Hands-on with “Uncharted 2: Among Thieves”

After much speculation and conversation, today is the day that I can confirm that “Uncharted 2: Among Thieves” will have multiplayer. I can also confirm that the multiplayer is a heck of a lot of fun.

I was among the first people outside developer Naughty Dog to get to play the sequel to the 2007 PlayStation 3 exclusive “Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune,” and the new game builds on the success of the original. Naughty Dog unveiled “Uncharted 2″ at a press event in Hollywood last week, and I’ve been itching to talk about it ever since.

But before we get into what’s new, let me commend the game for what isn’t. “Uncharted” still looks incredibly good. From the characters’ faces to the environment to the level design, its graphical performance is still in the top 1 percent of games on the market. The game’s style also remains intact. With the aesthetic and humor of “Indiana Jones” combined with cover-based third-person shooting akin to “Gears of War” and a platforming mechanic similar to “Tomb Raider,” you’ll feel right at home with Nathan Drake and his crew if you played the first game.

Now on to the new stuff: The game supports online and local three-person co-op and has two team-based, head-to-head modes: Deathmatch and Plunder, which is the game’s version of capture the flag. Both are fairly standard multiplayer modes, but be careful: hauling the treasure back to your base in Plunder will make you painfully slow and unable to use a weapon. If you get cornered, though, you can throw the treasure at an enemy to try to fight him off.

You’ll have the standard arsenal of weapons to choose from, including pistols, sniper rifles and assault weapons. One nice touch is the gigantic gatling gun. Using it slows you down, but its firepower is unmatched. Whether you bellow “GRIND!” while wielding it, like this guy, is entirely up to you.

Despite the relatively few game modes that were revealed, the game allows customization and a degree of freedom that enhance the possibilities for players. You can pick unlockable perks (a la “Call of Duty 4″) at the beginning of the round that give you such bonuses as a speed boost or increased accuracy. The head-to-head multiplayer also allows you quite a bit of freedom of movement. You can climb a wall into a second-floor window to find a good sniping position or hop a wall and drop down behind a target for an always-satisfying stealth kill.

You’ll find that you can also take multiple approaches in co-op. At one point, after I jumped out of a window, blew away the first enemy I saw and promptly got killed, a Naughty Dog rep helpfully told me that I could have used stealth to get rid of the guy and his buddies. I guess there’s always next time. You can run and gun or use stealth, but be sure to use cover effectively. The enemies will try to outflank you and can use grenades effectively.

Co-op ended up feeling a little too linear at times – there were frequent prompts telling you where to go and which wall to climb – but the game’s action was fantastic. Cheers and roars of laughter often went up from the few dozen game writers crowded into two rooms and playing the game for the first time. The visceral excitement of getting a melee kill and hearing the onlookers laugh and your victim groan made the atmosphere that much more enjoyable.

Naughty Dog’s highly anticipated reveal of “Uncharted 2″ didn’t show anything revolutionary, but making a game in which everything works so well and is so much fun never goes out of style.

Keep checking back here in the weeks leading up to E3 in June. I’ll be posting about more games at last week’s Sony event, and I hope to have some more on “Uncharted 2,” which is set for release on the PlayStation 3 late this year.