With the release of Uncharted 2: Among Thieves, Naughty Dog has created an epic game that rivals the storytelling of Hollywood’s finest feature films, with seamless gameplay that sets a new benchmark for future releases. The stunning graphics and fluent cut-scenes deliver the ultimate visual presentation, while the tight action, puzzle, and navigation mechanics ultimately cement Among Thieves as one of the greatest titles to grace any current generation platform to date. The world comes alive right from the opening sequence through the numerous chapters that take you from snowy cliff-side towns, dilapidated cities, and onboard speeding trains; the action is intense, yet manageable; and the story is strong enough to keep you on the edge of your seat through the entire single-player campaign. Without hesitation, Among Thieves has solidified its spot high atop the best games this year, and quite possibly one of the best games of all time.
Among Thieves has already received unanimous praise among reviewers and gamers alike, so it shouldn’t come as a huge surprise that we love this game and have great admiration for Naughty Dog and the team that created this enormous spectacle. We gave Among Thieves a perfect score not because every aspect of the game was spot-on, but because the overall experience felt so far ahead of virtually anything else we’ve played this year that we were willing to forgive its minor flaws. After spending many hours playing through the single and multiplayer modes, we were left with our jaws dropped and our eyes open wide. Ironically enough, it’s the fact that Among Thieves proved such an enjoyable experience that it ultimately left us feeling slightly frustrated at the prospect of having to wait until the inevitable sequel turns up—still, there’s no doubt that the game will keep us busy for a long, long time.
Nathan Drake first strolled onto the PlayStation 3 with the release of 2007’s Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune. This arrogant treasure hunter could do just about everything—he could solve complex puzzles, scale across rooftops, climb stone walls, take down a small army of foes single-handily, stealthily dispatch lone goons, and of course, charm the pants off of the opposite sex. In Among Thieves, everything we loved about the original game was back, but tweaked just enough to make the controls tighter, the story deeper, the world bigger, the scenery more lush, and the action faster and more intense. While many sequels seem to rest on the laurels of what the original game did right, without beefing up new elements, Among Thieves has the ideal balance of familiar gameplay with a healthy coat of polish.
Since many (if not all) of you have played the game, the multiplayer demo, or the original, we won’t get too technical with the actual gameplay mechanics. The basic duck and cover combat strategy returns in the sequel, along with numerous puzzles required to pass various obstacles, and vast environments for Drake to traverse. Among Thieves takes all of these core elements and ultimately makes them tighter and easier to use.
Combat in Among Thieves comes in different forms; it can be a fast-paced gun battle or a strategic affair where you use the game’s settings to your advantage—hiding behind partially blown up walls, high on rooftops, or clinging to the side of a building. The duck and cover mechanic usually works great, but it’s not without its problems. Occasionally you’ll get stuck covering behind the wrong side of an object, or carelessly jumping to your death as you try to climb down a ladder. Despite the mild frustration, these minor issues do little to hinder the overall experience.
The game picks up about a year or so after Drake’s Fortune. Without giving too much away, the basic story once again follows Nate, who this time around is searching for the remnants of Marco Polo’s expedition in search of Shangri La and the elusive Cintamani Stone. The game opens (sort of) with a British guy named Flynn, who, with the help of the seductive Chloe, tries to convince Drake to track down an old oil lamp from a Turkish museum. This lamp is believed to hold secrets to Polo’s lost expedition. Through a series of very unfortunate betrayals, Drake is set off to search for the stone, minus one British fellow. Familiar faces from Drake’s Fortune return in Among Thieves, so you won’t spend the game alone. In fact, much of the game is played with A.I. companions.
In most other games, A.I. partners are more of hassle than they are worth, but Among Thieves finally gets it right—perfect, in most cases. Your A.I. companions are so incredibly lifelike that the dialogue feels more like a TV show or a movie instead of a game. As cliché as it sounds, the character development is so strong and deep that we could easily imagine each of their back-stories. Everyone you encounter in the game, minus the countless barrages of bad guys, seems to have a reason to be there—no one is just thrown in. This is a testament not only to the well-crafted story, dialogue, and cut-scenes, but also to how each character (ally or enemy) interacts within the environment. In one particular level, Drake has to carry out Elena’s mortally wounded cameraman from a city in Nepal that’s in the midst of a revolution. Chloe and Elena guide you through a hail of gunfire as you sluggishly work your way through the city.
The environments themselves are extremely expansive and rich. In particular, each level is packed with so much variety you really feel like you can approach a battle anyway you like. If you fancy throwing a couple of grenades into a crowd of bad guys then running for nearby cover, go for it. On the other side of the coin, if you want to keep your identity hidden for as long as possible, you can hide in the shadows and wait for an unsuspecting enemy to walk by, before falling foul to one of Drake’s silent kills. You can easily climb to rooftops to get a bird’s eye view of the action below, or run and gun your way through the swarms of enemies. The choice is really up to you and it helps to break up the otherwise linear story elements.
The puzzles in Among Thieves have also received somewhat of a facelift, with Nate’s new journal—replacing Francis Drake’s diary from the original—really coming in handy in solving some of the more difficult riddles. Among Thieves brings back similar puzzles from Drake’s Fortune, only this time they feel a little more substantial. The bulk of some levels are almost entirely made up of puzzles, and you really do have to put some time into solving some of the more elaborate ones. Given their importance, solving a puzzle certainly feels like a fairly big accomplishment to say the least.
Everyone is drooling over the graphics in Among Thieves, and with good reason—it’s absolutely gorgeous. The gameplay elements are just as stunning as the cinematic scenes, and you’ll find yourself taking breaks to soak in the lush environments—especially in the mountainous areas. Everything about the game’s visuals is positively breathtaking, from the dazzling lighting effects right down to the minute detail on the characters’ clothes and hair. Indeed, the recent commercials that poke fun at someone’s girlfriend thinking Among Thieves is a movie are pretty accurate—it looks as good as, if not better, than the best that Hollywood can throw our way. When you mix in the well-told story and lifelike voice acting, Uncharted 2 can indeed prove almost as fun to watch as it is play. However, with so much to see and collect, you’ll definitely want to take the helm and play through every minute of the game.
All of this is great, but what makes the Uncharted 2 experience so far beyond what we’ve played recently is the inclusion of multiplayer modes. Naughty Dog could have sold the multiplayer elements as a game in and of itself—it’s just that good. Multiplayer modes come in the form of co-op and competitive online action. There are tons of different modes, including a deathmatch, treasure hunt (like capture the flag), and elimination. The levels are all ripped right from the single-player campaign, affording a sense of familiarity among players. Pretty much everything you can do in the single-player mode you can do in the multiplayer mode, making this one of the best online competitive experiences we’ve had lately.
Online cooperative comes in several forms, including a survival mode that pins you and a group of friends against swarms of enemies, increasing in difficulty as the game progresses. The co-op mode also allows you to jump in various situations with friends, drawn directly from the single-player campaign, but with much more advanced combat. You’ll want to use a headset to communicate with your friends because the action will come at you fast, and coordination is key to success.
Uncharted 2: Among Thieves is one of those rare games that deserves a perfect score. Even if every second is not flawless, the game as a whole is so breathtakingly beautiful and exciting to play that we can forgive the few moments of frustration. Drake’s Fortune set the bar very high for this generation of console gaming, and now Among Thieves raises it even higher, widening our expectations for future titles. We haven’t played a game so well developed in ages. Sure, there are plenty of excellent titles out there, and the PS3 is home to many (LittleBigPlanet, Killzone 2, among others), but Among Thieves is so epic and exhilarating to experience that we feel it reigns supreme on Sony’s black box. Whether it’s the breathtaking graphics, killer story line, or intense and strategic action, Nathan Drake’s latest adventure is an absolute gem.