to the unsteady handrails of a derailed train car, which happens to be teetering off the edge of a snowy cliff. You’re then introduced to the game’s silky smooth platforming mechanics as everything begins to disintegrate around you, with windows, seats, and giant hunks of mangled metal plummeting your way. This describes a fairly typical segment in Uncharted 2 pretty well, as all of its action sequences are anything but straightforward.
Take one of its shootout: instead of simply exchanging bullets with unskilled hooligans, the gunfire is interrupted by a rampaging helicopter. Drake, being the hero that he is, exclaims, “Oh crap!” and turns to run away, leaping from rooftop to rooftop as the ground below him collapses. Or take an ordinary mountain-climbing sequence that becomes extraordinary, as the rocks Nathan is scaling break away beneath his fingertips, leaving our hero one weak ledge from a grim, painful death. Luck never seems to be on Drake’s side, so you’ll have to learn to expect the unexpected as each thrilling sequence unfolds.
Drake’s journey begins with a hunt for Marco Polo’s lost expedition. The story is well-told, but the twists and turns that it takes will keep your mouth agape. It is a veritable smorgasbord of action, offering something unique in nearly every chapter. Whether it’s a heist gone wrong or the exploration of a remote mountain village, each sequence feels wildly original and full of unexpected scripted events. Drake will be chased by a tank, climb a colossal hotel tower, board a moving train, and even end up in a collapsing building, and that list doesn’t even begin to encapsulate some of the game’s best moments. All of them are superbly designed, with playable action sequences and in-game dialogue taking the place of the quick-time events and lengthy cut scenes that most games would resort to.
Nathan is joined by a computer-controlled companion in nearly every level, usually one of the two women in his life: sultry minx Chloe who has an unclear agenda, and sweet and sassy journalist Elena who returns from the original game. There are several other companions as well, with each one offering nonstop dialogue and exposition. All of these characters are excellently layered, with each having enough personality, charm, and wit to carry a story on their own. It’s the little touches, like Drake’s humility after having his life saved by the petite yet powerful Chloe, or his nuanced hand motions and facial expressions as he tries to understand a foreign guide. These really make the characters and dialogue stand out.
This is all embellished by Uncharted 2’s graphics, which are simply astonishing. The game presents open, exotic locations from all over the world. The level of detail in each environment is staggering; citizens can be seen living out their lives in the decimated, war-town villages, and miles of uniquely detailed buildings can be spotted from a high, central city rooftop. The game also includes some of the smoothest, most lifelike animations ever portrayed, as you can see the emotion in each character’s face as key events unfold. You’ll notice things like Drake stumbling over uneven ground or him reacting to a bullet that ricocheted off a nearby surface. The audio is equally exemplary, with a terrific orchestrated soundtrack, impactful sound effects, and unparalleled voice acting that brings Drake and company into a vivid, tangible reality.
The aforementioned platforming elements are much improved this time around, with a layer of smoothness that makes every jump, climb and shimmy feel just right. Also significantly improved is the gunplay. The first game’s titanium-skinned enemies have been replaced by ones that go down after a reasonable amount of shots. If the game’s varied array of assault rifles, shotguns and grenade launchers isn’t your thing, Uncharted 2 has added stealth kills, simplistic yet enjoyable melee attacks, and explosive canisters that can be launched into the action, ensuring that you’ll be able to approach each gunfight from a different perspective. Sure, some of the shooting sequences go on a bit too long and it can occasionally be difficult to figure out what to do next, but these are all relatively minor complaints that are easily forgotten amidst all of the awesome.
When you’ve exhausted all of the campaign’s 26 chapters, Uncharted 2 offers a number of exciting multiplayer delights. These include cooperative story missions and survival modes for up to three players, as well as deathmatch and objective-based competitive options that support ten participants. The competitive multiplayer is a nice surprise, with the light platforming elements meshing well with traditional third-person shooting, but the excellent cooperative mode is regrettably short, with only a few playable levels on the disk. Considering Drake has a partner throughout most of the single player campaign, I was sad to see that they don’t allow those missions to be played cooperatively as well.
But that just underlines how good this game actually is. In case all the glowing praise above is not enough of an indication, I will say it again: Uncharted 2: Among Thieves is one of the most exhilarating and inventive interactive experiences available on any platform, and an absolute must-buy. Go get it now.