Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Review: Uncharted 2- Among Thieves

Thanks to the emphasis on scores and the general lack of interest by most modern gamers to actually read a review, gaming criticism is a bit hard to put much stock in these days. (My, that’s ironic.)

I remember the good ole days when a 6.5 was a pretty dang good score to go along with a decently glowing review.

Without opening a whole different can of worms, I’ll simply say modern games are receiving bloated scores and bloated reviews. In an effort to draw readers, it seems like reviewers are bending over backwards to heap an embarrassing amount of praise on titles that, quite often, are undeserving of such acclaim.

Despite my love of the original Uncharted game, I went into Among Thieves with a bit of caution. With such high scores across the board and folks deeming it the best single player experience of all time, I feared Uncharted 2 might simply be the next decent hot-item game to miraculously draw in more credit than it is owed. (I’m especially looking at you, Assassin’s Creed.)

I’m more than delighted to say my fears were mostly unfounded. Uncharted 2 is, without a doubt, an absolute joy to play.

Broken into two main parts, both pieces of the story begin slowly. Before long, however, the pace is pushed to blinding speeds that almost never let up during the 12 hours of playtime. I was amazed by how many big set pieces the game offered. In truth, Uncharted 2 is almost entirely comprised of these long, satisfying moments. To put it more plainly, I can’t remember saying “wow” so many times in a single game.

From huge shootouts to long games of cat and mouse against seemingly insurmountable odds, Uncharted 2 almost never lets up. There are, of course, a few puzzle moments and big exploration bits, but you never get much of a break from the adrenaline overdose that makes up the majority of the game. This is a good thing.

Naughty Dog have fine-tuned the controls from the first game, making transitioning from cover to cover a much easier process. The stealth tactics are a nice addition and the game even rewards you for silent kills with better weapon drops, but only one portion of the game actually requires you to play it sneaky. You can also fire and reload a pistol while hanging from ledges and fast pitch a grenade if you’re willing to poke your head out from cover. You’ll occasionally fight with the controls when you accidentally push the jump button when you meant to take cover, but that’s less a game flaw and more a result of player panic.

The visuals once again set the bar. From snow shifting realistically underfoot to sweeping vistas of cityscapes and jungles, Uncharted 2 is very easy on the eyes. The characters move realistically thanks to the continued use of motion capture and the voice acting and writing are second to none. Even more impressive are the little touches like the look on a character’s face in the background, the many ways hero Nathan Drake may stumble when traversing a bumpy level or how he’ll even blow into his freezing hands if you sit still too long in an icy level. There are hundreds of small things here that add up to one big, impressively realistic set of characters and environments.

If you can stop yourself from going immediately into a second playthrough once the credits roll, Uncharted 2’s online is also quite impressive.

I will be the first to admit I groaned when I heard the game would have online modes. I felt certain such features would take away from the single player experience.

I was wrong.

The online modes fit perfectly into the world of the game and look, play and sound just as good. From standard affairs like deathmatch and zone control to a surprising twist on capture the flag that has you lugging around and throwing a massive treasure, the competitive stuff is about as good as you’ll find anywhere else.

Co-op, though, steals the online show. From mowing down never-ending hordes of enemies to working together to complete objectives, this three-player affair has loads of replay value.

Whether you play the single player campaign or stick to the online scene, all modes net you in-game cash that can be spent on a variety of extras. From gameplay tweaks and behind the scenes footage to weapon upgrades and player perks similar to those in Modern Warfare, Uncharted 2’s unlockables give you plenty of reason to keep coming back for more.

While Uncharted 2 doesn’t bring anything particularly new to the table, it incorporates aspect of many genres and polishes them all to a fine shine. The game is, quite simply, a fantastic ride well worth the hype propelling it to the top of the charts.

You will have an absolute blast with this one and, whether or not it ends up on your “all-time top 10” list, everyone owes it to themselves to see what wonders await in Drake’s latest outing.

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