When you play videogames on a ‘professional’ basis it’s easy to get jaded about them – on the whole your average videogames reviewer probably plays, on average, roughly ten times the number of new titles each month that an ‘ordinary’ member of the games-buying public does and many of these games are just rehashes of old ideas – so when a new title arrives which causes you to get genuinely excited, then it has to be something special. And Uncharted 2: Among Thieves, is exactly that.
I have to confess that I missed out on the original game, Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune, owing to taking a short career break, so the character of Nathan Drake, a charismatic fortune hunter, was new to me, and I didn’t know quite what to expect from the title. What I found was a game which is so immersive, so polished, so addictive and so beautifully programmed that it is very possibly that most sought after of all things: the perfect videogame.
I don’t mean that it’s going to be the best videogame that you EVER play, for if that were the case, well… you’d never ever need to play another game, and there are so many different categories and genres of videogames these days, and such a diverse gaming audience, that there are bound to be those who would prefer to play, for example, a flight sim, or perhaps a racing game. But what Uncharted 2 does, is to promise its audience a specific gaming experience, and then deliver on everything that it promises, with literally ZERO flaws – hence: it’s perfect.
For those who, like me, didn’t play the first Uncharted, this game has a lot in common with Tomb Raider, in that you’re touring the world, exploring ancient civilisations to hunt for clues to ancient priceless artefacts – in this case the ultimate quest is for a mystical gem which promises its possessor no less than world domination. Now I’ve always been a massive (some might say obsessive) fan of Tomb Raider, ever since the first game in the series back on the original PlayStation. I tell you that so that when I say that Uncharted 2 is, for me, the game that Tomb Raider could only ever hope to be, you’ll hopefully realise that I’m not just spitting out empty hyperbole, I’m speaking as someone that quite literally worships the escapades of Miss Croft.
From the moment that Uncharted 2 begins, with you in the role of the rugged hero Nathan Drake, finding yourself hanging from a derailed train which is itself hanging off a cliff on a snowy mountainside, you’re drawn inextricably into an incredibly immersive adventure that I personally found almost impossible to stop playing. In fact if it hadn’t been for the fact of having to feed my recently arrived baby daughter, plus the occasional need to sleep and eat, then I very probably wouldn’t have stopped playing this game till I finished it.
Everything about the game screams obsessive attention to detail – the lavish environments rival anything I’ve ever seen in a videogame title, up to and including the awesome sprawling cityscapes of Grand Theft Auto IV, in fact the GTA IV backdrops looking like a child’s drawings compared to the beautifully created environments in this game. The script – unusually – appears to have actually been written by professional script writers who feel that the narrative (consisting of both seamless cut-sequences and ‘in game’ dialogue) should be entertaining for its own sake, rather than used simply to string the various game sequences together, and the ‘acting’ of the characters, both in terms of voice-acting and physical animation, is of a standard which would put most ‘live’ big-screen Hollywood movie actors to shame. The extremely cinematic feel of the whole thing is further enhanced by genuinely brilliant camerawork which serves the dual purpose of creating appropriate drama and atmosphere, whilst also giving you clues as to what you should be thinking about doing next.
On the subject of what you should be doing next – I remember that I used to complain a long time ago in reviews about games being too ‘linear’. These days though I think I’ve just spent too long wandering the massive digital worlds that videogames can now offer us because when it comes to ‘massive sandbox’-type games, I almost shudder at the thought of trekking for hours through mammoth environments trying to figure out what I need to be doing. Thinking back, I guess I just got too excited about the expanding videogame horizons back then, because now, for me, videogames aren’t necessarily about being ‘free to roam’, they’re about being able to experience a particular adventure, be it driving a race car, fighting off marauding aliens or – as in this case – exploring ancient tombs. So for me, the linearity of Uncharted 2 is set just about right, and I actually like the fact that the action, the puzzles and storyline combine to push me along a specific path. Don’t get me wrong – you still have freedom to roam to a point, and you still need to figure out how to get through the game yourself, but you don’t ever seem to find yourself wandering around aimlessly searching for that one particular hidden switch which gets you to the next stage, the way you do in some lesser action-adventures. This is despite that fact that here, unlike in most other games of this type, the way you climb things, or solve puzzles, doesn’t rely solely on clearly labelled ledges and paths – instead the almost photo-realistic environment is just ‘there’ all around you, and clever lighting and use of the camera gives you hints as to what path to take. And should you get really stuck, the game seems to realise this, and offers you hints, each of which is slightly more pointed than the last to ensure you eventually get where you’re going.
Of course, in a game like this the hero is important, and our hero Nathan Drake has the athleticism of Lara Croft (if not the ‘assets’!) and the wit of James Bond, along with a lot of Bond’s marksmanship skills too. As a result, the levels offer a heady mixture of exploration, puzzle solving and gun battling in more-or-less equal measure, each aspect of which, surprisingly, works extremely well. I was surprised at this, because although I was expecting the adventure side of things to work well, I’ve found in the past that gunplay in third-person games of this type doesn’t always work so well, usually because the control system has been designed around the platform-adventure aspect of the game which doesn’t always lend itself that well to gunfights. In Uncharted 2 however, it all flows together exactly right – one minute you’re clambering around in an ancient temple trying to find the hidden puzzles, the next you’re battling heavily-armed soldiers in all-out warfare, and it all plays… just perfectly.
For those who live their lives online, Uncharted 2 also offers an online multiplayer option, or rather: multiple options. Several different game types exist, including a variety of team deathmatch modes, and also some cooperative adventure modes that allow three players at a time to tackle various levels from the main game. Refreshingly though, the developers don’t have you just playing through exactly the same levels as in story mode, instead they’ve been tweaked and changed with different puzzles inserted and small differences made to the layout which mean that while they might initially look similar, in reality your multiplayer experiences will be completely different to your solo ones.
All the multiplayer modes that I’ve sampled worked extremely well – the team deathmatch modes (limited to five players on five) reminded me a lot of Gears Of War, only actually more fun as you don’t have to rely quite so much on taking cover as you do in that Xbox 360 game. For me though, the three-player online cooperative puzzle maps were far and away the most fun, and – thanks to the variety of ways that you can complete each level and the fact that playing with different teams of people means that everyone tackles them differently – for me these offer endless replay value.
So it’s fair to say that I liked this game, yes? Now sometimes, when you review a game and you want to give it a REALLY good score, you worry that other people who read your review are going to disagree with you, and might feel that the reviewer is being overgenerous. In this case though, I can say without a shadow of a doubt that Uncharted 2: Among Thieves is, for me, THE best game I have played so far this year on any console. I’d even go so far as to say that I think it’s actually the best game I have EVER played on any gaming format… ever, and I’ve played a lot of games over the years! I’ve finished the story mode once, and I’m playing through it all over again already, and I fully expect to be playing through it many more times over the coming months. That’s when I’m not teaming up online for some cooperative adventuring, obviously. Quite simply: this game is perfect. Everything about it is done exactly right, and if developer Naughty Dog isn’t already working on a sequel to it then I will be moving heaven and earth to see that they do. Not because I’ll ever get tired of playing this one you understand, but at some point I’m worried that I might actually wear the game disc out. And as for the score – do you really need to ask? I’m giving it the almost unheard of, once in a blue moon, absolutely spot on ‘Perfect’ 10 out of 10. If you play this game and you fail to find it absolutely, earth-shatteringly, ground-breakingly awesome, then I would say you should sell your PS3 and give up on videogames forever, because in the opinion of this reviewer… there’s something wrong with you. If you don’t have a PS3 on the other hand – this is your reason to buy one.