Game developer Naughty Dog has been a staple of the Playstation gaming systems from the beginning. Their pattern has been to perfect one series of games for each generation of the PlayStation. The PS1 saw Naughty Dog bring creation of the system’s unofficial mascot Crash Bandicoot. For the PS2 they created the “Jak and Daxter” trilogy. Now for the PS3, the minds at Naughty Dog have turned towards creating what may be the most cinematic game series ever: “Uncharted.” Focusing on creating a story drive single player experience like no other, the team built on the success of the original game and completely topped themselves with this follow up.
“Uncharted 2: Among Thieves” tells of the continuing adventures of treasure hunter Nathan Drake. Drake is approached by an old friend to help him steal an artifact from a museum for a mysterious client. Since it’s only a simple oil lamp it doesn’t seem worth the bother, until Drake realizes that it might point the way to the lost fleet of Marco Polo. The famed explorer had lost most of his ships on his return voyage and never spoke of what became of them. Hoping to learn the secrets of the lost fleet Drake quickly finds himself betrayed and left behind. Not one to stand idly by, Drake sets out to beat his former friend and a blood thirsty warlord to a treasure far greater, and far more dangerous, than he had ever imagined. The globe trotting story takes the sarcastic hero from jungles to blisteringly cold mountains, with his foes often a few steps ahead of him.
“Uncharted 2” is a game primarily focused on the single player experience. This game is in a word cinematic, and much more so than any other game that’s tried to claim that quality. While games like the “Metal Gear Solid” series try to cinematic through inserting excessive dialog and cut-scenes, “Uncharted 2” has actually taken the time to nail down the proper pacing of an Indiana Jones style action movie. Most dialog scenes are short and to the point, spaced between sections of action. The gamer will never feel like they’re having control taken away when this happens either. Even the longer exposition scenes toward the beginning are well paced and fun to watch. A huge part of what makes this work is the excellent vocal and performance capture work done by the cast. While the characters aren’t photo-real the movement is very natural, and the dialog flows perfectly. Great bits of witty banter are thrown out even in the middle of game-play, and it helps player feel engaged in the story and characters rather than being a detached observer whenever a cut scene starts.
The game-play of “Among Thieves” focuses primarily on action in the form of gun-play. Players can carry two guns at any given time, one rifle or shotgun and one hand gun. Switching between the two is fast and easy, as is picking up more ammo or a different weapon from the fallen enemy. Aiming takes a little practice to be able to do quickly and accurately, but the game balances the challenge well so gamers can get a handle on this before things get too difficult. There’s also some melee combat, which is fairly simple but also pretty satisfying. There’s a special kind of thrill to running up to a guy who you haven’t been able to get a decent shot at and just punching his lights out. There’s also a bit of platforming in the form of climbing up walls and navigating ancient ruins. The action is mixed well with these elements, and they’re even used at the same time in some cases. This keeps it from feeling like distinctly different sections of the game and more like flowing chapters of the story. There’s some minor puzzle solving as well, but nothing too difficult. Again the idea here was clearly to keep the game and the story moving forward as much as possible.
It’s worth bringing up the allies in the game, because of how exceptional they are. In most games where the player is saddled with computer controlled “help” the companions tend to be either useless or an actual liability. No matter which character might be assisting Drake it never turns into an escort mission where he has to spend his time saving a suicide prone companion who’s always getting gunned down. While the allies might not actually finish off that many enemies themselves they do offer an alternate target, which helps divert some of the gunfire away from Drake himself. The sections with allies aren’t necessarily easier because of their presence but it adds another dynamic which helps tell the story of the game, and it never detracts from how the game plays.
While the multiplayer options aren’t really anything above and beyond what most gamers expect from a shooter type game they’re still quite fun. There’s the standards such as team death-match, elimination and a variation of capture the flag. Most of the arenas are based on sections from the single player game, though there are a few others thrown in as well. They’re all well constructed with multiple levels so players can go for higher ground. There are also plenty of well placed nooks where more powerful weapons are stashed away. Thankfully there aren’t really any parts of a level where a player can just camp out and snipe everybody, virtually every area can be accessed from multiple points so a player who stays put is liable to be shot from behind before too long. This keeps players moving and the matches lively. Not all the multiplayer modes are competitive, as there are some really great co-op missions as well which can played with up to three players. The co-op missions are usually expended sections of the single player game that are amped up for multiple players to tackle. It’s a fun way for a gamer to revisit their favorite levels with a new spin on the action.
There are a couple of minor admittedly very minor stumbling points in “Among Thieves.” One of them has to do with just getting to recognize the areas. While most of the paths that gamers have to take are organic to the setting they’re usually easy enough to spot, though they may end up at a dead end once or twice. However in moments of confusion or intense action players may find themselves trying to go up vines they can’t climb or trying to go through doors that won’t open. There are a handful of instant deaths in the game, which isn’t unexpected. However for a game as story driven as this it can kill the momentum if the player is forced to redo the same segment several times because of one annoying jump. Thankfully a well placed checkpoint system keeps things from backtracking too far if a player does fall victim to an instant death.
“Uncharted 2: Among Thieves” won quite a few “Game of the Year” honors when it was released in 2009, and with good reason. Even with more than a year worth of games having come out since then this still stands as one of the best games a player can by if they want a special single player experience. The multiplayer is certainly fun as well and easy to sink a lot of hours in, but the telling of the story in the single player is what is truly special about this game. Naughty Dog is already hard at work on the next installment, hopefully to be released towards the end of this year. And Hollywood has hopped on the band wagon with a film version of the series planned with Mark Wahlberg to star. There can’t be too much Nathan Drake.