The lights are on
It is not often a sequel out performs the original source material. Certainly there are exceptions in other viable mediums such as film: The Godfather Pt. II, Aliens, Terminator 2, The Dark Knight, etc. However while lightning may strike twice in Hollywood this occurrence is even less common in the video game world. But every now and then a sequel comes along and surprises its audience by improving upon the original in virtually every conceivable way. Thus has Uncharted 2: Among Thieves delivered a vastly improved game over the original already fantastic Uncharted: Drake's Fortune.
You once again star as every man Nathan Drake who finds himself compelled to hunt down yet another rumored treasure located within the mythical city of Shangri La. The enigmatic tale of Marco Polo's lost fleet serves as precedence this time around as you follow clues that take Drake and company to a variety of locations such as a daring museum heist gone wrong, a quaint Nepalese mountain village, a turbulent ice cave deep in the heart of the Himalayas and a veritable "paradise." I would elaborate but that would risk spoiling an awesome story that should be experienced in virgin terms (i.e. no outside influences). Suffice it to say if you have played the first you can expect to encounter some new surprises, plot twists and random turn of events to keep the narrative engaging and motivating you to finish.
Dramatic action sequences pepper Uncharted 2 throughout. Whether it be escaping an attack helicopter's barrage through a rapidly collapsing building, navigating your way on top, aside or through heavily defended train cars as it speeds along against a beautiful backdrop setting of mountains and forests, or leaping from truck to truck in a high speed chase as enemies assault you from practically 360 degrees; you almost never get a chance to catch your breath or so it would seem. Which is why Naughty Dog implemented some new stealth mechanics this time around. Now Drake has the ability to take out bad guys in ninja-like fashion allowing players to choose how to approach a given tactical situation. The stealth portions are not just a tacked on afterthought either. In some cases it really does behoove the player to remain unseen to get the objective accomplished.
Of course the most substantial new addition to this sequel is multiplayer. I admit I was against the idea of any multiplayer portion being included when Naughty Dog announced they were doing so. However my fears that it would detract or devalue the overall game were hastily quelled with the subsequent release of the multiplayer beta and then finally with the full game after it released.
The deceptively addicting multiplayer portion has turned out to be the most appealing new feature included in Uncharted 2. Long after the single-player campaign becomes a distant memory, this is where the real "meat and potatoes" lies. There are a variety of game types to be played ranging from standard death match, capture-the-flag and king of the hill modes to strictly co-operative matches that have players working in groups of three against enemy A.I. In this way Naughty Dog was smart to include a variety of challenges for every type of player since not everyone is drawn to the more competitive aspects of multiplayer like yours truly.
In multiplayer you gain levels and earn money to spend on a multitude of upgrades. Everything from weapon upgrades, to different perks that grant you specific bonuses when equipped, to non-essential items such as new taunting moves or playable character skins are available for purchase. Each weapon (with the exception of a couple) all have three levels of upgrades which include faster reloading, increased accuracy and larger ammo capacity. And there is no telling what future DLC plans Naughty Dog has up their sleeve which can include new maps, new game types or even new perks. But for now the included material will be sufficient to tide many gamers over for a while. What's more is if you have beaten the originalUncharted and start up Uncharted 2 the game can detect your save file from the first game and you get an immediate cash bonus of $200,000 to your wallet to spend right off the bat. That is a pretty nice incentive that Naughty Dog had the forethought to include as a small "thank you" to everyone that played and beat the first game. It was a small token of appreciation but it did not go unnoticed by this gamer.
What else is there to say? Well nothing that I have not already in the above paragraphs except maybe the following admonition about my score. I am not prone to just handing out a perfect score to a game for the sake of it. While I firmly believe no game is perfect in the strictest sense of the word, rare gems do come along that are as close to perfection as humanly possible. I am not influenced by hype and I am certainly not getting paid to write this review (I wish!). With that said, I sincerely believe that Uncharted 2 has proven to be the epitome of how you treat an already excellent franchise and improve upon that formula. It is an outstanding game developed by an outstanding studio that somehow managed to squeeze even more greatness out of an already great franchise. Fans have a new benchmark to pride themselves over. I stated in my review of the first Uncharted game that the bar had been raised. Well consider the bar raised again. Bravo, Naughty Dog, and thank you.
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