Thursday, November 5, 2009

Uncharted 2: Among Thieves - Review

Uncharted 2: Among Thieves is a follow-up release by Naughty Dog to 2007’s runaway hit Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune. Among Thieves does not add anything significantly different to the series; it continues to be everything that made the first game so much fun, only with a lot more polish. The visuals are slicker than last time, thanks to coupling smoother animation with improved lighting and physics. This game has all the elements you would expect to find in a typical summer action flick – a reluctant hero, camaraderie, betrayal, romance and some over the top set pieces.

This time around, Nathan Drake is on the trail of Marco Polo’s ill-fated return journey from China, in a quest to find the Chintamani Stone and discover the fabled city of Shambala. Joining Drake on his adventure, are two new characters: Harry Flynn, a long time friend and his female associate Chloe Frazer. Making a comeback from the last outing are Elena Fisher and Drake’s most trusted friend, Victor ‘Sully’ Sullivan. The game introduces a few more characters as the adventure will take you from Istanbul to the jungles of Borneo, and from the urban streets of Nepal to the snow-capped Himalayan Mountains.

Drake’s Fortune Endures
Just like in the first game, you’ll be solving puzzles and scaling heights as you inch closer to your destination. For combat in the game, it retains a cover-based shooting mechanism coupled with occasional melee bouts. While the use of stealth in the game has been expanded, the system is anything but perfect. In fact, it could use a lot of polishing!

Everything else pretty much remains the same, thankfully, since there was not a lot in the first game that needed fixing. You can still carry only two weapons – a side-arm and a primary weapon – along with a limited number of grenades. Speaking of which, it has become a lot simpler in this game to control the throw of a grenade. There is a decent variety of weapons in Among Thieves, and certain set-pieces are designed tightly around the usage of the right weapon. Platforming remains an integral part of the game, but this time, expert use of dynamic camera angles gives it a more dramatic feel.

High tension, the constantly changing locations and relentless action adds excitement to what would otherwise be a repetitive task of ducking and shooting. The more tranquil parts of the game, which are spent solving puzzles and finding your way around, are nicely filled with well-directed cut-scenes and banter between the game’s characters.

Last Action Hero
Just like an action movie, this game requires suspension of disbelief in order to truly enjoy the roller-coaster ride that it offers. Stage and puzzle design sometimes seem a bit too convenient giving the impression that the ancients designed the place specifically for someone like Drake to access.

During gun-battles, you will be up against what would otherwise be considered overwhelming odds. By the time you are done with the game, you will have destroyed a decent-sized, well-armed battalion backed up with some heavy-duty firepower. So to get the best out of Uncharted 2, you’ll probably have to suspend logical reasoning for the 10-12 hours it takes to finish the game.

Extra Booty
Earning medals by locating hidden treasures and achieving combat-related landmarks will bring greater reward this time around. Each time you earn a medal, the game rewards you with in-game dollars which can be used to unlock bonus content like concept art and behind-the-scenes videos. Majority of this reward will be spent unlocking character models, skins, and weapons for the games multiplayer mode.

The most significant change in Uncharted 2 is the addition of multiplayer game modes – something that was completely absent in the first game. There are both co-operative and competitive game modes available for online play. Co-operative game mode supports a maximum of three players with missions similar to the ones you find in the single-player campaign. The four competitive modes with a maximum limit of ten players are: Deathmatch, Plunder, Elimination and Chain Reaction. All four of them are essentially variations of traditional multiplayer games such as capture-the-flag and last man standing.

Among Friends
The multiplayer portion of the game is updated using a content streaming method that we often seen in an MMORPG. The game patch and online updates collectively took a few attempts to execute and about 20 minutes to download. After logging on to the server, you have options to either join an existing public game or host a private game with gamers from your contact list.

We had little luck playing online – each time the game took a few minutes before finding an appropriate match. On a couple of occasions, we were kicked out of the game right after it started! This could very well be a case of bad fortune since according to the server stats, there were over 70,000 users connected at that time.

After a few attempts, we did manage to get into a game and stay there. The game selected for us by the server was a co-operative mode called Plunder, which is essentially capture the flag with ancient artifacts. We did not experience even the slightest lag during the 30-odd minutes we spent playing the game on our 512kbps connection. Taking down enemies, rescuing your teammates and completing the game objective, all earns you experience points that goes towards increasing your character’s level. Usage of certain weapons is restricted by this level. Along with experience points, the game also rewards you with currency just like in the single-player mode.

As bonus online features, the game allows you to save video grabs of your online matches on the PS3 hard drive and comes with a built-in support for Twitter.

X Marks the Spot
Overall, Uncharted 2 is a fun-filled proposition; however, it is not a perfect game by any stretch of imagination. We noticed several issues with A.I. scripts of both the enemies and A.I.-controlled companions. On occasions, we experienced game crashes and graphical errors. Also, the set-pieces are so tightly choreographed that once you have finished the game, playing it again on a higher difficulty adds very little to the challenge. So the game offers very little in terms of replay value, at least at the campaign level.

However, Among Thieves comes highly recommended even if it is only for the 10-12 hours of gameplay the excellent single-player mode offers. The game is a design success due to well-paced sequences of gun battles, platforming and puzzle solving. Game-play is further supported by cut-scenes with the right kind of lighting, camera work, voice acting, and fitting background score. The end result is something that has all the drama you would expect from a Hollywood movie.

If you own a PlayStation 3, Uncharted: Among Thieves (along with Drake’s Fortune) should be on top of your must-buy list. In fact, we say Uncharted 2 is the reason for the season!

Rating: 4.5/5
Genre: Action, Adventure
Developer: Naughty Dog
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Platform:PlayStation 3

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