It has been nearly 2 years since we last sampled the adventures of Drake and his Fortune. Since then its developer, Naughty Dog, has had its head down, creating yet another exciting tale for Nathan Drake. This time he is Among Thieves, solving a historical mystery of Marco Polo's lost fleet, in yet another twisting adventure featuring a bucket full of laughs, a dash of whit, a ton of action and two handfuls of eye candy.
Two years after Drake’s Fortune, the story finds you (Drake) hanging in a train cabin. No seriously, you are in a train cabin that is literally hanging from a cliff edge - nothing is ever straightforward when you’re Nathan Drake. Whilst acting like a unobtrusive ‘get to know the controls’ tutorial, you soon take full control of Drake and make your climb up and out of the cabin whilst it creeks and jolts, hanging on a knife edge, overlooking a long drop down. This whole sequence could have been done via a few simple Quick Time Events, and although I was expecting to see one to trigger any second, I was glad none decided to show up during this introduction.
It is a dramatic and fitting introduction to the game. Drake soon passes-out at the top of the cliff, after safety climbing out of yet another near-death encounter. Whilst slipping unconscious, Drake begins to flashback to past events that have occurred, and it is these flashbacks that explain why you are in terrible situation you are in. These flashbacks seamlessly tell, once again, a beautifully crafted adventure that feature some new characters; namely cockney Englishman - Harry Flynn and the new eye candy for this adventure, Chloe Frazer – another old flame of Drakes. Some friendly faces also return for the ride; Drake’s old pal, Sully, and the original eye candy, Elena makes a return also. Rounding off the cast is Serbian war criminal, Zoran Lazarević, who seems to be always on Drake’s heels every step of the adventure, showing up as soon as you’ve either solved a cryptic puzzle or collected a precious artifact – in true Indiana Jonas, Tomb Raider-esque fashion – you got to love these stereotypical plot pieces!
I was a big fan of the gameplay in Drake’s Fortune, and in Drake’s second adventure it is much more of the same, however this is not a bad thing at all. Just like Drake’s Fortune, the right mix of platforming and combat is spot on. Perhaps this time around the balance is tipped fractionally more towards the combat side of things; this is no doubt mostly to show off the enhanced combat in the game. Before, the combat was ‘OK’, but this time around everything from aiming, taking cover and pulling the odd diving move has been polished - and we can thank the newly added multiplayer for these improvements. Set pieces have also returned in the game, and they are back with a bigger bang than ever before, all as jaw dropping as the next.
Speaking of jaw dropping…let me touch on the graphics. Drake’s Fortune was a title worthy of showing off the powers of what the PlayStation 3 could achieve, and at only 30% of the PS3’s power it wasn’t even putting a sweat on. Among Thieves cranks the visual splendor bar to new heights, utilizing nearly 90% of the power of Sony’s console – and it shows. Putting more use into the CPUs has resulted in much improved lighting, textures, real-time animations and effects. The level design in the game has a cleaver way of making you scale heights without you really realizing it, and it is not until you glance over your shoulder you get to see the beautifully rendered vistas that shimmer in front of your very eyes – time to dribble at this point. Whether in the hills of Borneo or the snowy mountains caps of Tibet, all are as breathtaking as the next encounter. You often hear reviewers mention they stop in their tracks to take it in such graphical prowess like this, and whilst playing Among Thieves I had that very moment whilst I was at the highest point overlooking the city of Nepal, it was literally breathtaking, and certainly challenged such point of view moments in titles like Assassin’s Creed.
The audio in the game also comes from the same stable. Perfectly orchestra music bellows from your 5.1 sound system, if you have a DTS compatible amp, make sure you switch that uncompressed selection on for ear pleasing results. Cut scenes in the game are made in-engine and have been acted out in motion capture, by the actors and actresses alongside the audio dialogue. This makes for some of the best in-engine cut scenes I’ve seen in a game. From the lip-syncing to the detailed capture of motion-captured gestures, everything enhances life in each of the characters to a point that I thought I was watching real-life shot sequences.
This time around, Uncharted 2’s longevity is increase with the inclusion of multiplayer – a feature that was lacking in the first title. Both competitive and co-operative multiplayer types are available here. In co-op mode you and up to two others can play as Nathan and two of his fellow companions as you all cooperatively fight against an onslaught of enemy waves or objective based challenges. Competitive multiplayer modes let you battle with up to a maximum of ten players in modes ranging from: Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, Capture the flag and Objective based matches. With currently tens of thousands of players playing online, you will easily find a game that will suit your match making requests. Failing that you can easily setup your own by using the game’s various options to tailor a custom multiplayer match of your own.
Throughout the singleplayer and multiplayer areas of the game, money can be collected. As well as leveling-up in multiplayer, cash can be earned and spent on a variety of skins, boosters (perks) and upgrades for weapons in Co-op mode. This again adds longevity to the game’s multiplayer and creates a solid addition to the game, which in turn adds another compelling title to the much lacking list of recommended online titles for the PlayStation 3.
Whether you are a fan of the original, or picking up this sequel for the first time, Uncharted 2: Among Thieves is a title that must sit in your PlayStation 3 games collection. Older fans will enjoy Drake’s new adventure whilst newcomers will not need to know much, if any, of the story from the first title to enjoy it as equally. With the success of the Drake’s Fortune and the already high praise received for Among Thieves, there is no doubt that we’ll be seeing more of Drake in the future; even if it is another two years wait, I cannot wait to swing into yet another explosive adventure.