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Uncharted 2: Among Thieves
MSRP: $59.99
Number of Players: 1-10 (multiplayer via online play)
Developer: Naughty Dog
Publisher: SCEA

Rating:
*****
out of
*****

One of the first notable platform exclusive games for the PlayStation 3 was 2007's Uncharted: Drake's Fortune. Although some derided it for being a fairly linear Tomb Raider knockoff, the game was fun to play and featured some of the best voice acting in gaming. Developer Naughty Dog went back to the drawing board and took everything that was right about the first game and threw out most of what was wrong. The resulting game, Uncharted 2: Among Thieves, not only solidifies Naughty Dog as one of the premier developers on the PS3 but also raises the bar for single player games on any platform. It's going to be hard to top this one.

Uncharted 2 once again follows the adventures of Nathan Drake, who is a sort of everyman Indiana Jones. Drake is approached by Harry Flynn and Chloe Frazer who ask for his help in stealing a lamp from a museum in Istanbul. The lamp may contain a map that will lead them to the whereabouts of Marco Polo's lost fleet. Drake reluctantly agrees. However, Flynn double crosses Drake after they steal the map and Drake is captured. Flynn, however, escapes with the map.

Drake spends three months in a Turkish prison. Drake's old friend Victor "Sully" Sullivan arrives, along with Chloe, to arrange for his release. Chloe provides information on Flynn's employer, Zoran Lazarevic, a Serbian war criminal. Drake, Chloe, and Sully travel to Borneo to follow the clues provided by the map but are led to Nepal to track down an even bigger treasure.

Playing Uncharted 2 is very much like playing an interactive movie. Although many games have billed themselves as such, Uncharted 2 is the first game to get it right. That doesn't mean that the player merely watches cinematic animations and does little else. Uncharted 2 seamlessly blends in-game player animations with cinematics to create a completely immersive experience. Expository sequences are kept short and sweet and there are few breaks in the action.

The game contains elements from many different gaming genres. There's a healthy dose of action as Drake will shoot, punch, and blast his way through the game's many levels. There's also quite a bit of jumping and platforming. Drake will also have to solve the occasional puzzle, usually involving the manipulation of switches or symbols. There's even a short vehicle sequence, although Drake doesn't do the driving.

The controls have received a considerable improvement from the first Uncharted. There are no longer any requirements to use the PS3's motion-based Sixaxis controller to throw grenades or keep your balance on logs or planks. Most actions require a press of the controller's face buttons and a waggle or two of the analog sticks. That's about as complicated as it gets. Yet, the play never feels simplified or constrained. Drake can still only carry two guns at a time, along with a cache of grenades but there are always plenty of weapons and ammo lying around, so choosing the right tool for the job is rarely a problem.

One cannot write a review about Uncharted 2 without mentioning the acting. Naughty Dog had the voice actors also perform the motion capturing for their characters and the result is the most lifelike acting in a game to date. Nolan North, who performs Nathan Drake, and Claudia Black, who performs Chloe, have a great chemistry in the game. Also returning from the first game is the fiesty reporter, Elena Fisher, who is played by Emily Rose. The combination of these three characters in the latter stages of the game provided me with some honest-to-God laugh-out-loud moments that can only be compared with those experienced while watching a movie.

On top of everything else, the graphics of Uncharted 2 are stupendous. Naughty Dog know how to pump the pretty pictures out of the PlayStation 3's hardware. From the excellent stone and ice textures in Nepal to the flora and fauna in Borneo, each locale looks top-notch. The environments are spectacular . There is no game on any other system at the moment that looks as good as Uncharted 2.

My only nitpick with the game is that, after playing a game like inFamous, which allowed me to climb and "stick" to almost anything that looked like a ledge or graspable area, I was disappointed that Uncharted 2 had clearly defined usable ledges and unusable ledges. Why shouldn't I be able to use both types of ledges to climb? This was the only element of the game that made me feel limited and frustrated.

Even with that small quibble, Uncharted 2: Among Thieves is my pick for 2009's videogame of the year.

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