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In Memory
Sean Pettibone


Uncharted 2: Among Thieves (Playstation 3) 

Nathan Drake's first adventure was impressive but it was nothing compared to Uncharted 2 which blows it right out of the water in every way. It's sense of scale is breathtaking and delivers one of the most ambitious titles seen to date on any platform. Mixing action and puzzle levels seamlessly, the game unfolds at a frenetic pace throughout, leaving you on the edge of your seat. The game's improved combat system allows for easier cover and more accurate shots, while the epic cinematic sequences are competing for your attention. An improved graphics engine delivers nearly photo-realistic visuals, believable characters and breathtaking environments. Uncharted 2's highly polished gameplay is absolutely amazing at points, and its mix of breathtaking action, intense combat and startling puzzle sequences delivers an unforgettable gaming experience.

Naughty Dog's Uncharted: Drake's Fortune was a fantastic title that mixed adventure, action and puzzle elements to create an enjoyable and entertaining game. It garnered many positive reactions, but the sequel looks to take everything that was good about the first game and take it to an entirely new level. This time around, we find our hero, Nathan Drake beginning his latest adventure in quite a precarious position. Right from the start, you know it's going to be something special and the game hooks you in almost immediately. As in the previous games, Nate is the star of the show and his roguish personality, quips and fearlessness take you through an amazing adventure through many continents and locations. Along the way, he'll meet up with an engaging cast of characters, including several from the first game. Some of the character motivations are apparent immediately, but others become known only later on. It's a credit to the developers that each one has a distinct personality that comes to life so vividly. The story is quite good as well, and while there are a few instances of over-the-top action that strain credibility, Uncharted 2's story actually feels somewhat believable for the most part. In Drake's latest adventure, he's searching for a mysterious place called Shambhala or Shangri-La. He travels the world looking for clues and discovers legendary adventurer Marco Polo may have discovered it, only to be consumed by disaster. Drake's journey takes him to several different continents, including far flung regions of Borneo, the shattered streets of war-torn Napal, through mountainous terrain and other incredible vistas with incredible light sourcing, and environmental effects. You can see the dust in the dark alleys of streets, while the deep snow and ice of the mountainous regions feels accurate down to the last flake. Some of these areas are so vividly detailed, you think you're watching an HD documentary, not playing a game. Unfortunately, soaking up the beautifully rendered environments isn't an option for long. There's a crazed mercenary army led by a madman named Zoran is also in pursuit of these secrets. He's brutal, ruthless and inhumane. His henchmen are relentless and they pursue Nate relentlessly throughout the game so Zoran can find the secrets and gain their immense powers.

As you might expect, the game delivers several very impressive set-pieces where you are locked in an all-out battle with these forces. The gameplay can be divided into two distinct parts: gun-battles and puzzle sequences, with some overlap between these to make for an excellent balance of skill and action. When Nate is engaged in a gun battle with opponents, your main objective is to kill them before they inflict enough damage on you to kill you. You can prevent a lot of damage by taking cover behind various objects. This might seem a little tedious, but you can shoot from cover by pressing the shift keys. Aiming your weapon is fairly simple, and most of these are fairly accurate. In addition, you can collect and throw grenades and tanks of gas around. Using weapons can also help with puzzles at certain points, so it pays to familiarize yourself with all their uses. Most of the enemies in the game are fairly easy to mark and shoot, but they attack simultaneously and from different directions, which makes it harder to survive their attacks, since they seem to crawl out of the walls at some points. In some areas, you can use some stealth techniques to take down guards or soldiers which helps to keep others nearby unaware while reducing your potential damage as well. When you do take damage, the screen fills with blood shots, but the game allows you to regenerate your health by getting to cover and not taking damage for awhile. While most of the burden lies on you, don't forget that you'll usually have a companion character nearby who can inflict lots of damage on their own. After you've defeated an enemy, you can take any of the weapons they drop and there are plentiful munitions in the game ranging from standard pistols, to machine guns, sniper rifles and other guns that you can use. You can carry two different weapons at any time and switching between them is fast and simple. Using more powerful guns allows you to clear out large sections faster, but the smaller guns can be useful. If an enemy gets too close to Nate, he'll have to engage in hand-to-hand combat. Fortunately, he's almost as good with his fists, and he can take down most enemies without much effort using standard attacks. However, Uncharted 2 also gives players the ability to use quick-time moves in order to perform more elaborate attacks, which is a fairly effective technique. The excellent controls are straightforward and easy to use. The controls are generally responsive and intuitive, makes for a generally intuitive combat system that's easy to use.

While the action sequences are intense, Uncharted 2 gives players some breathing space by introducing some elaborate puzzles which are somewhat reminiscent of those seen in Tomb Raider. Usually set in a massive temple or underground space, these sequences help to move the storyline forward as Nate discovers clues and other objects to help him to his main objective. When he's in these areas, he needs to unlock a series of smaller tasks such as climbing, jumping and pulling levers to piece together the clues he needs to unlock the larger puzzle. Doing this isn't as simple as it sounds, since the next objective isn't always clear. By looking around at his surroundings, discovering secret areas and taking a few risks, he can usually find the path around the more challenging sections. In order to help him along a little bit more, he can use his companions to help him find different sections, refer to his notebook for more clues and use the on-screen help icons to further his quest. These sequences can be a little frustrating at points, since the objectives can be a little oblique, but the game never really puts up what seem like impossible obstacles in your path. There are definitely some very challenging sections, and some of the leaps and puzzles seem almost too elaborate and lengthy. However, these puzzles fit in with the larger storyline flawlessly, and uncovering all the secrets and puzzles definitely gives Uncharted 2 a personality and style that other games in the genre miss. In addition to the main quest, players will also find numerous smaller treasures scattered throughout the levels. When you collect these, you'll be given a small object that you can examine and place in your inventory, which you can view later. This lets you go even deeper into the game's backstory and helps to flesh out more of the details, and helps to make Uncharted much more than just another shooter.

Taking another huge leap forward, it's not surprising that Uncharted 2's visuals are absolutely breathtaking, pushing the PS3 hardware to new levels of aesthetic brilliance. While the first Uncharted was impressive, Among Thieves uses a new custom engine developed by Naughty Dog that brings you into the action like never before. It delivers a cinematic experience that exceeds the quality seen in the first Uncharted in almost every area. You'll immediately notice the vastly improved character models, which makes each character feel even more alive. This is very important in the cinematic story sequences, which seem to have more dramatic impact this time around. A dramatic increase in the number of facial and movement animations and renders helps to make them feel even more alive than the first game. You can almost feel Nathan's heavy breathing as he takes a stumble, and watch the adrenaline pump up during a particularly intense confrontation. The engine brings the game's vivid characters to life brilliantly and each sequence shows how life-like the characters seem. As the star of the show, Nathan Drake himself conveys a level of emotion and reaction that's seldom been seen in a game. As far as in-game animations are concerned, Nate's movements feel rugged and athletic, leaping from place to place, climbing and shooting effortlessly. Its outstanding body animation helps to keep the game somewhat grounded in reality, but the most impressive aspect of the game are its huge levels and massive explorable environments that bring an incredible sense of scale and realism to make for an absolutely incredible aesthetic experience.

While many action titles stumble in the presentation department, Uncharted 2 delivers a superlative level of polish and flair. An intuitive camera system rarely gets in the way of the action but gives you the chance to look around to find your next target easily. Most of the action takes place in third person and this approach gives the game an incredible cinematic flair. Each level seems to bring its own astonishing, draw-dropping moment. Right from the start, with an incredible opening sequence on a crashed train hanging over a cliff, to huge battles that take place in a war-torn city, and some absolutely breathtaking action sequences such as the one where entire buildings crumble while you battle opponents have to be seen in action to be believed. There's an incredible amount of these cliff-hanging situations in the game's storyline that will leave your jaw agape. There are massive firefights on moving objects, battles with gunship helicopters and some truly heart-stopping moments where you're surrounded by massive number of enemies. It's cinematic polish brings plenty of motion and momentum in the game, and Uncharted 2's action levels rarely leave you time to breathe. Going through these sequences will leave you on the edge of your seat, and there are many moments when you probably won't believe what you just experienced. This is an adventure on an epic scale and it delivers some of the most insanely over the top action sequences we've ever seen in a game. In addition, there are the slower and more brain-teasing puzzle sequences, usually set in massive, elaborate temples. Here, you can catch your breath and marvel at the detailed carvings, subtle yet impressive lighting effects and the sheer scale of the game's world. While these sequences are a bit slower, climbing and jumping in these massive areas can still cause tension, since one slip can make Drake plunge to his doom. What's most impressive, is that despite its relentless pace, massive scale and incredible set-pieces, Uncharted 2's world remains largely grounded in reality throughout. Its startlingly photorealistic environments feel completely believable and cohesive. Delivering an incredible sense of scale and ambition, everything in Uncharted 2 feels alive with incredible attention to detail, making for a visual masterpiece that stuns from beginning to end.

While the single player experience is superlative, Uncharted 2 also features a fairly robust multiplayer mode that brings a solid and exciting extra challenge to the game. Setting this up is fairly easy and most players should find the various deathmatch, team deathmatch, capture the flag and treasure hunting modes fun to play. The most interesting part of the online modes is the machima section where you can create your own mini-level and backgrounds, move Nate around to create and share your own movies online. It's a cool mode and one that adds even more depth to the experience. However, this is all a side-issue compared to the game's epic solo quest, which is probably the most elaborate and ambitious seen in any console action title to date. Many other titles have attempted to mix the cinematic with interactive over the years, but Uncharted 2 seems like the first to genuinely succeed at this quest. It's engaging plotline moves along at a frenetic pace throughout with many twists and turns, unexpected and breathtaking about faces, and numerous cliff-hanger moments to keep you engaged throughout. Lots of other games seem to run out of energy as you near their end, but the story and characters in Uncharted 2 will keep you engaged throughout. The gameplay itself is about as polished and smooth as we've seen, and while there are some familiar elements, they've been put together brilliantly which makes the gameplay feel fresh and engaging. The story is a strong motivator, and you won't need much encouragement to keep going forward and discovering the many secrets that lie ahead. Uncharted 2's execution is outstanding, and It's difficult to see how where Naughty Dog could have made any substantial improvements. Uncharted 2 sets a new benchmark level in terms of graphics, presentation, gameplay and overall level design because each of these major elements is implemented effectively. You might be able to point out a minor flaw, but in the bigger picture, Uncharted 2 is a triumphant release that brings an entirely new level of cinematic gaming to life.

Grade: A+

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