Sunday, 26 December 2010

Game Review: Uncharted 2: Among Thieves-PS3

Developed by Naughty Dog, (creators of the hugely popular, million selling franchise Crash Bandicoot ), Uncharted: Drakes Fortune was an action adventure game in the style of Tomb Raider, one that boasted lush visuals, an excellent script, superb voice acting and edge of your seat set pieces. Naturally the game was an immediate hit amongst the Sony fanbase and garnered favourable opinions from all corners of the industry so it came as no surprise when a sequel was announced for 2009.

Uncharted 2: Among Thieves sees you once again take on the role of our grave robbing hero Nathan "Nate" Drake as he sets out to discover the legendary mystical valley of Shangri-La and the Cintamani Stone, a mythical rock that is said to grant one with great strength and powers. The adventure begins by throwing the player right into the thick of things with a wounded Nate hanging upside down in a train cart which hangs precariously over a cliff edge. From the get go you’ll be impressed by both the visual and cinematic quality on display as you help Nate climb his way up through the wreak before it plummets into the misty depths below. The snow and wind whips around Drake in such a realistic fashion that it adds to the sense of urgency in such a way it's hard not to catch your breath each time a piece of train breaks away threatening to send Nate to his doom. Eventually you claw your way onto the cliff edge and the game fades out, taking you back a few weeks to previous events.

Nathan's adventure begins when old friends Harry Flynn and Chloe Frazer approach him with a job offer to steal an oil lamp from an Istanbul museum. Nate accepts the job when he learns that the lamp may lead to the legendary treasures said to have been procured Marco Polo's lost fleet. It's here that you get a good sense of Nate's abilities from running, jumping, climbing and melee combat; all of which are much like those found in Nate’s first adventure on the PS3 but much more fluid and precise in their execution. Melee combat, for example, feels a lot more meaty and satisfying with both open combos and stealth attacks providing some small amusement in an affectionate nod towards the fisticuffs found in the Indiana Jones movies.

Control of Nate through his environment is tremendous fun. While it's often clear as to where to go next, which ledge to jump to and from, which crack in the wall to take a hold of and so forth it does it in a way that blends into the environment seamlessly thus creating the illusion that you're guiding Nate through a perfectly natural route as opposed to throwing up obvious way-points through some linear path. Of course that’s exactly what you are doing, but it’s a testament to the carefully thought out level design that makes the illusion that you’re not following some ridged, pre-determined path even more acceptable.

Combat is as intense as it is satisfying and makes much better use of the cover system found in the first game. You can also hurl gas canisters into the air before making them explode with a perfectly aimed shot from Nate's pistol causing walkways to collapse underfoot, vehicles to explode and walls to crumble onto enemies. Paying careful attention to Nate’s surrounding environment you’ll always find something to even the odds a little should you find yourself outgunned. Enemies are intelligent and will attempt to outmaneuver you should you hang around in one spot for too long, but in the same sense they're also dumb enough to be outmaneuvered by you, leading to some amusing moments during a heated gun fight.

As you progress thought the game you start to realize just how stunning Uncharted 2 is. Environments are highly detailed and simply ooze character and believability. It's obvious that a lot of forethought has been crafted into each and every area to give the player a total sense of immersion, even if you are essentially looking from the outside-in as you guide Nate on his adventure. Rain, wind and snow all act as they would in the real world and are perhaps some of the best examples of weather to be currently found in a video game. Wood cracks and splinters realistically, metal fractures and bends, explosions hurl chunks of debris through the air with incredible effect and so on. Character models are well drawn and all-from the main players to disposable henchmen-have believable facial expressions, realistic body language and a fluidity to their movement that captures both the action and set pieces superbly.

It’s also worth noting that with its witty, emotional, gritty and even sometimes cheesy dialogue Uncharted 2 arguably also has some of the finest voice acting and script writing of any video game. Combined with no apparent loading sections you could be watching any Saturday afternoon matinee as each scene moves seamlessly into the next as the story is carried forward. Alone the story is both compelling and gripping, but intertwined with such well presented voice acting and the games smooth progression from one act to the next it rides along effortlessly, conjuring up the kind of thrills and excitement one would expect from a blockbuster movie, albeit one that you are actively taking part in.

Uncharted 2: Among Thieves is a masterclass in how to develop a video game; a finally crafted piece of work that brings video games one step closer to a more respectable place alongside film and music. Beautifully told and simply exhilarating to play it is easily one of the finest and most accomplished games of the last decade.


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