Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Developer: Naughty Dog
Release date: Available now
Supporters of the videogame industry like to mention that game sales across all platforms bring in more money than Hollywood does at the movie box office in a year. But conversations tend to shorten when the question of the quality of the product comes into play. Developer Naughty Dog bucked that trend in the fall of 2007 with the release of Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune, which used a decidedly cinematic approach to tell the story of fortune hunter Nathan Drake and journalist Elena Fisher as they chased the treasure of Sir Francis Drake. Uncharted was easily the best shooter of the year on the PS3, perhaps the best on any platform, and now Drake returns for another grand adventure, Uncharted 2: Among Thieves.
Uncharted 2 wastes no time getting started. Drake wakes up covered in his own blood and trapped in a passenger train dangling off the edge of a deep mountain chasm. He struggles to climb up both the inside and the outside of the train to reach safety, collapsing on the snow-covered cliff just as the rest of the train falls to the bottom of the canyon. As he trudges onward searching for help, we see flashbacks that show us how he came to be in this predicament.
Fellow adventurers Harry Flynn and Chloe Frazer have convinced Drake to help them break into a museum to steal a map, hidden in some ancient pottery, that can lead them to the lost treasure fleet of Marco Polo. But after retrieving the map, Drake is betrayed by Flynn, who’s been hired by Russian soldier Zoran Lazarevic to help him find the hidden path to Shambhala, better known as Shangri-La, where can be found a giant gemstone that could grant Lazarevic immortality.
Drake is a combination of Indiana Jones and Lara Croft. He has a considerable knowledge of antiquities, and he must have the strongest fingertips in the world, since he spends most of the game hanging from them on high buildings and mountain ledges. You can choose one of four difficulty levels (a fifth becomes available after you complete the campaign for the first time). For those who didn’t play Uncharted, there are plenty of hints (some of which you can choose not to view) and icons to help you get around, with the train escape scene serving as a kind of tutorial. Uncharted 2 shares with its predecessor the ability to tell an exciting, involving story, featuring intricately animated cutscenes and top-notch voice work by industry stalwart Nolan North, Claudia Black (“Farscape”), Steve Valentine (“Crossing Jordan”) and Emily Rose, who returns to voice spunky reporter Elena Fisher. The graphics are amazing, despite the game’s 720p maximum HDTV resolution. All of the settings, from the jungles of Borneo to the debris-littered streets of a city at war to the scenic vistas of the mountains of Nepal, are rendered with care and skill. And the story has everything that the best film scripts have: passion, betrayal, loyalty, exciting action scenes, an evocative orchestral score (by composer Greg Edmonson), and lots of good humor despite all the chaos. If it wasn’t for the middling screen resolution, you could almost think you’re watching a movie.
However, there are some items that prevent Uncharted 2 from achieving the greatness reached by the original game. There are times when the camera will not allow you to look in all directions, which can be frustrating when you’re searching for a ledge or outcropping to which to drop or climb. The incredibly fast pace is spoiled by two extended scenes in the Nepali mountains, where you have to fight your way through ice caverns and a town overrun by enemies with RPGs and tanks. And, as seems to be the standard when playing shooters at normal difficulty, the AI enemies are will often run right past you and wait for you to shoot them, although some of them do attempt to flank you or scatter when you pitch grenades at them. But my biggest problem with Uncharted 2 is something that usually only happens on PCs: system crashes and lost audio. Twice during the campaign I had to restart my PS3 because the game froze up, and once I had to briefly depend upon subtitles because the dialogue track went silent. In a happier note, Uncharted 2 brings the series into the multiplayer universe, with a diverse collection of 10 gameplay modes including the usual suspects (Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, King of the Hill), zone-capture modes Turf War and Chain Reaction, and a co-op mode.
Sequels, both in the game world and in Hollywood, tend to disappoint fans of the series more often than not (“Star Wars” fans can still be heard complaining about Episodes 1 to 3). Not so with Uncharted 2: Among Thieves. Although it has some missteps and the occasional glitch, it still stands head and shoulders above most of the shooters available today for any platform. I’m on record saying that Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune is the best shooter ever made. The sequel doesn’t quite reach those lofty heights, but Naughty Dog has once again produced an adventure game that even cinephiles should enjoy.