I remember the moment I fell head over heels in love with Uncharted 2: Among Thieves. It was in a bombed out hotel in Nepal as a helicopter was shooting rockets at me. I figured I knew what was coming - we've been to this helicopter party a thousand times, haven't we? - but a few minutes later, after exclaiming "Holy crap!" and nervously laughing along with Nathan Drake as we both narrowly avoided certain death, I put aside all expectations and gave myself over to the ride.
Uncharted 2 is the kind of treasure-hunting adventure that Indiana Jones had before he got old, found aliens, and began to suck so badly. This time around, Nate is on the trail of an enormous sapphire and the location of Shambhala, also known as Shangri-La. His search takes him to various exotic locations around the world, each more stunningly detailed and enormous in scope than the last. You'll spend much of your time playing Uncharted 2 with mouth agape, staring slack-jawed at the glorious vistas spread out before you. Gazing upon the vastness of an ancient temple or the dense foliage of a jungle in Borneo, it's easy to forget that what's on your screen is a videogame, as opposed to some big-budget film starring this year's rugged heartthrob.
It wouldn't be much of an adventure without a little danger, of course. Standing between him and his prize are legions of well-armed goons in the employ of a warlord who's also hot on the trail of the treasure. You'll have to fight your way through them, but fortunately, Nate and his friends are no strangers to firearms. The gunplay in Uncharted 2 is a little repetitious - you've seen one wave of anonymous thugs, you've pretty much seen them all - but you have more than enough fighting methods at your disposal to keep things interesting. Toss some grenades, snipe from afar, use a stealth attack, blind fire from cover, run and gun like a madman, or indulge in a little face-bashing hand-to-hand combat. The cover mechanic will occasionally send you diving across the scenery in a classic Star Trek roll instead of crouching behind a wall, but for the most part your offensive controls are smooth and responsive, giving firefights an effortless flow.
When you've finished dodging the latest hail of bullets, you'll find yourself putting Nate's impressive acrobatic skills to the test as he climbs, shimmies, and leaps across the landscape. Though the previous Uncharted often struggled with giving you a good perspective on Nate's next move, Uncharted 2 suffers no such problems; on those rare occasions when the next step isn't terribly obvious, your companion will usually make a comment to help nudge you in the right direction. The platforming sequences in Among Thieves are elegant and fluid, cleverly designed to feel like organic segments of the environment as opposed to jungle gyms created by the placement of terribly convenient boxes and ledges. But the best designed environment is worthless without the seamless controls to go with it and fortunately, Uncharted 2 comes through. You never have to think about how to get Nate from the wall to the pole to the ledge, you just do it.
As masterful and entertaining as the combat and platforming segments of Uncharted 2 may be, they've got nothing on the game's storytelling. Few games come close to the exceptional writing and acting featured in Among Thieves. The plot is pulp fiction at its finest, but the performances from Nate, Chloe, Flynn, and Elena are nuanced, genuine, and brilliant. The polish isn't reserved for plot-advancing cinematics, though; even small moments, like when Nate is giving Chloe a boost to reach a ladder, or bantering with Flynn as they break into a museum, feel true and add to the sensation that we're tagging along with people, not characters. Exceptionally attractive, quick-witted people, admittedly, but people within the realm of possibility, just the same.
I must confess: I have yet to finish Uncharted 2. Not because it was too hard, I didn't like it or didn't have the time, but because I'm savoring it. Like a fine meal, a great vacation, or a perfect kiss, it'll be over far too soon and I want to make every moment I have with it last as long as I can. It's a gorgeous, perfectly paced, thrilling romp of a game with heroes to cheer, villains to boo, and even a hidden temple or two.
Bottom Line: Indiana Jones, I hope you're paying attention: This is how tomb raiding is supposed to be.
Recommendation: Uncharted 2 is rather a lot like its leading man, Nathan Drake - flawed, but utterly irresistible. If you have a PS3, there's no question that you should be playing this game.
Note: This review doesn't cover the multiplayer aspect of the game. For that, see John Funk's video overview.
Susan Arendt would quite possibly pass out from sheer glee if someone made an Uncharted movie starring Nathan Fillion.