sunnuntai 29. tammikuuta 2012

REVIEW - Uncharted 2: Among Thieves (2009)

GENRE(S): Action
RELEASED: October 2009
DEVELOPER(S): Naughty Dog
PUBLISHER(S): Sony Computer Entertainment

Uncharted: Drake's Fortune might not have helped the PlayStation 3's sales figures increase a whole lot, but when those figures did finally skyrocket, the PS3 exclusive was truly taken note of, and received as a promising start to something big by a wider, enthusiastic audience. In the end of 2008, Naughty Dog officially announced a sequel to the previous year's sleeper - Uncharted 2: Among Thieves. Somewhat unexpectedly, the game was named the most anticipated game of 2009 by several gaming medias. The game was finally released in late 2009 - and thus the true legend of Uncharted was born. Not only is Uncharted 2 better than the first installment in every possible way, it is also one of the best third-person action games of all time.

Temple of awesomeness

When a game begins with the lead character
bleeding like a stuck pig and being forced to climb
a train car that could fall off a cliff any second,
you just know you've hit pay dirt.
Harry Flynn and Chloe Frazer, a couple of Nathan Drake's old acquaintances, present Drake with an opportunity to find the mythical Cintamani Stone, misplaced by Marco Polo himself back in 1292. After breaking into a museum in Istanbul to find the most important lead to the treasure, Drake is betrayed by Flynn - who actually works for a Serbian warlord obsessed with the stone - and left at the mercy of the local authorities. Months later, Chloe returns to Drake and convinces him to race Flynn and his boss for the Cintamani Stone.

Although I loved Uncharted, I wasn't really going that apeshit for Uncharted 2. I was in no rush to play the game at the time of its release, and I still don't own the game. At some point, I began avoiding to buy the same games as my friend, 'cause he's always ready to borrow me his games - even new ones, since he completes games like this even quicker than I do... well, not quite, but almost. Just weeks before Uncharted 2's release, he bought the original Uncharted. He didn't really know anything about the franchise, but he was convinced by previews that Uncharted 2 was going to be a great game, previews which I didn't watch or read myself. He called me after beating the game, and said he liked it a lot, we were pretty much unanimous on everything about it for once. Then, Uncharted 2 came. He finished it, then called me just like he did before and was like "Dude... you've got to try this game. The first one was good, but this... this is a fuckin' masterpiece." Still, I didn't believe him. He was right about one thing, I had to try it. So, I did. Initially, I didn't like it. The game looked phenomenal, but there was just something that bothered me about it. I must have been slapped around by the great god of reason in my sleep, 'cause the very next day it became clear to me - Uncharted 2: Among Thieves IS a masterpiece. But, is it a masterpiece in digital cinema or video game design? That's what those people not really familiar with the Uncharted experience keep asking. It is both.

Where's Solid Snake when we need him?
Once again, there's a story to be experienced in Uncharted 2. Even a classic love triangle in the midst of this crazy, chaotic treasure hunt. Yet, it is still the constant series of crazy mishaps that keep haunting our beloved main character - more loveable than ever - which steals the show. It doesn't matter what the story's about; OK, perhaps we need to know why we're doing this, and we need to know what our goal is, but twists in the mysterious, historic side of the plot are secondary to what situation Nate finds himself in next. Whether he's lying wounded in a train car just inches away from falling off a cliff, fighting for his life against Serbian soldiers in a building that's literally crumbling down from under them, trying to save a helpless guy's life out of the sheer kindness of his heart in a deadly crossfire, or scaling the walls of a moving train - to which he jumps in from a moving car. Yep, all of this, and much more happens in Uncharted 2. The ridiculously awesome, epic misadventures of one Nathan Drake came a long way in just two years - this game was made to bust jaws. Anyone who thought the level design in Drake's Fortune was a little flat, is in for a huge, positive surprise. In fact, Among Thieves is a prime example of modern level design at its very best.

The graphics... well, let me put it this way: Drake's Fortune is still a visually stunning game, and Among Thieves makes it look ugly. Everything about it is just seamless. Drake's Fortune had one problem: ugly close-ups of characters, complete with weird facial expressions. This problem is completely harvested. Not only is general facial modelling better, this game set a standard to the element which was not really toppled before L.A. Noire came along with MotionScan. The expressions on the characters' faces are just so damn real - doubled with the phenomenal voiceover work, watching Uncharted 2 unfold is like watching an insane version of Indiana Jones, with a body count that would make Rambo blush. It's just like a good movie... but, luckily, it has more than enough tense gameplay to count as a game instead of a movie, and actually, it can get quite damn challenging by modern standards on higher difficulty levels.

I smell a love triangle brewin'.
Greg Edmonson's score is louder, more constant and more epic than before. The music in this game represents the best and particularly, most memorable of this generation, just as the voiceover work. Nolan North lets it rip - I mean totally - as Nathan Drake ("Eh heh heh, aww, that's cute."), and the pairing of Steve Valentine and Claudia Black take this road to head into their mega-tasty rivalry in Dragon Age: Origins. Of course, Emily Rose reprises her role as the dreamy Elena, and Richard McGonagle reprises his as Sully - although his part in this game's events is unforgivably small. We want more Sully! The Scottish actor Graham McTavish makes one fine impression as the main villain, the psychopathic Lazarevic, who plays the lead role in the game's most awkward boss fight, but as far as storytelling goes, he's one mean mother - a great villain.

Basic gameplay hasn't changed a lot. It's just the daring level design which separates Among Thieves from Drake's Fortune by a long shot. Taking cover is a bit comfier and easier to manage, and general controls are better, although as you will surely see, occasionally oversensitive. Surfaces which you can climb are highlighted a bit better, without disturbing the game's perfect visuals. Stealth kills (or knockouts) are perfectly possible to execute, even recommendable at times, and the game rewards you for most of them by having enemies defeated silently yield extra ammo or grenades... as well as Trophies, as you probably expected me to say. Otherwise, it's pretty much the same. If you found Drake's Fortune an easy game to learn and a fun one to play, you're going to find Among Thieves just as easy to learn, and even more fun to play.

One of the toughest face-offs in the game.
What's funny is that when the first previews of Uncharted 3 emerged, critics were all over the idea of having a partner with you at all times, like it was a new feature. "Ooh, excellent, Uncharted goes virtual co-op!" "Never seen before!" and all that, although Uncharted 2 is almost wholly based on Nate working together as a team with two or three companions at a time. About 90% of the time, there's someone he can throw punchlines at, and share a body count with - and it's great. Friendly fire isn't possible - if it was, the game would be a nightmare. The companions never steal your cover, they gladly move out of the way each time they're in a spot reserved for you, and they're completely immortal. Of course, it's kinda funny that a grenade blowing up in their faces merely makes them fall over like they tripped or something, but just think about what the game would be like if you'd have to run up to them and heal them all the time, as if you hadn't got enough on your plate already. The gunfights in this game are SICK. There are turrets, tanks, choppers, and whatnot on the enemy's side. Gunning down a few mercenaries and blood-hungry ancient mutants in Drake's Fortune was child's play compared to what Among Thieves has in store for you.

Uncharted 2: Among Thieves is an endless rollercoaster ride that doesn't really miss anything, nor does it have any sequences that have a one-time flame to them, as both Drake's Fortune and the next title Drake's Deception do. It's the perfect Uncharted adventure... with the exception of the final boss fight. I'm glad they added in occasional boss fights, to shoot the game even fuller of climaxes than it already is, but there's just something that rubs me the wrong way about the last crunch with Lazarevic. I can't really explain it, but it feels like it doesn't belong here, or that it should've been at least completely different in some way. It ends the game - almost, that is - on a bit of a sour note. Even if I could tell you what's wrong with it, I'm not eager to spoil the whole thing. Just needed to get that off my chest. Whatever it is, I guess Naughty Dog saw it too and decided to remove boss fights altogether from the next game.

Takin' the fight to the road!
The in-game awards are still very much intact, but each one does not count for a Trophy this time around, the simple reason being that there are so much more of them; the total number of hidden treasures alone is 101, while there were 61 of them in the first game. There are also several new weapons. There's piles of useless - yet cool - novelties to unlock with the points you get from gaining those in-game awards, so don't go thinking Uncharted 2: Among Thieves is some sort of a fling. You WILL go at it again, and do it gladly. If you're into multiplayer, Uncharted 2 has that, too... and way too many DLC multiplayer Trophies to go with the different modes. The retail version only has two easy multiplayer Trophies, which makes the Platinum Trophy a worthy goal. I can assure you, though - it's not an easy one to nail. Crushing Mode lives up to its name, and then a whole lot of some.

LittleBigPlanet 2 takes a certain kind of player to truly reveal its greatness. Metal Gear Solid 4 takes a Metal Gear fan. This is why I would name Uncharted 2: Among Thieves the most recommendable PlayStation 3 exclusive to a PS3 skeptic. It's highly cinematic, but packed to the brim with tense, simple gameplay to balance the scale to a gamer's favour. It is a masterpiece that you have to experience once... and I highly doubt you'll leave Nathan Drake's greatest adventure to date to that one run. 

- Nathan Drake, Nathan Drake - double that
- The accessible core gameplay of Uncharted: Drake's Fortune is very much intact
- Even the most minor of flaws have been taken note of, and mostly scratched from the fray
- Stunning graphics, great music, one of the best voiceover casts there is
- Highly improved level design
- You literally never know what luck has in store for Nathan Drake; the game is consistently surprising, entertaining, and exciting 

- Not enough Victor "God Damn!" Sullivan
- Oversensitive controls occasionally lead into fateful steps over cliffsides and missed jumps...
- ...Which, in turn, might lead you back to some extremely awkward checkpoints
- The ending's a bit lame, mostly due to a strangely disturbing final boss fight
- The non-English subtitles are now completely retarded, and you cannot change the language without changing the PS3 operating system's language

< 9.5 >

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