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Uncharted 2: Among Thieves (PlayStation 3) artwork

Uncharted 2: Among Thieves (PlayStation 3) review

"Thrills, tedium, and frustration: that is Uncharted 2: Among Thieves in a nutshell."

Thrills, tedium, and frustration: that is Uncharted 2: Among Thieves in a nutshell. Naughty Dogís blockbuster is adored by many and has scooped numerous Game of the Year awards, and if Iím being kind, I can understand where that acclaim comes from. Itís a rollercoaster ride. You go along with it, and it rewards you with bombastic set pieces which have never been attempted so ambitiously before. Uncharted 2 promises an unforgettable time.

I admire its intentions. In fact, on paper the game sounded like something Iíd wholeheartedly enjoy. Itís just a shame that every time I was blown away by a majestic scene, I was brought back down to earth with irritations I couldnít shrug off.

The hero is Nathan Drake, back for another treasure-hunting adventure that this time has him travel from Istanbul to the Himalayas. The target is the legendary Cintamani Stone, but Drake faces competition from warlord Zoran Lazarevic and his band of mercenaries. Some argue that a strong narrative is hardly important in the action genre, and to some extent Iíd agree. But there has to be enough motivation and urgency to keep going, especially in the downtime between the high-octane sequences. Any reason to care about the unfolding events will do.

Uncharted 2 achieves this eventually, though not until late in the story. For the first two thirds, the only thing driving Drake is his desire to claim a valuable piece of treasure, despite the life-or-death situations he has the knack of finding himself in. Heís greedy, boring, and someone I frankly struggled to get behind and root for. It takes too long for the villainís true motive to become apparent, and when itís finally revealed in the last couple of hours, I had lost interest in what was happening. Not only that, but it also unfortunately coincides with the final act, which is dragged down by unimaginatively awful firefights and a terrible final boss.

Though the creative showpieces in the earlier parts of the game do draw some of your attention away from the unsatisfying combat, I still noticed and found it difficult to stop myself from nitpicking. One sequence involves a helicopter chase, and parts of it were genuinely exciting. Evading chopper fire as you jump from rooftop to rooftop, trying to stay alive in a collapsing multi-storey building Ė it's been said countless times, but it's true: at times, it plays out like an action movie. Get caught up in the moment and embrace the thrills, forgetting the weak narrative for a second, and you'll experience Uncharted 2 at its best: an exhilarating blast.

Unfortunately, you also have to deal with Lazarevicís men at the same time, and thatís when the awkward cover system (I accidentally hid behind the wrong side of the wall way too many times), clunky aiming, and tedious bullet-sponge enemies put a damper on the chapter. This might have been easy to overlook if encounters weren't frequent, but in nearly every single enemy-inhabited area, the game gets a kick overwhelming you with dudes you must kill to progress. Itís not tough to come out on top, but it doesn't take long to grow sick of the shooting.

The much-lauded train set piece is the highlight of Uncharted 2, and for good reason. Here, Drake has to make his way through the moving high-speed train, be it through the carriages, climbing on top of them, or dangling by the side. Itís a rush. Naughty Dog captures the sense of speed brilliantly, resulting in some thrilling moments. One moment, Drake is busy ducking underneath fast-incoming signs at the last possible second while engaging in fist fights on top of the train. The next, heís shimmying across the side of a nerve-wrackingly rocking carriage. The entire sequence is an amazing technical achievement. But on the flipside, lasting around 30 minutes (the train hurtling through three distinct areas), the segment is also far too long, outstaying its welcome. It ends up feeling repetitive, despite decent attempts at varying up the action. The novelty wears off, and the rush sadly dissipates. At one point, Drake even quips in frustration at how long the train is.

Outside of the action, thereís a reasonable amount of platforming, but it's a bit of a mess. As stated earlier, Uncharted 2 is a rollercoaster ride. The platforming is the exception to this, and let me stress not because itís slower paced. These segments are equal parts dull and frustrating, with your progress being constantly impeded by poor design. Where you're supposed to leap or drop down to next is sometimes far from obvious.

That ledge within jumping distance? Donít be surprised if Drake can't arbitrarily grab onto it or there's an invisible barrier that you'll bounce off, falling into the chasm below. Unlike the action chapters, in which a quick restart upon death at least retains the momentum, every clumsy fall or death here makes it that much more difficult to immerse yourself in the stunning environments. It became less of an experience and more of a tiresome trial-and-error game. I certainly didn't feel like a badass hero. It doesnít help that the controls can occasionally fail Ė for instance, failing to jump when you want Drake to. Thatís pretty troublesome for any game aiming for tight platforming.

Uncharted 2 has some terrific highs, but I was otherwise too distracted by inherent issues with some of the core mechanics and design. I still think itís worth playing. Itís a landmark PlayStation 3 title, and if weíre being honest, Iím clearly in the minority. If action-adventure is your thing, odds are youíll fall in love with Drakeís globe-trotting tale just like everyone else I know. I can accept that. I just have little interest in touching Uncharted 3.

Rating: 6/10

Ben's avatar
Community review by Ben (January 21, 2014)

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Germ posted January 25, 2014:

I actually really like the combat of this the harder difficulty levels. Certain combat sections require you to really consider how you're going to take enemies on: in what order, using which weapons, using how much stealth, etc.

You're right though, beating the enemies is usually too easy. Fewer, more varied and tougher may have been better. I feel that way about a lot of games. Great review, although I personally rate this game very highly.
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Ben posted January 25, 2014:

Thanks for reading. Yeah, I stuck with Normal the entire way through, so I never saw how different it was at higher difficulty levels. I wasn't fond of the combat in The Last of Us, either, so maybe I'm not destined to like the shooting in a Naughty Dog game.
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Germ posted January 26, 2014:

I'm actually planning on playing The Last of Us on Survivor difficulty very soon, which I've been told vastly improves the experience. My understanding is that it cuts out listen mode entirely, which should make the encounters much more intense.
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Suskie posted January 26, 2014:

Fine review, Ben! Good to see you contributing again. I do wonder if I'd enjoy this game quite as much by today's standards, when the "watercooler moment action game" genre is particularly overstuffed. Just like I wonder if I'd still love Modern Warfare 2 as much today, which came out around the same time. Your review conveys a transparently against-the-grain opinion very fairly. Good job.
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Ben posted January 26, 2014:

Good luck if you end up doing a Survivor run on The Last of Us. No listen mode could make the stealth even more trying. You're definitely a more patient guy than I am.

Thanks, Suskie. I can't believe it's been three years since I last posted a review here. I found it quite freeing, actually - I got to be more self-indulgent and didn't have to conform to a particular style. I definitely enjoyed writing this one, and I'm open to contributing some more this year. I hope I can make the time.

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