Uncharted 2: Among Thieves

The greatest summer blockbuster of fall nears completion

There’s surface warmth to the game that helps disguise a range of familiar gameplay mechanics we’ve seen many times before. Indeed, Naughty Dog’s central driving ethic was to make the sequel even more like an immersive blockbuster movie than before, and to push what had previously been thought to have been pushed to its limits.

That means more graphical trickery and shaders and a more dynamic camera, but also locations that feature multiple routes as well as the ability to pull out your gun whenever you want. Since you’ll be combat-ready whether you’re balancing on a beam or hanging from a crack in a wall, that means engagements can happen anywhere. There are more choices, more stealth moves with which to cripple smarter enemies and a greater sense of “being there,” plus more subtle tricks to keep the player involved without punishing them.

On entering a cavern in Tibet accompanied by a local guide who goes by the snappy name of Tensin, the camera automatically frames where you want to be going while Nate explains that he believes it to be the right direction, leaving you to work out how.

Throughout the game, as you explore deeper into Borneo, Tibet, Nepal and Turkey, if you become lost and are in danger of becoming frustrated, less subtle hints will automatically engage to make sure that you’re rarely disconnected from the experience, and are bathing in it near constantly. Interestingly, you don’t get flashes of hints as much as you get clips of internal dialogue guiding your actions.

Tensin, along with other NPC characters, will aid Nate in pulling levers as well as suggesting routes. Most importantly, he’s an expert at catching the shabby hero should he miss a jump. There will be no brick-walling in Uncharted 2. It’s not out to hurt you by being overly vague, and you’ll never be confused regarding what you should be doing. Like the movies it emulates, it’s meant to be fun, but that doesn’t mean the game is going to be dumb. Nate’s diary will still be filled with hints for puzzles, but they won’t be highlighted for you – you’ll have to carefully thumb through the book to find what you need for yourself.

With 90 minutes of cutscenes, around enough to create a movie in itself, and no loading times to disjoint the flow of the drama, Among Thieves will likely be the movie event of the year. It is vastly more fun to watch in action than Transformers 2 and G.I. Joe and certainly less chaotic on the eye. Delivering their lines with hand-crafted facial animations tweaked to perfection, there’s a genuine heart-warming emotional connection to the characters of Uncharted – new and old – which you don’t get with Shia LeBeouf and Marlon Wayans versus a wall of twinkly CGI. The game, its story and the people who inhabit it all hang together so gracefully and believably that it’s impossible not to feel part of something that’s sitting on the next evolutionary branch to popcorn flicks. But that doesn’t mean we’re free of all doubts.

Hopefully, the end of Drake’s Fortune was such an artificially drawn out gunfight because of time restraints rather than design. It could have out-shot the climax of Rambo 4, there were so many people to shoot. Luckily, we still have enough faith to erect an imaginary temple in honor of the series’ second coming, and hopefully this temple isn’t going to be built like a giant mousetrap.

Aug 24, 2009

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