Review: Uncharted 2: Among Thieves

A real treasure
By MITCH KRPATA  |  October 21, 2009
4.0 4.0 Stars


Uncharted 2: Among Thieves | for PlayStation 3 | Rated T for Teen | Developed by Naughty Dog | Published by Sony Computer Entertainment
Nathan Drake walks like a man. Not so much in a macho, John Wayne kind of way — though there is plenty of that in him — but as if he were a real person occupying physical space. Drake does all the improbable things we demand of our video-game heroes: he leaps across bottomless pits, hangs by his fingernails from the side of a screaming train, and kills hundreds of bad guys while shrugging off their bullets. His physicality makes all the difference. He stumbles. He slips. He collapses behind cover. He moves like no virtual protagonist around, and that’s just one of many ways in which Uncharted 2: Among Thieves excels.

Cribbing from the Indiana Jones playbook, Uncharted 2 sends Drake across the world in search of an ancient treasure said to contain supernatural powers. He is, of course, racing rival treasure hunters, not to mention a sociopathic military commander of dubious nationality who’s seeking to become a dictator on a par with Stalin and Hitler. It’s not incredibly inventive, but it is better than The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. The interplay between characters is nicely done as well. Drake has a self-depreciating sense of humor that gives every scene some levity, though his penchant for quipping when nobody else is around —even when he’s just been shot in the stomach — can stretch credulity.

At the macro level, the plot strings together several astonishing action sequences, many of which would by themselves be the high point of other games. Drake leaps from truck to truck in a breakneck, mountainside car chase. He battles cave creatures high in the Himalayas. A sequence in which a tank stalks him through the streets of Tibet, pulverizing the ancient buildings around him, is so taut and confidently executed that I was reminded of the better moments in the Half-Life series.

Not only are these scenes fun to play, they’re also short and to the point. The game comprises 26 tightly constructed chapters, none of which outstays its welcome. Shootouts aren’t interminable; you plow through an enemy squad or two before moving on to the next area. Numerous platforming sections, interspersed with some light puzzle solving that never grows onerous or repetitive, keep things fresh by varying the environments. Drake traverses modern cities, lush jungles, ancient ruins, and grand monasteries. You get a great view of everything, since he invariably winds up standing on rooftops or dangling over chasms — and it’s all rendered in gorgeous color and intricate detail.

Perhaps more important than what the developers at Naughty Dog put in is what they left out. Drake has a limited skillset that’s fairly easy to master: he can jump, take cover, brawl, shoot, and climb. That’s about it. His moves are simple, yet Naughty Dog wrings from them an impressive number of set pieces that never repeat themselves. The extended scene aboard a moving train incorporates all of his abilities in different ways. Shooting at enemies three cars up — while the track twists and turns — takes more concentration than reflexes, and climbing along the outside of the cars feels more urgent than the slower-paced platforming sections elsewhere in the game. No vastly different and inferior gameplay mechanics — like, say, shoddy driving sequences — have been grafted on in a misplaced attempt at variety. It all feels of a piece.

Uncharted 2 makes greatness seem effortless, yet games of its caliber are so rare. A copy should be sent to every mainstream development house in the country, along with a note saying, “This is how it’s done.”

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