Uncharted 2: Amongst ThieveslikeBBFC15 Developer Naughty Dog Publisher Sony Computer Entertainment Genre Action Platform Playstation 3 Release October 16th 2009 Before you read even a sentence into this review, please read my rather negative review of Uncharted: Drake's Fortune. I'll be making a lot of references to the first game in this review.

So, Uncharted. Let's not beat around the bush. I hated the game, but only the "game" portion of it. I'm sure if it was a film, I would have really enjoyed it. Okay, the story's fairly generic for its genre, but it was funny, it was witty and it was different. The ultimate experience was completely undermined by awful standard and tacked-on motion controls, a lack of direction for the player, bullet-sponge enemies and a confusing lack of stealth gameplay mechanics, despite the fact the game is setup in a way which would imply it existed. Uncharted 2, on the other hand, doesn't quite fall foul of a lot of these shortcomings. The sequel is far more polished, with a greater emphasis on playing sneakily, thinking through actions rather than just leaping in head-first and work out the details after a big, dumb firefight. Not that Uncharted 2 doesn't force you into some gunfights, however.

Drake does the locomotive.
The game starts up with Nathan Drake, star of the previous Uncharted game, sitting rather uncomfortably having been shot and involved in some sort of crazy train derailment. The train carriage Drake appears to be on is now more vertical than your usual train car... And dangling precariously off a cliff. The story then decides to jump back about half the story to some old friends presenting Drake an offer he seemingly can't refuse, a relatively easy task in which they attempt to track down the treasure of Marco Polo. His friends, Chloe (voiced by Claudia Black) and Harry Flynn, both of whom are "professional" treasure hunters, quickly betray Drake as it's revealed that they were actually working under orders from a crazy, powerful Russian war-lord: Zoran Lazarevic. Lazarevic's plan is to find the mythical "Tree of Life" and be granted immortality through the Cintamani Stone, the power he will use to create an unstoppable army and... Rage warfare forever? Rule the world? Who knows. Also making an appearance, despite my flippant dismissal of her return in my previous review comes Elena, the female protagonist of the first Uncharted game who can't keep herself out of danger and actively throwing herself into it by shadowing Lazarevic and reporting his ability to decimate Tibetan villages.

Uncharted 2 is a far more grandiose adventure over the first game, travelling the globe and having a fair deal of the gameplay set in villages one-way-or-another. The game unfortunately falls prey to what made Uncharted: Drake's Fortune fall a bit short by actually adding in more equally ridiculous mutated-human enemies into the game. The guardians of the Cintamani Stone who have become super-solider-esque and run around in crazy Yeti-like costumes to ward off those in search of the mythical life-giving stone. Their appearance in the story is perhaps less annoying than the enemy type themselves, which near the end of the game, they come out in their droves to make your time a living hell as they just wont die save for some well placed Crossbow shots... Crossbows, of course, you need to take from a fallen mutant anyway. The dialogue, pacing and execution of the story is very well done for the most part. If they didn't decide they wanted to show one of the biggest set-pieces of the game, the train sequence and the wreckage of the train in the opening scenes and then jump back half-the-game to fill in the much-needed blanks (read: the whole damn story), I'd say the story was pretty much damn-well perfect.

Chest-high walls. Just what every cityscape needs.
Much like Drake's Fortune, Uncharted 2 still relies heavily on cover-based shooting mechanics. However the game really wants to hit-home the idea of stealth, so the first half an hour of the game is nothing but a stealth-infiltration mission where you have no choice but to subdue enemies rather than brutally murder them... Which is a nice change. Yes, a lot of Uncharted 2 can now actually be completed by carefully sneaking around and disposing of enemies in a controlled manner. The game rewards you for such endeavours by giving you unique weapons or extra ammo which can only be acquired by being sneaky. Another much needed change has come from the melee combat system, which now relies more on countering or dodging enemy blows and hitting back, melee is pretty useless in most scenarios, however as you'll most likely be dragged into melee at the most inopportune moments i.e. when you're getting shot at, you'll just find yourself dying a lot more than just staying in cover or fleeing near-by enemies, but the system has been improved and we're all thankful for it. Speaking of combat, shooting enemies now actually feels impactful, enemies can still take a ridiculous amount of bullets to fall over and the tedium has been increased with the inclusion of shielded and armoured shotgun-carrying enemies but for the most part, enemies will kindly give way after 2 or 3 well-placed shots. Headshots are now actually counted most the time as well, rather than the predecessor where headshots weren't really headshots unless you hit them in a very specific part of the head.

Other improvements come in the way of the climbing mechanics, whereby you can now do hand-over-hand climbing where permitted rather than having to jump up every ledge. You can now just push the control stick in a direction and Drake will climb that way, same for hanging bars. It's a small improvement but will avoid some rather dubious deaths as you try and jump for things which aren't really climbable. Sadly, identification of what's climbable and what's not is still somewhat wonky in Uncharted 2. The game was designed with aesthetics in mind rather than player-direction, it seems. The most frustrating moments in this game, other than unfair firefights and the inability to throw back grenades was just being stuck somewhere with no idea how to progress. I was stuck on the top of a hotel in Nepal trying to figure out how to reach an obvious zip-wire I had to use for a good 10 minutes until I noticed a handrail was missing on one of the walls and only by going near the extreme edge of the building would the camera change to reveal the brickwork I needed to climb on. Second on the frustrate-o-metre is puzzle solving. It doesn't happen very often -- no where near as often as it did in Drake's Fortune --, but every time it does happen, you feel lost. Puzzle solving usually just means finding a leaver or repeating some arduous climbing sequence over and over again, none of which feels particularly intuitive or, well, fun.

I think this shot speaks for itself.
Visually the game is amazing. The sweeping vistas the game presents are truely spectacular and whether or not there's some visual trickery going on somewhere to create such scenes is completely irrelevant. Fact of the matter is, is that the game is frankly the prettiest console game I've laid my eyes on, no doubt about that... Not saying that's the end of the matter, as I'm sure many Crysis 2 fans will contest, just my observation thus far. Of course, the game does sacrifice something for it's beauty, namely the aforementioned ability to successfully guide players to where they need to go. You would have assumed this problem would have been found and stomped out in playtesting... Either that or I'm not all that observant or have become far too complacent with the subtle guiding techniques that gaming has been pushing for over a decade now.

The game's soundtrack is equally amazing, with a wonderful orchestrated score which brings everything together. Voice acting is top-notch with some wonderful performances from the cast. There are some groan moments from the script and some all too predictable lines which I'm sure you could make a drinking game out of somewhere down the line but hey, it never said it wasn't going to ham it up at all and for what it's worth, the game has a nice charm as a result.

I'll punch you to sleep.
One complaint before I close out the review, no, it's not the super-human enemies... It's that train sequence. I'm sorry Naughty Dog, you spoke so fondly about how you loved the train sequence at EuroGamer 2011, but it was really, really annoying. Spectacular? Well, yeah, but it didn't need to have such a prolonged sequence where you're chased by a helicopter and you really didn't need so many damn hazards as you're slowly climbing on the train for the umpth-teen time. Most of all, you didn't need a mini-boss where you had to melee the guy... But then not inform you that's what you needed to do. I suppose once you run out of ammo that's what you're left to resort to, but after you melee him the first time and nothing really happened, you just expect that you were doing something wrong. At no point did that battle scream "run up and punch him". Seriously, Uncharted 3 needs a lot more direction... Which is a message coming a bit too late considering the game launches at the end of this month. (See how up-to-date I am with reviews?)

Overall then, Uncharted 2 is a fantastic game. I recommend just playing this and perhaps the third game over bothering with the first game considering it's bloody awful. You wont come away from the game thinking too negatively about your time with it, although you may need to think hard to remember the good times you had with the game over the closing hour-or-so which can be rather frustrating on your first play-through. Regardless, the game's well worth your money, especially as it's now a Playstation Platinum game. If you're wondering what all the fuss is about for Uncharted 3, pick up Uncharted 2. You wont regret it.
Brilliant story, brilliant scripting (for the most part), really great experience.
Much improved over the previous game, really loved the stealth element included in this instalment.
Beautiful game. As I said in the review, probably the best looking game of this console generation.
Amazing score and amazing voice acting comes together to bring a pretty well-rounded audible treat.
14 Hours
A fairly lengthy game, none of which seems to drag on... There are a few repetitive moments and some moments where it seems the developers were artificially extending playtime but there are in the distinct minority.