There isn't much time to relax when you live the life of a treasure hunter. The ever-imperiled Nathan Drake is at it again, traveling the globe, searching for a lost artifact, and trying not to get shot, all for the sake of his noble (saving humanity) and selfish (impressing a lady) ambitions. Uncharted 2: Among Thieves doesn't veer far from the great formula established by Uncharted: Drake's Fortune, but a few tweaks and a strong focus on details make this a better game in every way. Your journey once again becomes an incredible adventure, constantly thrusting new obstacles in front of you that not only offer variety, but are also an absolute blast to overcome. The stunning visuals bring these exotic locales to life, giving you a scenic tour of a tropical jungle, crumbling ice cave, and dilapidated city, among others, while making every new place feel unique and welcoming. The gameplay isn't perfect--the cover mechanic is too sticky in tight places and there's some inconsistency when it comes to climbing obstacles--but these small problems are largely inconsequential. Uncharted 2: Among Thieves is an awesome game that continually surprises, impresses, and entertains.
Treasure hunter Nathan Drake is off on another adventure, chasing an ancient artifact that is rumored to hold mysterious powers. After being lured into his latest adventure by his smarmy friend Harry Flynn, he quickly realizes the ramifications of his latest discovery. He then begins a new quest to thwart an evil warlord from grabbing this sacred object for himself and growing all-powerful in the process. The plot contains a number of not-so-surprising twists, but it stays interesting throughout because Drake and the supporting cast are so realistic and likable. His motivations are pure, but Drake takes on the formidable task with a roguish smile and sarcastic comments, making him inherently likable and rather funny. The playful back-and-forth with his friends also sounds realistic. Depending on what the situation warrants, the characters toss casual insults or helpful advice, and the ease with which they converse brings a feeling of authenticity to the action. This crisp dialogue, along with the finely crafted cutscenes and well-developed characters, helps the narrative of Among Thieves shine, making it a strong part of this excellent adventure.
Drake doesn't take his duty as a world-class treasure hunter lightly. He is well equipped to tackle anything that comes his way, whether he's fighting well-armed mercenaries, making treacherous leaps across near-bottomless pits, or using his noggin to piece together ancient puzzles. Taking down hordes of nameless soldiers is incredible in Uncharted 2 because of the wealth of awesome weaponry and the smooth shooting mechanic. Your arsenal packs a mean punch, and it's sadistically satisfying to let loose a deafening point-blank blast from a pistole or knock a sniper off a ledge with a perfect shot from your rocket launcher. The grenades are easy to aim, making it a joy to lob one right at the feet of a chain gun-toting madman and watch him soar with arms flailing into the clear blue sky. If you get close to your enemies, Drake isn't afraid to get his hands dirty. You can quietly snap the neck of an unsuspecting foe if you can sneak behind him unnoticed, but even in a face-to-face brawl, the fisticuffs are impressive. Mashing on the square button delivers powerful haymakers, but you'll need to avoid and counter the retaliatory punches of your enemies to finish them off. These killing blows are over-the-top, displaying your surprising power in slow motion as your enemies crumple to the turf.
Given that Drake can't withstand a bullet barrage, cover plays a huge part in Uncharted 2. While stop-and-pop action has been seen in other shooters, the levels in Among Thieves are designed to take advantage of vertical space to give these tussles a more dynamic feel. In many of these set-piece battles, you have the choice to stand meekly behind cover, peppering enemies from afar when you can risk sticking your neck out for a second, or to dance away from the action, strategically positioning yourself right where your foes are most vulnerable. This maneuverability adds a feeling of controlled chaos to battles, letting you constantly change your strategy to adapt to the different tactics your enemies will use to bring you down. Unfortunately, the controls are less than precise in cramped corridors, making it difficult to smoothly slide from cover to cover without mistakenly exposing your vulnerable backside. It's a small complaint, but it can be frustrating during some of the more intense battles if you find yourself sitting in the open air when you meant to hide behind a nearby desk. Nevertheless, the combat is explosive and unpredictable in Uncharted, and the huge variety in the levels forces you to constantly change your strategy.
Drake's impressive agility plays a major role during combat, but it's when he has the freedom to explore that his leaping prowess is fully revealed. You can climb up walls, swing from ropes, shimmy across ledges, and even leap from one moving vehicle to another during a thrilling chase sequence. The platforming sections do not demand that you be ultraprecise. Drake easily grabs onto any ledge he jumps near, so you need to worry more about what path you're going to take rather than how to land a ridiculous leap of faith. The environments you have to navigate are organic. You can climb a large variety of structures to continue on, whether it's a traffic sign in a war-torn city street, an icy rock face in a frozen cave, or a dangling branch in a tropical jungle. The only problem is that the platforming is pretty linear, so you often can't interact with surfaces that seem like they should be climbable. While this minor quibble chisels away a bit at the believability of your actions, the platforming sections are well designed and quite entertaining. And just when you get comfortable making your way across a treacherous precipice, a handhold will fall apart in your hands, making you quickly figure out a new way across and ensuring you never relax during these awesome sequences.
The majority of your quest is made up of these combat or platforming sections, but there are thoughtful puzzles you must solve as well. These quiet moments are not as entertaining as the action sequences, but they have their own charm. Here, you must perform such tried-and-true tasks as reflecting a beam of light onto a specific surface or placing ornamental blocks onto the correct squares, but there is a twist to the formula that gives Drake even more personality. Drake’s journal contains everything you need to know to solve the puzzle at hand, and you must manually flip through the pages to find what you need. The book is filled with pictures and brief notes, and you must carefully analyze these diagrams to figure out the solution. The puzzles are far from challenging, but flipping through the book feels realistic, and piecing together the mysterious clues gives you a taste of what a real treasure hunter might experience. The doodles that Drake added to the journal are another cool aspect, although they don't have anything to do with your quest. One page depicts the various moods of his longtime friend Sully, and the goofy caricatures are pretty amusing.
All of these different elements, along with the lighthearted story, are mixed together perfectly, providing an intoxicating pace that continually builds upon the previous section. The incredible rate at which Uncharted moves is staggering, seamlessly urging players from one incredible experience to the next, without ever staying on one mechanic for too long. This effortless pace is showcased exceptionally well during a stage that takes place on a train halfway through the adventure. It seems like your options would be limited onboard a narrow vehicle, but every new car you leap to has a surprise, and the sheer breadth of different actions makes this one of the highlights of a fantastic quest. Whether you're gunning down enemies in a tight passenger car, hanging desperately on to handholds on the outside of the train, sniping enemies way off in the distance, trading punches with a hulked-up mercenary, or dodging fire from a pesky helicopter, this section is an adrenaline rush. And the scenery is just as varied. You will fly past a wide variety of backgrounds, which gives the impression you really are onboard a fast-moving vehicle. From beginning to end, Uncharted 2 keeps up its brisk pace, creating an experience that is exhilarating, thrilling, and never boring.
All of this incredible action is complemented by some of the most impressive visuals on PlayStation 3. As you travel through lush rain forests, into snow-covered wastelands, across the ruins of a crumbling city, and to the many other places Drake ventures in his quest, you will be treated to a huge array of breathtaking sights. It's easy to get lost in the atmosphere, swinging the camera around to admire the sights while briefly forgetting about the angry man with a gun shouting at you in the distance. The animation is particularly impressive. Drake moves and reacts with eerie believability, whether he's stumbling realistically after a long jump, quickly reaching behind his back to grab a weapon, or just walking up a long flight of stairs. The attention to detail during the cutscenes is just as striking. The characters move and interact with each other with subtle touches that make them seem almost lifelike. There are lots of little details that add even more to the experience. When you're in the jungle, you can see squirrels scamper up the towering trees, and you get wet when you wade through a river. And even with all this detail, the game runs smoothly, even during the most hectic fights.
If you're hankering for some more treasure hunting after finishing the campaign, there's a three-player cooperative mode as well. This mode places you in modified levels from the main quest, and you must mow down a bunch of enemies on the way toward achieving your ultimate goal. The exciting combat makes the transition intact, and playing through these gorgeous locations with a few buddies is certainly fun, but it's not quite as engaging as the main adventure. Enemies swarm from all around you--throwing grenades from the front, sniping from above, and unleashing torrents of Gatling gun bullets from behind--and it can feel a bit overwhelming at times. The sometimes finicky cover controls don't always function during the heat of these ultraintense battles, and it can feel claustrophobic as you desperately roll out of the way to avoid a screaming rocket blast. Despite the small problems, this is a welcome diversion for people who love the main quest but crave sentient companions.
The competitive multiplayer is even better. The levels are once again modeled after the environments from the main quest, but your impressive agility in battle combined with the powerful weaponry make for explosive competitions. There are a number of gameplay types, which are variations on such popular formulas as Deathmatch, Capture the Flag, and Territories. But the sheer thrill of battle raises these beyond the forgettable squall of other shooters. Your agility is the main differentiating factor. It is simply incredible to spring away from your vicious buddy who is happily wielding a shotgun, leap across a gaping ravine, and grab on to a far-off ledge with just your fingertips. Frantically slamming on the X button to hoist yourself to safety while your opponent comes storming after you is a heart-racing experience, and turning the tables on your pursuer as he tries to make the same treacherous leap is so satisfying. There is also a perks system that gives you rewards beyond mere fun for sinking time into this endeavor. These rewards increase your killing power and make the mode even more fun.
Uncharted 2: Among Thieves is a complete package. The perfectly paced campaign is pure joy from beginning to end, seamlessly combining top-notch shooting, smooth platforming, clever puzzles, and a playful story into one of the most engaging and satisfying adventures around. Competitive multiplayer is just as compelling, displaying the same fun gameplay elements from the main quest in a chaotic battle against other players. The cooperative mode has its own unique pull, letting players merge their efforts to take down an unrelenting force of angry attackers. The few flaws--touchy cover controls in tight spaces and linear platforming sections--are so slight they barely stand out among the sea of fantastic features. Uncharted 2: Among Thieves is an incredible game.