Sunday, February 28, 2010

Uncharted 2: Among Thieves (PS3) review

Nathan Drake’s new adventure in Among Thieves revolves around the doomed voyage home of Marco Polo from China in 1292. After spending almost 20 years in the court of the Mongol Emperor Kublai Khan, Marco Polo departed with fourteen ships and over six hundred passengers – but when he arrived at Persia a year and a half later, only one ship and eighteen passengers remained. Polo never revealed what had happened to the lost ships.

The story begins in medias res, with a wounded Nate waking up to find himself in a train hanging off a cliff. Through flashbacks, it is revealed that Harry Flynn and Chloe Frazer approached him with a job offer to steal a Mongolian oil lamp in an Istanbul museum. Nate accepts the job when he learns that the lamp may lead to the treasures in Marco Polo's lost fleet. Flynn and Drake acquire the lamp, which contains a map showing that the lost fleet had been transporting the Cintamani Stone from Shambhala before being thrown ashore in Borneo by a tsunami. Taking the map, Flynn double-crosses Drake, who is arrested and imprisoned for three months before Chloe, who claims to have had no knowledge of Flynn's treachery, asks for the help of Drake's friend Victor "Sully" Sullivan to secure his release.

My first impression of Uncharted 2: Among Thieves was that it has gorgeous graphics, and it's the best looking video game since Killzone 2. The beginning of the game really shows how sharp and perfect the graphic is when you in the beginning hang from a train that has derailed off a cliff, in a snow environment. First I thought that it was pre-rendered, but I soon realized that I could move Nate, that's how gorgeous the graphic is. When I finally came to the top, I saw snow on the ground that was sparkling very sharply, and snow was falling from the sky. Nate left traces is the snow when he walked, it's a cool detail.

Uncharted 2: Among Thieves has more varied environments than Uncharted: Drake's Fortune, in the sequel you will visit a snowy mountain, a village, the jungle, caves and other cool places that have a great atmosphere. The backgrounds are super sharp, you can see mountains that are miles away, and it really makes the environment more alive. Each new area brings amazingly intricate texture work, objects, and art design. Everywhere you go, you will see hundreds of unique markers of the people, culture, and history native to that location.

This game also has great gameplay, you’ll shift from platforming where you have to climb to get to a certain area, to melee where you now can counter attack when the enemy has the upper hand, and you can break out of it and do special maneuvers, to gunplay where you can take cover behind different objects and run and shoot at the same time, to stealth where you can sneak up to enemies from behind and do a silent takedown, to puzzle solving where you have to move objects to open something seamlessly often overlapping multiple play styles simultaneously.

The controls feel familiar to those who have played the first game, but the introduction of a much more versatile control scheme allows for combining climbing, stealth, and gunplay. What I like about Uncharted 2: Among Thieves is that you can climb almost anything; you can do amazing jumps that you barely make and that's a cool feeling. The ability to mix up your approach to combat will allow you to make up a strategy before you attack the enemies. While an early section devoted solely to stealth shows the inability of the mechanic to stand up on its own, stealth gameplay works great in the rest of the game as one tool among many. Also the weapon aiming is improved in this game; it gives you great precision when firing in over the shoulder view.

Naughty Dog’s technology allows for jaw-dropping combinations of things in motion, for example, a fight in a falling building in the center of a Tibetan city and a shootout as you leap from moving vehicle to moving vehicle racing through the Himalayan mountains and climbing and shooting on a moving train. Naughty Dog is performing at the top of their game, and they have set the bar almost impossibly high for how action is done in a video game.

Like the first game, Uncharted 2 has awesome cinematic sequences, I couldn't tell the difference if it was real-time or not when it changed from cinematic to real-time gameplay, it's that good looking. Every movement and voice acting is done by real actors. The actors have motion capture suites on, and at the same time recording the dialog. This makes the characters and the dialog feel very much alive. You can see every emotion in the characters facial expression that is done really well. This is not just true in the cinematics, but also inside the game when you move Nate. Uncharted: Drake's Fortune had many of the things I mentioned, it had awesome facial animation, graphics and more, but Uncharted 2: Among Thieves does everything better times two.

The music and sound are very good and atmospheric. Strings’ playing really sets the mood. Rich audio accents compliment the visuals, not only making the loud sections sound loud, but also filling the quiet sections with deep sound details. Everything that can make a sound does: pipes, waterfalls, electrical wires, loose pottery, animals, and distant gunfire. It’s an endlessly detailed world. Also the dialog from the characters is done fantastically. Nathan Drake is always funny with his commentaries that he drops from time to time during the game, and the great interaction between the characters when they're talking.

I like the story very much, it's exciting, and you want to know what's going to happen next. I like the beginning of the game, you start by hanging from a train that has derailed, and you wonder how you got there. You will later find out in flashbacks, that you play, how you ended up hanging from the train. I think that's a good way of telling the story because you will see the end result first then you have to play through the game in a flashback to see what happened and why you're in that situation. You will later catch up to the real timeline and continue playing from there. The single player campaign is built up in chapters that take a different amount of time to complete. I think the entire adventure has a perfect length that's surprisingly long, you'll have many fun hours playing this video game.

Unlike the first game, this one has online multiplayer. I like the mode "Plunder", it's similar to the traditional capture the flag game mode, each team attempt to capture the treasure from a central point in the map and return it to their base; the player carrying the treasure is slowed down a great deal, and may also choose to hurl the treasure away at any point, in order to keep it out of reach of the enemy, or to pass it to a teammate. The multiplayer part is really great; it has many fun maps with great graphic and good flow with no delay or lag. I like that you can climb and jump everywhere, that's what makes the online multiplayer in this game so special.

Overall: Uncharted 2: Among Thieves is the best action-adventure video game I've played so far. With gorgeous graphics, good animations, great gameplay, beautiful sounds, varied environments and an exciting story that grabs hold of you makes this without a doubt one of the best video games ever made and one of the best to Sony's PlayStation 3.

Review: Uncharted 2: Among Thieves (PS3) XXXXX [5/5].

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