Uncharted 2: Among Thieves

If lost civilizations hadn’t spent so much time building impossibly complex temples, then many wouldn’t be quite so lost, and that’s a fact. The hauntingly dumb-looking statues on Easter Island, for example, still stare out to the Pacific while the people who built them are long dead. Why? Because they cut down trees to make rollers to shift the stone, and without the trees, the island’s animal habitat was destroyed and the food chain was broken. Next time you enter an abandoned ancient religious site, step on a pressure plate that uses counterweighted boulders and bags of sand to raise hefty gates and swing open bridges, then you’ll know why you also find only skeletons and treasure and the occasional angry mercenary. It’s because the locals spent too much time building stone funhouses of awe when they really should have been concentrating on sustainable agriculture.

Uncharted 2 will be the second Sony game to use part of the old proverb “there’s no honor among thieves” for its title, the other being the third escapade for a burglar raccoon in Sly 3, released in 2006 for the PS2. If the latest Nathan Drake Saturday morning serial seems to have a slightly short subtitle, then now you know it’s because the raccoon got there first – but a lack of originality isn’t something that should ever be leveled at Naughty Dog’s Jak & Daxter meets Lara Croft with balls.

Even Indiana Jones harkened back to the adventure series of the Thirties, and without him there’d be no Tomb Raider, most probably no Prince of Persia, and certainly no Michael Douglas in Romancing the Stone. Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune was such a complete piece of rip-roaring, wise-cracking, genre-tapping gaming personality in the sunshine (and tropical rain), that an hour after beginning play, you’d probably be hoping that it would be part of a trilogy. And if you didn’t, you’re not going to get much from the sequel. Shame, because from what we’ve seen,Uncharted 2may be the most charismatic, atmospheric, and charming game of the year - we’ve been hungry for it since we entered that German submarine on the side of a mountain two Christmases ago.

Playing with similar slickness and style as the original, Among Thieves’ single-player story campaign takes what has been proven to work so beautifully with the original and amplifies it by a staggering amount of awesome. If you thought that Drake’s Fortune rode the bleeding edge of what is possible with the PS3's hardware, then just consider that Naughty Dog reckons that it only managed to harness around 30% of the console’s power, and since its release it has mined deeper into the architecture to create environments with more Technicolor detail, and enemies with a better awareness of their surroundings. Baddies will detect your presence even if you step briefly into the very periphery of their vision, and they have been programmed so that they will know exactly what to do when they catch a glimpse. Drake’s rock climbing techniques have been boosted to near Assassin’s Creed levels of swift scaling, and so have the skills of the henchmen who want to hunt him down and wipe that cock-sure smile off his face. Still, our hero can now knock over objects like tables, and use them as cover.

Of course, Naughty Dog knows how to handle platforms and leaping – it built its reputation with the Crash Bandicoot series of marsupial Mario clones and the Jak & Daxter franchise. Uncharted 2’s platforming marks a further refinement of the genre, and expands itself with cliff-hanger gunfights through shanty towns, nausea-inducing collapsing buildings and, yes, trips into the sort of lost cities and temples that make you wonder what happened to a people smart enough to make convoluted mechanical traps and gateways that would baffle modern engineers.

Previously, you’d have a combat chapter followed by one that involved you navigating around cliffs and ruins followed by a straight shootout where Drake exclaims “Oh boy!” every time an enemy lobs a grenade. While there are still sections that will require you to climb separated from ones in which you have to shoot, there are also those in which both activities are fused with luminous artistry.