Indiana Jones, eat your heart out!
What worked for movies back in the day (I am not counting The Crystal Skull) works just as well in games today. Uncharted 2: Among Thieves is one of the greatest gaming experiences of this generation, and that's just the single-player. The fact that there is a fun multiplayer component with the game this time around is just gravy... sweet sweet gravy.
I remember commenting a few weeks ago in my Marvel: Ultimate Alliance 2 review how it failed in everything that a sequel is meant to be. I wish I knew that the perfect template for how to do a sequel correctly was just around the corner. Everything that was great about the first game is better here, and everything that was wrong with it is either gone or less bothersome this time around.
Uncharted 2 picks up a a few years after the original Uncharted, and this time focuses on a historical mystery in the form of Marco Polo and a stack of missing ships. Without ruining the surprise, the story is exceptional, and will hold your attention well.
I am going to get the nitpicking out of the way first though. While the levels are a bit more open for combat (which means you don't just hide behind the same cover all the time) there still isn't much freedom when it comes to platforming. The platform elements look great, no question, but personally I felt there was a little bit too much of it in the game. On the bright site, it wasn't too difficult. If you like a challenge from your platforming, you will not find that here, but for someone like me who hates jumping games, it was a pleasure.
There are also some stealth segments in the game, which are easily the least enjoyable. However they do help showcase the new hand-to-hand combat system, which looks great even if it is not as deep as developers Naughty Dog would like you to think.
Some enemies towards the end of the game are still bullet sponges, which was a problem in the first game, but most enemies are removed from the game with one or two sprays of bullets. Also, the bullet sponges that are in the game are given a contextual reason within the story for being able to absorb so much punishment. What might have helped would be more feedback in the combat. When you shoot an enemy, they do not react to the bullet hitting them and there is no audio cue either to show you are hitting them. This can make combat feel a bit flat at times, which is a real shame for such a combat-heavy game, especially in multiplayer where it really helps to know whether or not you are hitting your target.
Speaking of multiplayer, it's a blast. Some of the game modes are more fun than the others (treasure hunter and co-op are particularly good) but considering this is probably Sony's biggest release between now and the end of the year, it is a very welcome addition to the online environment. Also, the way the platforming seamlessly blends with the combat and level design in multiplayer allows Uncharted 2 to stand out as a really fun and somewhat different online experience.
I couldn't care less that this game is not original. How many games really are any more? The only thing that matters is that this is a polished experience. Every step of your adventure has been lovingly crafted by the developers for you to enjoy. You will always be on the edge of your seat, as the pacing of the game and its story is fantastic and keeps you rushing towards the finish line the whole time.
Things are just always happening in this game. Whilst climbing up a drainpipe it may suddenly break, and you will watch Drake panic and find something else to jump onto. While you are in no danger here, it makes the game so much more alive and interesting than just watching yourself climb up a pipe. You feel as if you are in this adventure, and not simply playing a game.
What adds to this is the truly incredible voice acting, script, motion capture animation and camera work. Naughty Dog has truly outdone themselves. My girlfriend, while watching me play, commented multiple times on how it did not seem like most other games and that it seemed like more than just a game. And there is truth to that. Uncharted 2 is one of the best examples we have of a truly interactive movie experience this generation. The graphics are just amazing and the detail is everywhere. From the way snow gets caught onto Drakes clothes or the way he shields his face from all fires that may be in the environment. There are plenty of returning characters and a good chunk of new ones. There is even a fun love triangle thrown in for you to enjoy and unlike any other game that has tried something like this, here, it is fun to watch.
The scale of everything has also gone up a notch or two for the sequel. While the first game was mostly on an island setting, this is a global journey. You even get similar environments to the first game early on in the story, but you'll also get snowy mountains, Tibetan villages, an awesome train ride and a whole bunch of other places, the descriptions of which would spoil the story. What I will say is there were times where the epic nature of this game reminded me of the God of War series, it was just that good. Plus there are a good number of extra features and "making of" videos that are always a welcome addition to any gaming package. I always wish more titles would have things like this!
The combat is the same from the first game, but the fact that enemies are easier to kill makes it vastly better. Grenades are also easier to throw, now that all six-axis support has been removed.
Multiplayer is the big extra feature for the sequel. As I mentioned earlier, it is nothing ground-breaking but definitely fun. Will people still be playing it once Modern Warfare 2 comes blasting through stores? Who knows, but I hope so. It actually has perks in multiplayer just like the Call of Duty games. The way these work is you gain levels in multiplayer and earn cash for your profile, and you may then use this money to buy new perks or character skills - even weapon upgrades for the co-op missions. Speaking of which, the co-op parts are fun, but difficult. Teamwork is definitely a requirement, but the small taste I had did not give me enough to know whether you would come back again and again. The downside is that it is limited to three players only, and very few people on the PlayStation Network have microphones, which makes teamwork and strategy almost impossible to co-ordinate.
Uncharted 2: Among Thieves is almost out here in NZ and when it arrives you should know it is one of the best titles to ever come out on the PS3. You will laugh, you will scream, and you will sit on the edge of your seat. And most importantly, you will have a blast all the way through to the end credits.