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Uncharted 2: Among Thieves
Score: 98%
ESRB: Teen
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment America
Developer: Naughty Dog
Media: Blu-ray/1
Players: 1; 2 - 10 (Online)
Genre: Action/ Adventure/ Third Person Shooter

Graphics & Sound:
Nathan Drake is back with a whole new adventure in Uncharted 2: Among Thieves. Aptly named, Nathan teams up with old pals and fellow shady treasure-hunters, Harry Flynn and Chloe Frazer, to pull the biggest heist of all - locating and plundering the lost fleet of Marco Polo. Little does Nate know that his travels will not only take him all over the world, but through a series of betrayals that will lead him to the doorstep of the mysterious hidden city of Shambhala.

As always, the world of Nathan Drake is resplendent with color and activity. While in the museum in Istanbul (not Constantinople), you'll notice amazing detail in the architecture, as well as skittering rats in the sewers. In Borneo, as you trek through rich jungles, you'll spot a number of birds who seems quite disturbed at your intrusion into their domain. Once you venture into the once peaceful city of Nepal, now war-torn and demolished by your nemesis and his men, you'll notice lovely pops of color in the paint schemes of all of the buildings and on the street signs. The Himalayas is perhaps the most breathtaking of the areas because all of the ice seems to shimmer like diamonds. It makes it really challenging to find treasures because everything is glinting. Especially amazing is the waterfall area, with its shimmering, icy pool below. I had to stop and stare at the water effects here, they were so beautiful. As always, Naughty Dog uses their unique visual style to guide the player. If you find yourself unsure as to where to go, all you have to do is step back and look around. They always use color and texture to show you the way, which is a really great way to do it.

The voiceovers are terrific - Nolan North is back once again to voice Nathan Drake and is the most endearing protagonist in this type of game I've ever seen. He is so real in his statements. He's not a hero and he doesn't pretend to be. When a grenade explodes right by his feet, he says "Oh crap!" Just like the rest of us would. I think my favorite line of the whole game went something like, "I am so tired of climbing on sh*t." At the time, I couldn't have agreed more.

Claudia Black of Farcape and Stargate fame does a fantastic job as Chloe, Nate's sometime partner-in-crime and former love interest. Emily Rose is back to voice Elena, and while I will admit to not being too crazy about her in Uncharted, I really enjoyed her in Uncharted 2 and was glad to see her return. Victor "Sully" Sullivan lends a really funny aspect to the game, just as he did before and Richard McGonagle is just superb, while Harry Flynn (Steve Valentine) is so smarmy, he makes me want to shoot him in the face. I tried, but the game wouldn't let me, but I digress.

The soundscape in Uncharted 2 is amazing. Background music changes according to what area you are in and whether it is the tinkering bells heard in a monastery in the Himalayas or the appropriate jungle beats in Borneo, it fits perfectly. Just as in Uncharted, gun reports sound spot on and when a tank is on your tail, you will feel and hear its wrath.


Gameplay:
When the game opens up, Nate is trying to escape a crashed train in a snowy region of the Himalayas. What happens next is a series of flashbacks leading up to the crash, explaining just how Nate got involved in all of this. Flynn and Chloe approach Nathan with a job, knowing that Drake is the expert for all things ancient and cryptic. It seems the client for this job is highly interested in obtaining what would seem a worthless lamp in a museum. As the group delves deeper, Nate realizes that the lamp is merely a clue to something far larger in scope - the missing fleet of Marco Polo. What unfolds is yet another great adventure under the belt of the lovable protagonist, Nathan Drake.

Nate's an active sort of guy, and he regularly climbs, shimmies, hangs off ledges and makes the most amazing jumps; even Lara Croft would be impressed. But as adept as Nate is, even he can't do everything alone. You come to obstacles where he'll have to give one of his friends a boost or they'll need to work together to kick in a door and things like that. Sometimes, Nate will encounter situations where you will have button-press events to save his skin, such as running into really creepy creatures that I will leave it to you to discover for yourself. Sometimes he will have to jump from flaming vehicle to flaming vehicle, in a really do-or-die situation. They throw lots of exciting events into the mix and, while Nathan will be really tired by the time it's all over, you will have had a terrific time of it.

As always, Nate has access to a host of awesome weapons, although he can only carry a one pistol and one large gun at a time, the only exception being the bad-assed chain gun he gains access to and can use while he slings his rifle on his back. He'll run across the one-shot wonder Desert 5, the Pistole (which is like a shotgun/pistol combo and great for in-your-face combat), the Micro 9, which is a nice little automatic friend, along with shotguns and rocket launchers of different varieties, and the favorite of the enemy henchmen, the AK-47, among others. At one point, when Nathan and Elena find themselves pinned down as sitting ducks, you get a Dragon Sniper and just enough ammo to pick off those pesky little snipers. It's a very satisfying one-shot kill if you place the bullet correctly. Also scattered about in many places are propane tanks, functioning much like the red explosive barrels we've all seen in games of this type. See it, shoot it, blow up everyone around it. Nice, yeah - but the real kicker is being able to pick these up and place them about where you want them to use as mines later on. Even better still is being able to pick one up and lob it at a pile of enemies and then shoot it and just the right moment. As a nice touch, when you do this action, the game auto-aims and hits the tank each time. This is especially nice for clearing obstacles that might get in the way.

In addition to the robust, but over-too-quickly Single Player experience, there is also Multiplayer. While I will admit to not being the biggest fan of Multiplayer gaming, the team at Naughty Dog seems to have gone out of their way to really flesh it out and make it something special, instead of merely tacking it on. As you progress in the Single Player game and collect treasures, achievements/trophies and cash which you get for your trophies, you can spend the money in the Store to buy new skins, weapons and effects for use in your Multiplayer game. It's a nice touch for those fans of the multiplayer experience, but I sort of wish you could use the cash for your Single Player game, for new outfits or something, as well. You can choose to play the standards such as Deathmatch, Elimination, King of the Hill and Survival, plus Plunder, Turf War, Chain Reaction, Gold Rush, Co-op and Machinima, or if you want to focus on a specific type of gameplay, you can select Deathmatch, Objectives, Skilled, Co-op or Survival.


Difficulty:
There are five difficulty settings to choose from in Uncharted 2: Among Thieves: Very Easy, Easy, Normal, Hard and Crushing, which is unlocked once you have beaten the game on Hard. Normal is a good setting for anyone who has experience with this type of game, while Easy is more for those who just want to enjoy the journey without a lot of hassle. Very Easy has auto-assist and extra health, so it is really only recommended for those who have zero experience. Hard is for those who really want to run with one hand on their gun and the other one covering their butt, as the enemies really kick it into high gear. Crushing is for those masochists who love a really intense challenge and who love to take a beating. The differences in each show up in how many hits Nathan can take before dying and how brutal the enemies are. Those armor-plated dudes show up often in Crushing, so be warned.

Naughty Dog makes things pretty easy to get into. Sure, you have to be able to time your jumps and to aim your weapon, but overall, things aren't overly difficult here and you can get through the game pretty quickly, especially if you don't hunt in every nook and cranny for the "shinies." There were a few areas that really annoyed me, but they are few and far between and are normally just a matter of finding the right sequence of events to do to get through them. The game auto-saves and save points are plentiful, so if you die, it's not a big deal. I think the most difficult aspect of the game was the melee combat when you'd have to break from an enemy's grapple, but then remember to get back to pounding him (it's tough to do when bad guys are on all sides), and Nate's cover system, which can get really aggravating. I'll discuss that in Game Mechanics, however.


Game Mechanics:
As in Uncharted: Drake's Fortune, Nathan has a bevy of moves and reacts to his environment really well. He'll hang from ledges and still be able to shoot bad guys, although only with the one-handed pistol in his possession. He can blind-fire from cover using (R1) or you can aim at them and pick them off using (L1) and then (R1) to fire. He can either lob a grenade or aim and then throw one using (L1) to aim and (L2) to fire. As is standard in 3rd Person Shooters, you'll walk/run Nate with the Left Analog Stick and use your camera with the Right. When the game senses you are stuck, like if you've been hanging in an area for an inordinately long time, the game will give you a Hint and you can press up on your D-pad to access it. Sometimes this worked and sometimes it didn't. To explain, at one point, I had to shoot a crate, but when the Hint came up, it just showed me an icy mountain and the crate was so small, I was like, "what crate?" But most of the time, it works decently. Sometimes, Nate will need to press Select to access his handy journal which contains notes and sometimes, the solution to a puzzle. Seeing his notes is fun because they are often humorous.

Melee is an area of the game that wasn't super fun for me, as I said earlier. It seems to take a number of punches to fell an opponent, and in the meantime, his friends are shooting you up as well. Melee is only advised for use when you have to, although sometimes, if you are too close, it's all you can do. This brings me to my earlier complaint, the cover system. By clicking the (O) button, you'll jump behind the closest thing for cover, but sometimes it will leave your tail hanging out for target practice by the enemy. Still other times, you jump from hidey-spot to hidey-spot, but not optimally. Sometimes, you might mean to dodge something, but instead, you'll jump into cover because the same button is used for both. I can see why and it does make sense - run for cover or dodge fire, similar actions, but I can't say that it worked flawlessly every time. I cursed Nathan and the game a few times, at least, for the sometimes-wonky cover system.

Overall, Uncharted 2: Among Thieves is a brilliant follow-up to the original and even with my minor gripes, is one that belongs in the collection of any fan of Action/Adventure/Shooters. Very highly recommended.


-Psibabe, GameVortex Communications
AKA Ashley Perkins

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