Video Game Review: Uncharted 2: Among Thieves

Sony, PS3
Game ••••• Graphics ••••• Sound •••••

It doesn't matter if you never played the original Uncharted: Drake's Fortune. All you need to know is this: You're Nathan Drake, a no-longerretired treasure seeker who's after the lost fleet of Marco Polo, the kingdom of Shangri-La, and the Cintamani Stone, the "wish-fulfilling jewel" of Buddhist mythology. Know this, too: A must-have PS3 exclusive, Uncharted 2: Among Thieves is nothing less than an interactive Indiana Jones flick for the modern age.

This pulse-pounding adventure seamlessly brings together a vast variety of gameplay styles - shooting, platforming, stealth action, melee combat, exploration, and puzzle solving - to guarantee that you'll never get bored. It all starts with one of the most gripping opening sequences ever seen in a game: Our battered, bloodied hero is stuck in a car of a derailed train that dangles precariously over the edge of a deadly precipice. And you must climb up through the inside and outside of the unstable train to the relative safety of the cliff above.

After that, you'll find yourself immersed in one awe-inspiring scene after another, like the exhilarating chase along the edge of a snow-covered mountain - where you'll have to jump from truck to truck to make your way to the front of a fast-moving convoy, while disposing of enemies with your fists and firearms. Then there's the heart-stopping sequence where a helicopter emerges from the foundation of a building you're in, and you have to navigate your way out of the crumbling structure. There are more scenes like those crammed into Uncharted 2 than there are in the usual summer's worth of supposedly blockbuster movies.

This is arguably the best-looking game on any console, and it should inspire anyone who's not already playing on a sizable HDTV to go out and get one - now. It should also convince even the most ardent Xbox aficionados to make room for a PS3 console in their equipment rack. That's because Uncharted 2 spans the globe in glorious 1080p resolution, taking you to such varied and exotic locales as the lush swamp forests of Borneo, the war-torn streets of Nepal, a desolate Tibetan monastery, and the perilous ice caves of the Himalayan Mountains.

Clear an area of enemies, and you can't help but stop to soak in the incredible amount of detail. Besides the beautifully realized environments, there are spectacular motion-blur and depth-of-field applications. And the impressively animated characters are highly expressive - the result of some of the best motion-capture technology I've ever come across in a game.

Equally stunning is the uncompressed PCM 7.1-channel mix, full of discretely positioned effects like the sounds of weather, wildlife, flowing water, and falling debris. Everything is in perfect sync with what's onscreen, such that flags flap more vigorously when the wind kicks up, and the patter of rain intensifies when you see the drops become a shower.

Subtle but important sonic choices have also been made based on whether the structures in the game are open or closed to the outside world. Ambient sounds are blocked partially or completely so that they don't intrude where they don't belong. The surround mix also provides you with tons of tactical information, like the specific location of enemy gunfire - often necessary for you to successfully orient yourself and respond to the threat. Helping you here is the absence of random audio clutter (which often accompanies busy battles in other games), making it easy for you to focus on important events in the environment.

Meanwhile, top-notch voice actors deftly deliver the game's superb script. And the rich orchestral score by Greg Edmonson - who's best known for his work on Joss Whedon's late, lamented TV series Firefly - furthers the epic feel.

And I do mean epic. Simply put, with the arrival of Uncharted 2: Among Thieves, there has never been a more genuinely cinematic gaming experience.