Review: Uncharted 2 – Among Thieves

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You get no scene-setting narrative in Uncharted 2: Among Thieves. Instead, you get dangled off the end of a derailed train car, which happens to be hanging off the edge of a mountain cliff. You’re in Nepal when this happens, by the way.

It’s the perfect tone-setter for Naughty Dog’s latest body of work. It’s bombastic, adventurous fun in the vein of prime Indiana Jones, juggling action, humor and storytelling in a way that makes you remember how cool treasure-hunting can be.

Much of that unmistakable charm comes from Nathan Drake, the game’s hero. He’s a modern-day swashbuckler who manages to balance his penchant for pulling off the amazing with an everyman attitude that makes you believe that even he’s got no idea how he’s managed to stay alive. He’s surrounded a well-voiced cast of supporting characters, such as his loyal friend Sully and Elena Fisher, the wayward world-hopping journalist from the first game.

The dialogue of Drake and the other characters is one of the game’s treasures. It’s got the perfect balance of charm and drama, especially when Drake and a friend manage to jump out of a falling building and survive — Drake, out of breath, laughs and mutters, “We … we were almost in that.” The playful banter between the characters is also keeps the player engaged in their personalities. It makes you care about them.

You’ll have plenty of chances to hear Drake sound off, since the gameplay features a good mix of gunfighting, exploration and puzzle work. One memorable action sequence is a truck convoy chase, where Drake must jump from truck to truck in order to reach the lead vehicle. You’ll also have to outrun crumbling bridges, battle against military armor and deal with ledges and structures that suddenly shatter under your weight.

The gunfighting feels a little more balanced in this sequel, as the last game featured enemies that could absorb an inordinate amount of bullets, no matter where they got hit. Drake’s got some new hand-to-hand techniques, along with a few new guns — one of them being a chaingun, the kind that Jesse Ventura carried in “Predator.”

The signature element of the gameplay is climbing. Lots of it. Walls, ledges, ropes, ladders — half the battle is finding the right way to reach the next objective, be it a door, open window or object. The game helps you out with not-so-subtle hints if you get lost, which can be fairly easy in a game loaded with this much scenery.

Istanbul, Borneo and Nepal are among the locales Drake visits in his quest, and they are all beautiful examples of the PS3′s considerable visual power. The detailed work within Nepal’s temples is stunning, especially when it comes to a mirror-based puzzle that involves Drake climbing up giant blades of gold hanging from the ceiling. You could also practically see the inscriptions and cracks within many of the temple statues. The foliage in Borneo bounces with color and life. The visit to Nepal is treat for those who love fresh powder, with snow crunching under your feet as you walk in the mountain valleys.

I did, however, run into a few issues.

There were some occasions where a non-player character wouldn’t do their assigned task (such as open a key door), which would stop the game and force you to restart the checkpoint.

The NPC brain freezes also led to cinema screens not starting on time, which leaves you to run around until the game decides it’s time for you to move on. It’s a distracting momentum killer, especially since the game does such a good job of building up the excitement.

Despite those slight gripes, Uncharted 2: Among Thieves remains a great piece of adventuring, feeding whatever urge you might have to take on a quest for ancient stuff.

Uncharted 2: Among Thieves
PlayStation 3
Naughty Dog / Sony Computer Entertainment
Rated T for Teen