Usually games/books/movies end with a cliffhanger. Uncharted 2: Among Thieves begins with one. Our good friend Nathan Drake wakes up to find himself bloodied, bruised, and falling out of a train car in the Himalayas. Sucks to be him...
From there, Drake's latest tale flashes forward and back on a veritable roller-coaster ride of intrigue, conspiracy, discovery, and betrayal. This time the quest is to follow the breadcrumbs laid by the expeditions of Marco Polo in search of Shambala; otherwise known as the mythical, mystical Shangri-La. The chase takes you all over the world as you unravel the mysteries both past and present. And let me tell you, it's fantastic even if it does take a turn for the weird towards the end. But considering it was the same in the first game, I guess that's par for the course... personally, I blame Indiana Jones.
Drake is again joined in his adventures by his mentor/bad influence Victor "Sully" Sullivan (make sure you look through Drake's journal to see the many moods of Victor Sullivan... priceless). There are new faces as well: most noticeably Harry Flynn, another erstwhile adventurer, and Chloe Frazer, his partner in crime who has a history with Drake himself. Is it weird that she actually turns me on? Nevermind, I probably shouldn't have mentioned that...
Pretty much everything gameplay wise is the same as the original: third person, cover-based shooting combined with platforming sections and giant puzzles reminiscent of Tomb Raider. It worked so well the first time out nothing really needed to be changed, but rather honed. Hey, if it ain't broke...
One thing that truly makes this series sparkle is the performances put in by the voice actors. Everyone does an exemplary job, but none more so than Nolan North who voices Drake himself. His off-the-cuff humor is priceless, and it's all down to timing. Ask any comedian, timing is key (not that I'd know, I'm not a comedian). Perhaps it's my background in bad British sitcoms, but his dead pan style leaves me in stitches.
But the effectiveness of the stellar voice work wouldn't be possible without the graphical fidelity to make it believable. This is where Uncharted 2: Among Thieves really shines. There are only a few titles that can compare today, and when it first came out it was second to none. The facial animations and lip syncing are beyond good and there are parts when it literally looks like a movie. The cinematography of the cutscenes reminds me of some Hollywood blockbusters. There are some amazing set pieces and let's be fair, it would be awesome on the big screen!
For me though, it's the little things. The environments themselves are spectacular and incredibly detailed. There is one point in particular when Drake is on top of a hotel-the panoramic view of the city below is stunning. The particle effects, especially the snow, are just awesome. But that's nothing compared to the lighting, which is also top-notch. The dancing blue flames send an eerie glow whenever they are lit. Trust me, you'll see, when the light reflects off wet rock or even the faces of the characters, my eyes open wide each time. I mean come on, when Drake falls in water his clothes get wet (duh!), but they look realistically wet... like if he's submerged up to his chest then everything below will be wet, but his Backstreet Boys hair cut will be dry (relatively speaking). Plus, this all runs with hardly any real frame rate problems which makes it all the more impressive.
The only real problem with the graphics is that they might be too good. The funny thing about platforming in these games is that the graphics are so good it's not always obvious where to go next because the bits of wall that Drake can actually grab onto blend into the background so well. This can lead to some embarrassing moments as Drake suicides himself by jumping off into nothingness. You think to yourself "I can make that jump, surely Drake can grab onto thi... oh, nope. He fell to his death. Again." And sometimes if you don't have him lined up just perfectly, he won't grab what's three inches to his right. Load times make this even more annoying at times.
To say the puzzles are grandiose would be an understatement. Some of them are literally jaw dropping, but I don't want to spoil the surprise. That said, as clever as they are, I found them to be more of a chore in the end. Reminds me of the classic Indiana Jones or Tomb Raider in a lot of ways: over-the-top and completely unbelievable, but still very cool all the same.
To be honest, my only other negative comments about this game are minor; they really don't effect the gameplay or the brilliance of the production. As good as the animations are, they can still appear a bit too canned sometimes and don't always look fluid depending on the situation. Still, that's just me trying to find something to complain about. It's the same for every game out there. Oh, and for the record, I don't care who you are-if someone jumps off a cliff and you catch them one-handed, you'd be lucky not pull your arm out of its socket, let alone lose it all together. Drake is not supposed to be a super hero, just a hero.
I should mention that Uncharted 2: Among Thieves does have online multiplayer. Those of you who read a lot of my reviews will know by now this sort of thing isn't my cup of tea, but I've heard good things about it. I'm not surprised, the quality of the gameplay, weapons, and cover mechanic make a good combination.
The Uncharted series is easily one of my favorites for this generation of consoles. These two games on their own warrant investing in a Playstation 3. Nathan Drake's second installment ups the ante set by the first, and does not disappoint. The production values, amazing graphics, brilliant voice acting by a dazzling cast, fast and frantic gunplay, massive and clever puzzles, and challenging platforming make this one of the most well-rounded games I've had the pleasure to play. With Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception on the horizon and some tantalizing glimpses of what we have to expect, I simply can't wait to see what he gets up to next!
Score = 9.8 / 10