The 2007 holiday season was a tough one. There were so many top-notch games that came out between August & December, I just couldn’t get them all. I had to make some tough choices & cuts were made. Among those cuts was Uncharted: Drakes Fortune. Unfortunately, I never got around to grabbing it afterward either. So when Uncharted 2: Among Thieves hit my hot little hands, I made a point to put it aside, go pick up the first game & play through it before giving the latest adventure of Nathan Drake a spin (hence the reason for this review being so delayed). I had high hopes for both games as Naughty Dog (along with Insomniac) is one of my most favorite developers in Sony’s camp. Now that it’s done, all I can say is they did NOT disappoint…
I’m going to assume you’ve played through Drake’s Fortune (and if you haven’t, I highly recommend you do if not for the quality of the game in it’s own right, then to at least appreciate the changes that Naughty Dog has made to the sequel). Among Thieves picks up roughly two years after the treasure hunting hero discovered the fate of Francis Drake & the treasure of El Dorado. Right away you’ll get a chance to see some of the improvements that have been made as the story begins with a frightening escape from a passenger train that has crashed & is hanging off a snow covered cliff. Nate’s injured really bad (at this point we don’t know why) so every move is just agonizing. Not only for him, but for you too as he controls like he’s hurt, moving slowly & limping his way through the wreckage, even passing out from the pain a few times. During these moments of unconsciousness, we are brought up to speed on how he got here. Nate’s having a drink in a beach-side bar when he’s approached by Harry Flynn, a guy who seems to be an old partner of his, & Chloe, someone we soon learn has a romantic history with Nate (unbeknownst to Harry). They’ve been hired by a guy named Zoran Lazarević (a brutal terrorist who see’s himself in the same vein as Stalin, Hitler & Genghis Khan) to steal a lamp that once belonged to Marco Polo & may contain the secret of his missing fleet. The lamp is very well guarded in Istanbul, so Harry needs Nathan’s help in getting it (and are planning to double cross Lazarević to go search for the missing fleet & it’s treasures on their own).
Thus begins an adventure that will take Nate from Istanbul to Borneo to Nepal & beyond in a story full of plot twists, multiple double crosses, & lots of gun slinging, cliff climbing action (I swear, Nate must have the strongest fingers of anyone on the planet to be able to do what he does). Fans of Drake’s Fortune will be pleased to see Sully & Elane making a return appearance (leading to an interesting love triangle between Nate, Elane & Chloe). In fact, you won’t catch up with the injured Nate & the train wreck until around chapter 15.
Drakes Fortune was a really good game. But like any proper developer should, Naughty Dog wasn’t content to slap a new story into the old engine & call it a sequel. No, they improved everything. Visually it’s just a stunning piece to behold. Everything is better looking with more environments to play in (snow, jungle, urban, etc…). The level of detail is astounding. As Nate walks though water, his clothing will get wet in the appropriate places; i.e. if it’s only knee deep in water, the clothes will be wet to the knees, if it’s waste deep, he’ll be wet up to the waste, etc… Take him out of the water & he’ll gradually dry off. From the water effects to the way the powdery snow puffs around his feet as he trounces through it (it even sticks to his shoes & pant legs), you’ll be visually immersed from beginning to end.
As many have found out in the past, visuals don’t make a great game. It’s apparent that Naughty Dog is aware of this too as they kept the gameplay from Nate’s last adventure & added a bunch of enhancements. The item hot spots are bigger, so you’ll spend less time trying to grab one of those hidden treasures scattered around the levels (there are a hundred of them to find this time around). Nate has a few new moves as well. You don’t have to hang from all ledges by your finger tips. Some of them Nate can shimmy along on foot. But, if he is hanging there & an enemy is nearby, he can perform a ledge take-down (which I found to be the most satisfying move of the game). The melee combat itself has been refined & simplified quite a bit. In the first game, I tended to avoid fisticuffs with my enemies because it just didn’t feel right (almost cumbersome). Now, you have one button to fight with & one more to counter with. It’s a much more effective system than their previous effort (& a lot more fun too).
This isn’t Indiana Jones meets Street Fighter though. There’s a ton of gun-play to be had & Nate has a few new weapons at his disposal to assist him. There’s the Pistole’ (a pistol-sized shotgun), tranq gun (which is great for silent attacks), the riot shield (for those times you need to approach an area that has no cover) & many, many propane tanks scattered around. These tanks can be picked up & thrown & then shot to create a make-shift grenade. In fact, there is one point where you can’t proceed through the story without them. The battles can get down right fierce with enemies making more intelligent decisions like finding cover, trying to destroy your cover, & trying to flank you. Be aware of the music that plays with you are knee deep in battle. Many times you’ll think you’re done because you don’t see anyone, but if the music hasn’t shifted to a less intense tempo, then you had best be on your guard as you’ll never know where the next enemy will appear (& what kind of heat he may be packing).
Once you’ve completed the story, there are bonus items that can be purchased with the money you earn by completing various objectives (like getting 50 kills with a certain weapon, finding a given amount of treasures, etc…). These items range from all the weapons in the game to various character skins to game changers like visual filters & one-shot kills. These things can be enabled at any time during your next play through (as long as you’re playing on a difficulty that you have already completed once). Trust me, you have to play as Donut Drake! I won’t spoil it for you, but it’s a riot!
Multiplayer has been added for the first time in the series. All the typical game types are there like Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, Turf War, King of the Hill, Plunder (which is basically capture the flag) etc… for up to 10 players. I loved Gold Rush, where a couple of people team up to find the treasure that is randomly spawned on the map. And the co-op? It’s just a blast! Maps are taken from various scenes in the single player story with a total of 7 on the retail disk (more are expected in the form of DLC at a later date). Players will be able to equip 2 boost abilities which work similar to Modern Warfare’s perk system. There’s even a store for the MP mode that allows you to “buy” (read: unlock) skins, boosts & such just like in the SP (using money earned during your playtime). It was a lot of fun that’s sure to add many more hours of gameplay to the initial 8-10 you’ll spend on your first time through the story.
As I said, I played through Drake’s Fortune right before I played through Among Thieves. I am so glad I did as the developers have improved & enhanced the entire package. It made for a much more fulfilling experience. With the multiplayer, all the new content (Naughty Dog even embraced social networking, adding Twitter support to the game; allowing you to Tweet your accomplishments to the world), more detailed visuals & a story that will keep you on the edge of your seat the whole time (or being jolted out of your seat with the sudden surprise path diversions), this one’s a Game of the Year contender (if not winner) for sure. Action-adventure game developers take note: Uncharted 2: Among Thieves is an example how it should be done.