Eyes-on at E3 / Uncharted 2: Among Thieves

I love Uncharted. Even after three runthroughs it’s still a magical adventure that gets me sweaty. If I could marry it and document the union on VH1, I would without an ounce of shame. To say getting close to Uncharted 2: Among Thieves at E3 was a top priority would be like saying Jack the Ripper liked killing whores. Thankfully, the further adventures of Nathan Drake were shown to us without harm coming to any women of ill-repute. The same, more than likely, couldn’t be said if Sully was the focus.

Sitting down in a little area above Sony’s monster-sized booth, I was given a look at Uncharted 2‘s single-player by none other than the co-president of Naughty Dog, Evan Wells — sorry, I get star struck. To kick off the demo we were shown the new E3 trailer which perfectly captures why Uncharted is such a great property, including a great bit of dialogue between Elena and the sequel’s new femme fatale, Chloe, about Elena being, “last year’s model.” Pretty sure I laughed out loud to that one.

Bringing us into the actual game, we were shown a level about an hour into the story taking place in a city in Nepal. Why Nepal? Nathan and Co. are on a hunt for the Cintamani stone which they believe is here and will ultimately lead them to the mythical city of Shangri-La. From the get-go, Uncharted 2 just seems bigger (size matters) in its scope and execution. The first game, while full of grand locales and some great set pieces, was ultimately a rather linear experience. This time around the environment seems to play a stronger role in the overall experience while offering a little more freedom.

Since the area in the demo is a kind of run-down city, there are rusted-out cars that can be used for cover (but they’ll explode and ruin your life) and the ability to go vertical on buildings and inside them while keeping the action consistent. A really badass part in the demo involved Nathan having a shootout inside a building as the floor was collapsing. It’s a really intense moment that showcased the adjustments made to both the combat and cover systems as well as keeping with the game’s cinematic approach. Jumping forward to another section of the game we got to see Nathan and Chloe trying to escape the city while also escorting an injured character. There was a real, palpable tension to the moment and the way Nathan acted as a crutch for the injured character looked fantastic; it felt like two characters actually interacting, rather than a couple digital models with collision detection.

Just watching the game in action it was easy to tell both combat and cover were smoother. Nathan slipped in and out of cover fluidly and moved about to new points in a slicker fashion than in the original game. It’s a pretty safe bet that Naughty Dog listened to the fans who complained about Uncharted‘s combat system and went about revamping it. The system is noticeably less clunky than its predecessor, sporting a finer aim ability that makes combat more a part of the game’s fun than a hindrance. These observations were based merely on watching the game in action, but going home and playing the multiplayer beta (join us!), let me see that I wasn’t viewing everything through rose-colored glasses, rather there were real improvements.

Although Naughty Dog may have gone about changing some aspects around, the core of what makes Uncharted great is still there. The platforming is still a huge part of the game; the locales and graphics are still amazing (to be frank, I think Sony’s setup was a little goofed as the game didn’t look as good as what I’ve seen at home in the multiplayer beta), retaining the Indiana Jones-esque feeling; and both the story and characters are spot-on — even the addition of a new, sketchy, female character doesn’t take anything away. And yes, Nathan’s half-tuck remains as epic as ever.

Being a huge fan of Uncharted, I was a little worried that maybe the sequel wouldn’t be able to live up to expectations, especially with the addition of a multiplayer component. Fears asuaged, Naughty Dog definitely know what they’re doing and look to have made Uncharted 2: Among Thieves more epic, darker and perfectly in-line with fan expectations. The game really can’t come soon enough.