I’m back with another video game review, and another current generation video game. It’s from last year, but it’s one that’s likely to become a Greatest Hits title at some time this year. I enjoyed the previous installment in the series, which I reviewed earlier in the year, and it set a high mark for me. The question is, does the sequel meet that mark for me?

General Information

Title: Uncharted 2: Among Thieves
Developer: Naughty Dog
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
System: PlayStation 3
Release Date: October 13, 2009
Genre: 3rd Person Action Game

The Premise

Nathan Drake, professional treasure hunter, (played by Nolan North) is approached by an old partner, Harry Flynn (Steve Valentine), and old flame Chloe Frazier (Claudia Black) for a job – to steal a lamp from a Turkish museum. However, this is no ordinary lamp – within it lies the secret to where the other 13 ships of the treasure fleet that Marco Polo took with him from China are. For those who have forgotten this part of the story of Marco Polo – he left China with 14 ships loaded with treasure, he only returned with one. When Drake is betrayed by Flynn after they discover that the fleet holds the secret of the location of Shambala (aka Shangri-La), and when he learns that Flynn is working for a psychopathic Russian mercenary, Drake knows that he needs to get to Shambala first. On the way, he also rejoins Elena Fisher from the first game (who is covering an semi-related story), and he also enlists the help of mentor Victor Sullivan.

High Points

The action sequences in this game are considerably better than the action sequences in the last game, from one of the best train stages I’ve encountered in video games  to a very good car chase sequence. The level design has also been adjusted to allow for more  ways to navigate the environment. Additionally, Drake’s movement animations have improved some. The acting in cut-scenes has also improved a bunch. Drake also has some optional stealth attacks he can use in sections – however, in the sections that let you use stealth, you don’t need stealth to get through them.

Low Points

The game still has some problems with putting you in situations where it’s incredibly easy to get lost, and difficult to find yourself again without the assistance of a FAQ. Checkpoints are also spaced a little more frequently, but I wouldn’t have minded a little further. Actually, to be honest, I wouldn’t have minded a save-anywhere option like with most PC games. Additionally, this game introduces one new problem that I hadn’t encountered in the prior game. This game has several levels where you’re running from something. It could be a careening truck, it could be an angry horde of enemy guards, it could be from a collapsing bridge. In any case, in all of these situations, for most of the level if not the entirety of the level, it places the camera angle so it’s facing what you’re running from, not where you’re going. While I understand that you want to build tension, not being able to see where I’m going makes these running sequences artificially more difficult.

On a side note, why is it that in multi-player, head-shots don’t kill people in one hit? It does it in single player, and in multi-player for other popular FPS games as well (particularly Counter Strike and Call of Duty). Why not here? Particularly since the grenade launcher is otherwise the God gun in this game – the only gun that can kill in one hit.

Content Notes

As with the prior game, this is rated T for Teen by the ESRB. However, this game features a little more blood than the last game, and considerably more uses of the word s*** – you’ll hear the word used about 5 to 10 times per level if you don’t die. If you die and have to repeat a checkpoint,you may hear the word more often.

The Scores

Originality: The game has a lot of similarities with the first game in the series – though it does expand on things somewhat, both in terms of taking us to environments the first game didn’t take us to, both in terms of more recent cities and to mountainous environments, and in terms of the plot (by adding new supporting characters). 4 out of 6.

Story: The story for this installment is above and beyond the first game’s story. In particular the twist about Shambala was actually more scary than the twist about El Dorado in the first game. I also found the villain from this game is much nastier than the villain from Drake’s Fortune. The inclusion of an “Evil Drake” was also a nice touch. 4 out of 6.

Graphics: The first game added variety to its ruined cities and tombs through jungle environments. This game adds color and variety in the ruins themselves – with brightly painted and gilded rooms in some of the ruins, as well as including a war-torn city and various mountain environments as well. In the latter environments, the game does a particularly good job of displaying the snow caked around Drake’s boots. 6 out of 6.

Sound: Greg Edmonson returns to do the score for this game and in my opinion this is some of the best work he’s done ever. The sound design is still pretty good, and the game uses both audio channels very well also. 5 out of 6

Playability: The controls are solid, the levels are enjoyable, and (like the first game), there are plenty of treasures that you can go back and get if you want to unlock everything. The addition of online multiplayer helps provide some variety, but it’s not without it’s problems. The game uses a perks system, ala Call of Duty 4, so if you’re a new player, you’ll find that people who have been playing longer will have an edge over you – and not just in terms of experience – so be warned. 6 out of 6.

Immersion: Again, like the first game, there’s a very minimalistic HUD, and the levels tend to be organically linked together. However, the first game had a definite sense of place, that everywhere you were going was directly connected, as part of a larger whole. Here, on the other hand, the areas are much more broken up. You start out in Istambul, and then go to Borneo, before going to a war-torn city in Nepal, and only then do we finally get that sense of place that the first game lacked. 5 out of 6

Overall: This game definitely has the same cohesive feel that made the first game work so well, but takes it up another notch with a better story and better actual gameplay. 6 out of 6.

In Total, Uncharted 2 gets 36 out of 42.