Uncharted 2: Among Thieves (PlayStation 3) Review
Back in the fifth and sixth grades, I was a big PlayStation fan. The PlayStation 3 was the first console I had bought with my own money, and I was totally into it. Looking back, the PS3 was okay. The PS2 was a lot better, but it’s hard to top a giant like that. (Especially when you release $500 hardware that banks on the success of Blu-ray discs and 3D televisions.) These days, I like arcade games, Nintendo, and PlayStation pretty much equally.
But yeah, I was a huge Uncharted fan back then, too. (So much so that I actually cared about realism and graphics in video games. I know; it’s almost too sickening for me to admit it to you all.) Uncharted 3 was packed-in with my PS3. I totally loved it! I did buy Uncharted 2 at GameStop about a year or so later, and I like it as well.
But here’s the thing: I never completed either game.
Since I was out of school for a week (we got HEAVY snow on MLK Day weekend and my town doesn't usually get that much snow), I’ve had plenty of free time to go back and give Uncharted another whirl. Was it as good as I remembered it being?
That I cannot tell you. Read the article, please. I’d like to justify writing thousands of words a week.
Come on, Batman, let’s get groovin’.
(I'm pretty sure that was supposed to be a Lego Batman Movie reference. I'm really not sure what I was going for there.)
Uncharted 2: Among Thieves
Developer: Naughty Dog
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Platform: PlayStation 3
Release Date: 2009
It is my belief that no matter how vivid graphics may appear, and no matter how immersive video game technologies may become, it will always be a massive challenge for developers to make the player feel like they’re truly “in” the game. With Uncharted, Naughty Dog takes on this nigh insurmountable challenge—and they pass with flying colors. Uncharted 2 isn’t just a game you play; it’s a game you experience. You aren’t just controlling Nathan Drake; you ARE Nathan Drake. Naughty Dog has crafted a game that plays well, feels good, and makes ya feel plain awesome.
In the broadest terms possible, Uncharted 2 is an action/adventure video game. But right off the proverbial bat, you’ll notice that there a few main tiers of gameplay in Uncharted 2: platforming, light puzzle-solving, and gun-based combat. The platforming is such that some people might not even identify it as platforming at all. Throughout the game, you will be climbing and jumping—a lot. There are a lot of “locked door” scenarios where you’ll be tasked with finding another way around blocked-off areas by scaling walls and leaping across wide gaps. It almost became a running joke to me, given how frequently these platforming segments pop up. However, the reason you may not identify these sections of the game as traditional platforming is because, well…it isn’t quite traditional platforming.
Uncharted 2 is “realistic” or “cinematic” platformer of sorts. Nathan Drake moves somewhat slowly, his jump distance is rather short, and his movements follow “real-life” rules. Your jump is more of a hefty lunge, and you can’t change directions in midair. While this may at first sound dull and a bit too realistic, it’s actually quite fun in practice. Jumping and climbing about as Drake is quite a blast. Naughty Dog seems to have balanced realism and fantasy enough that, while you certainly don’t have a five-foot vertical jump or anything like that, it’s still cooler than anything you could do in real life. Luckily for us, jumping and climbing as Drake is just one part of the entire awesome experience. Because believe me, you will be jumping and climbing ALL THE TIME. While fans of traditional platformers may need to adjust to the mechanics in Uncharted 2, they’ll soon find that it’s just as fun as jumping about in any other game.
Another main tier of the gameplay in Uncharted 2 is, like I said, puzzle solving. While it’s certainly nowhere near as prevalent as jumping and climbing, it is still something you’ll encounter a bit. Full disclosure: I’ve never been a big fan of puzzles in video games. My patience for beating difficult, skill-based levels is unlimited; my patience for thinking through tough puzzles is practically nonexistent. However, I quite enjoy the way that Uncharted 2 presents puzzle-solving. Rather than running into a quick puzzle at every turn, the puzzles are pretty lengthy and not too frequent. The puzzles aren’t too terribly demanding either. If you’re someone like me who can’t follow video game logic worth a dime, you’ll still be able to decipher the puzzles in Uncharted 2 with relative ease. What makes it even better is that the puzzles often involve extensive platforming, which, as I’ve established, is one of the game’s strong suits. And even if you hate the puzzles, at least there aren’t very many of ‘em.
Gun-based combat, the third major tier of gameplay, is just as prevalent as platforming in Uncharted 2. The shooting system isn’t perfect, but it works well enough to still be fun. The gunfights are like Call of Duty in a third-person perspective. Expect to be ducking behind cover quite a bit. In fact, most shootouts involve little more than ducking in and out of cover and shooting at bad dudes. To some, it might be ever so slightly tedious, but I thought it was fun. It certainly isn’t broken, though, so you’re still left with a quality experience, even if cover shooters aren’t your favorite. Besides, Uncharted 2 gives you options. Believe it or not, stealth is a very big part of combat. It’s a lot of fun to avoid instigating a long shootout just by sneaking up behind guys and snappin’ their necks. Of course, you won’t be able to avoid all or even most shootouts in their entirety, but you can take out quite a few enemies in this fashion before the shooting begins. And naturally, you can always mix up the shooting with some classic melee attacks. Though Naughty Dawg tries their best to disguise it, the melee is a button-mashing frenzy. (More on that in controls.) It works, and it certainly breaks up the possible monotony of shooting, but it’s a little too slow and “cinematic” for my tastes.
So, you certainly know what you’ll be doing in this game by now, right? But the question remains: How will you being doing it all? How is the game broken up? I’m glad you asked, kiddos. The level structure in Uncharted 2 is very easy to follow. The game has very linear level progression. You enter a level at point A and exit the level at point B: platforming, shooting dudes, solving puzzles, and collecting treasures along the way. Though many gamers these days want to explore vast open worlds, I think you shouldn’t discredit Uncharted 2 based solely on its linearity. The game takes you on a certain paths because each path is littered with challenges. The joy comes not from exploring vast areas, but from accomplishing tasks in a predetermined area. It’s classic level design, and it works just fine.
One concern you may have for a game as “cinematic” as this one is that gameplay will be bogged down with cutscenes. I can confirm that, fortunately, that is not the case with Uncharted 2. Cutscenes are interspersed seamlessly into gameplay and never seem too lengthy. If you’re worried that the narrative will hinder the gameplay, just don’t. Uncharted 2 proved to me that you can have your cake and eat it, too. (That is, to say that you can have good gameplay and story.)
Overall, it’s a lot of fun to play Uncharted 2. In terms of difficulty, don’t expect too much. Level progression is very straightforward and understandable, and the game even gives you subtle (and optional) hints if you really are stuck. The most difficult sections of the game tend to be shootouts, but even those can be conquered with enough determination. Though the difficulty scales very slowly, it does become a real challenge by the end of the game. And worry not about the lack of exciting boss fights: the final (and only) boss is a lotta fun.
Uncharted 2 isn’t the longest game in the world. Compared to a lot of games released in the same console generation, it’s actually rather “short”. My total gametime was about 13 hours. I had no problem with this whatsoever. I bought Uncharted 2 for $6 bucks at GameStop back in December of 2011, so I got my money’s worth. And besides, I’ve always enjoyed games that lean on the shorter side. Uncharted 2 is just long enough that every gameplay mechanic (be it platforming, shooting, or puzzle-solving) is given enough time in the spotlight. The game is just long enough to tell its story and let the player have enough fun. Because of its short length, Uncharted 2 never gets boring. Uncharted 2 never overstays its welcome, and that’s a real blessing in the modern age of annoying 60-hour games.
More quantifiably, there are 26 total chapters (levels) in Uncharted 2. They vary in length, but each chapter is fairly substantial for the most part. I’ve always hated long levels in video games. 30-minute levels make it impossible to just pick up a game, play for a bit, and put it down. But Uncharted 2 presents a perfect solution for this problem. Sure, the levels are sometimes quite lengthy; the thing is, there are checkpoints littered all throughout the level. You can quit almost anywhere in a level and return to where you were the next time you play. By placing checkpoints so conveniently, Naughty Dog has ensured that the long levels in Uncharted 2 never become too much of a chore.
Beyond all of the main objectives sprinkled throughout the linear levels, there are 100 collectible treasures in Uncharted 2. On my first playthrough, I casually collected 30. I haven’t bothered to go back in and get any more, because I really don’t care. Don’t get me wrong; it’s fun to stumble upon treasures. Though I will say this: Unless you’re a PS3 trophy hunter, there’s really not much of a point in doing so. However, it does increase your total playtime to go back into chapters and find crud, so keep that in mind. There’s also one “major” hidden relic somewhere in the game, if you’re really into that collect-a-thon stuff. I have no idea where it is and if it provides that much actual value, but it’s there. The point is that Uncharted 2 gives you stuff to do. Despite being “short” (by which I mean the perfect length because long games suck), Uncharted 2 is still packed with plenty of content.
And that’s just the stuff in the main story! Back in the good ol’ days (like a year-and-a-half ago), you could still play this bad dude online. I stopped caring about playing online games as soon as Sony announced that I’d have to pay for it, but it was fun before then. There was a lot to do. Too bad it ain’t there anymore. What you do still have, though, is local co-op, and that’s a lot of fun. If you’ve already exhausted every inch of the single-player campaign, call a friend over and play local multiplayer with them. It’s fun, and it greatly extends the length of Uncharted 2.
You can tell that Naughty Dog was going for as much realism as possible with Nathan Drake’s movements. I typically hate realistic movement in games, as it makes games way too slow and generally just makes things feel clunky. Luckily for us, Drake doesn’t suffer from the worst of realism. (Though he does suffer to some extentl believe me.) Though he was, after all, designed for platforming, Drake’s movements are the slightest bit slow. More prominently, you’ll often find the controls to be rather slippery at times. It doesn’t break the game, but it would have been nice for Naughty Dog to prioritize gameplay over realism in this case. (Who needs realism anyway? Video games are escapism, kiddos.)
One thing that you’ll find to be a bit odd is the occasional difficulty with platforming. Sometimes, it’s really not clear where exactly Drake can, you know, go. He’ll reach his arm out in certain directions, but you won’t always jump where you want to. Furthermore, sometimes it’s a bit hard to move about. You may want to leap to another ledge, but the game might interpret your inputs differently and just have you move to a different side of the ledge that you’re already on. It’s a bit hard to describe how “finicky” the game can sometimes be. It’s not terrible; it’s just something to be noted.
As far as controls go, shooting might be the clunkiest aspect. Overall, the shooting mechanics are quite good. (They essentially function as a third-person Call of Duty.) However, you’ll find that, even with the sensitivity cranked up to the highest level, your aiming reticle moves a bit slowly. Everything else works rather nicely, but it would have been nicer if the slow aiming speed had been addressed. Luckily, running and gunning works just fine and is a lot quicker.
Like I mentioned earlier, you also have melee attacks at your disposal. Melee certainly works and looks good on the screen, but it isn’t perfect. You come up to a dude and mashed the square-button. If he swings back at you, you press the triangle button to dodge. It certainly works fine, but it’s a bit slow due to Uncharted’s odd need to be “cinematic” about everything.
If you think I’m being a bit too negative about the “realism” of the controls, I do have one positive for ya. The camera is quite good. It’s always right where it’s supposed to be. If it’s not, you’ve got free camera movement to fix it. There are few brief portions of the game where the camera is partially fixed (with slight movement on the x- and y-axes) for more cinematic effect. Don’t worry; it’s still good there, too.
It’s not that the controls are bad in Uncharted 2—not even close. It’s just that there a few little issues that make things…slower, I guess, than they have to be. You still feel like a gosh darned treasure-seeking adventurer the whole time you’re playing, so it’s all good in the end.
Uncharted 2 is a beautiful game in every way, and it’s a huge step up from the already stunning first game. There’s just so much care poured into each and every physical detail of the game. The polygon count is astounding, especially on the character models. Everyone—and everything—is smoothly crafted. The textures, as well, are very crisp and detailed. When it comes to raw technical strength, Uncharted 2 is just a high-quality game.
And it’s not just the polygons, kiddos; Uncharted knows better than to rely on nothing but power. The art style could be considered “unoriginal” in that, yes, it is just another PS3 game with hyper-realistic characters and environments. However, Uncharted 2 distinguishes itself from the rest of the rest by using realism for effect. The characters are realistic, yet their physiques, facial features, and even their stances physically demonstrate their personality traits. And the levels, like the character designs, are also quite unique. Each environment is easily distinguishable from the others. They all have their own quirks, their own life. While I might argue that the environments could have a little more life (there’s not too much that goes on outside of enemies and scripted events), I’d say that Naughty Dog still did a darn fine job—and excellent job!
Uncharted 2 really is a master of presentation. Like I said earlier, cutscenes and gameplay really are integrated with near perfection. What makes it even better is that the cutscenes are a true delight (unlike many other “narrative” video games). The story itself is well written enough, but that’s not where the game really shines. The cutscenes in Uncharted are just plain funny. There’s a lot of humor (and great character work) sprinkled throughout Uncharted’s cutscenes. You actually enjoy the story as much as playing the game, ya know? Without undermining gameplay even a bit, Naughty Dog managed to present a great story in Uncharted 2.
It’s always a bad thing when games try to be “cinematic”. Games tend to play themselves when developers go that route. However, Naughty Dog seems to understand how to make a fun game that tells a good story at the same time. The story and gameplay share equal focus and are of equal quality in Uncharted 2. I might almost call it perfect! How do they do it?
I feel the need to add one last thing: This game genuinely made me happy with its presentation. I would laugh out loud at some of the things that were said in cutscenes, and the final cutscene before the credits rolled had me smiling the whole time. It’s just good writing and good presentation. It looks nice; it feels nice.
Sound is another area where Uncharted 2 absolutely dominates. Greg Edmonson composed all of the music, and I have to say that he did a darn good job of it. While the vast of majority of the tracks increase the “atmosphere”, a few tracks are just a bit dull. It’s really good stuff.
The voice work in Uncharted is also top-notch. Heck, it’s some of the best voice acting that I’ve heard in any game—ever. It’s fantastic; every actor fills their character with life. Nolan North is perfect as Nathan Drake. Emily Rose is perfect is perfect as Elena Fisher. Richard McGonagle is especially perfect as Victor Sullivan. Everyone is just gosh darned perfect!
One especially awesome sound quirk is all of the unique voice clips that play throughout the game. As you progress through levels, you’ll often hear hilarious banter between Nathan Drake and whomever his NPC partner happens to be at that moment. There are some especially funny bits between Nathan and Sully in an early chapter that you NEED to hear for yourself. There’s such a biting wit to the writing in this game, and it’s especially evident in these conversations. It’s just so nice to see that Naughty Dog cared so much that they had brilliantly written dialogue planned out for so many moments in the game. Heed my words: You will find yourself laughing out loud.
I wish I could elaborate more on the sound, but I often find myself at a loss for words in this section. I don’t know much about music and mixing and stuff, so…yeah. I will add, though, that the stereo sound in Uncharted 2 is phenomal. I could also tell where an enemy was with near pinpoint perfection due to just how dynamic the sound was. The sound effects themselve are pretty standard, subtle stuff, but it works.
It’s time like this I wish I had a capture card. Then, I could record my favorite bits of dialogue and upload it here. I guess this one scene from YouTube will have to be representative of all the humor in the game. (Just watch the first 20 or so seconds. It was hard to find a video that fit my needs. There are funny bits near the end, too, though.)
There's funny dialogue like that all the time. I think that's part of why Uncharted 2 succeeds on so many levels. Even the audio pushes the narrative forward! Also, here’s a good song, just for fun:
Uncharted 2 is a fantastic game. Heck, it’s one of the best games of all gosh danged time. It’s probably one of the most cinematic games I’ll ever let myself play, because I really hate it when games try to be like movies. But you know what? It really works here. Gameplay and story integrate seamlessly.
I probably won’t play Uncharted 3 for a while. I got to about 60 percent completion back in fifth grade, but I don’t feel like playing again until Uncharted 2 has left my mind as much as possible. I want to review the third game on its own merits as much as possible.
Thanks for reading. Buy all three Uncharted games. It’s a good idea.
I’d like to include a dead meme at the end, if that’s alright with you all. And I mean a really, REALLY dead meme. Here goes:
Please forgive me. I hate dead memes, too. It was just very hard to resist. At least I didn’t slap some image macro with the Impact font at the end of the article. (I have standards.)