My backlog consists of four Elder Scrolls games, seven Final Fantasy titles, five handheld Zeldas, and I haven’t even started on Kingdom Hearts yet. Welcome to my nightmare.

Previously on Ross Kemp on Gangs, we monitored the antics of a handsome, jet-setting, smart-mouthed, treasure-hunting lucky sunnovabitch who has a penchant for murder. He is clearly influential as he attracts many mindless sheep to his flock of bloodlust, and converts them into adequate killing machines. He goes by the name of Nathan Drake, and it looks like he’s about to set off on another adventure to find more cursed treasure and kill more people.

Okay, but seriously – the first Uncharted was bad, so you can’t really blame me for breaking the game’s balls a lot a little. But instead of me telling it to go home and get its shinebox, I decided that it was time to get down to brass tacks here, and I immediately booted up the game’s sequel, Uncharted 2: Among Thieves. Bear in mind that I went into this sequel with such a taskmaster’s eye of scrutiny that you’d think I was Sauron screening for Orcs that were about as helpful as typhoid. That being said, it’s a wonderful feeling when a game manages to really surprise you.

And surprised I was – the opening segment of gameplay was borderline thrilling: a massive train and half of its carriages lay scattered across a cliff that looks over a huge chasm of nothingness, while one half of the train’s carriages dangle hopelessly on said cliff; it is then up to the player to navigate that poor bastard Drake up from the wreckage and into the lap of safety. The game’s barely started, but I’ve already been treated to a Hollywood-esque spectacle that’s not just some cheap gimmick of quick time events. That’s the kind of promise I need from this game right now.

I know this isn't helpful, but you really shouldn't look down. (SOURCE: melissaaltobello.wordpress.com)

I know this isn’t helpful, but you really shouldn’t look down. (SOURCE: melissaaltobello.wordpress.com)

The story this time around isn’t as basic as its predecessor, and the premise is more detailed and interesting than some cursed treasure. Harry Flynn – an old limey friend of Drake – along with his *ahem* “acquaintance” Chloe Frazer, petition Drake with the proposition of stealing an old oil lamp which was once in the possession of Marco Polo. Intrigued, Drake, along with his two new buddies, infiltrate the museum the artefact is being kept in using stealth – whoa, let’s stop here. STEALTH? Holy balls, Naughty Dog actually listened! Alright, so Drake can actually avoid conflict by… choking some people. Oh. Well, at least they died semi-peacefully.

Anyway, Drake gets his hands on the artefact which, after some Indiana Jones-esque hocus pocus, reveals a map of Marco Polo’s shipwrecked fleet in Borneo, which was carrying the Cintamani Stone. Jackpot – there’s your plot for the remainder of the game. Oh, and Drake gets double-crossed by Harry, because in Hollywood, all British people that aren’t James Bond are evil. But there you go. An actually interesting plot. Now we just need to ensure that the game balances out its exploration-to-fighting-to-puzzles ratio.

Well, that’s actually one of the things that surprised me. For the most part, this very issue was actually addressed. Sure, the gameplay is essentially the same; Drake can still do all the normal stuff he used to, along with stealthily snapping necks like Solid Snake in the original Metal Gear Solid, and he does still murder everything that gets in his way like Stalin craving quaaludes. But there’s a lot less firefights, and a hell of a lot more puzzles. Jesus, there were more puzzles than Fort Boyard, and that’s saying a lot. The firefights seem well-placed, and even though the AI is still about as smart as Laurence Fishburne’s Perry White in Man of Steel, it didn’t grate on me as much as the prequel did. Well, there is the exception of the crazy crossbow-wielding monsters you fight near the end of the game, but they go down after about 372 hits. But hell! I actually enjoyed the entire train sequence where Drake has to single-handedly fight through an entire convoy of arsehole goons, culminating in a nerve-wracking battle against a chopper. Okay, it wasn’t as nerve-wracking as taking down Liquid in his Hind-D, but it definitely made me wary of all my next moves.

I told you it was scary, jeez. (SOURCE: madfanboy.com)

I told you it was scary, jeez. (SOURCE: madfanboy.com)

The puzzles were plentiful and brought back sweet memories of Tomb Raider: savage, fierce-looking sculptures and carvings littered the walls of dank caves; towering statues of demons and deities, waiting for their intricate fractures and faults to be scaled; colossal rooms that can only be traversed with death-defying leaps to reveal a treasure beneath the crazed gaze of the monuments hundreds of feet below. Sure, they were easy enough, but the satisfaction was paramount – I felt like I was playing a proper game. Exploration was a joy; completing a puzzle would open up new areas and reveal new paths to tread, which I’d jump to with all the eagerness of those kids opening up that Nintendo 64 for Christmas. The neighbouring areas of Nepal are gorgeous, and the game’s final area seemed like a great payoff to all the hype of the legend of the Cintamani Stone, like discovering the lost city of Atlantis. Yeah, I’m sure you can tell that I have a lot of praise for this game, and it deserves it.

I think it’s also fair to say that the game’s music also upped its game. There is a scene where Chloe and Drake find the exact coordinates of the treasure underneath a temple, and the music is emotive enough to the point of it being slightly sad; yet there are clear hints of delicate triumphant major chords subtly breaking through the minor. Grand chasms deep within lost temples are detailed so intricately, with a brilliant score turning the epic dial up to eleven. The voice acting is well done once again, as the star-studded cast of actors offer up a great performance like the game’s prequel. The locations are far superior and plentiful, and truly push the boundaries of the PlayStation’s capabilities; the scenery of the train sequence acted a lovely backdrop to the bloodshed that occurred on screen. Ah, the bloodshed.

Of course, the game isn’t perfect; the skirmishes are evened out a lot more, but sometimes, the amount of enemies got ludicrous, though it isn’t something that would destroy the experience for me. Even the story plays out well; the main antagonist, bastard warlord Zoran Major Lazarević, also wants the Cintamani Stone, and you can obviously see the cat-and-mouse chase play out. Passing through Shangri-La all the way through to Shambhala, Drake eventually discovers that the Cintamani Stone is actually an amber of the blue resin from THE Tree of Life. Major Lazarević takes a toke off of the Great Deku Tree, sweet Jesus, and turns into god. Drake gets pissed, weakens Lazarević; he gets eaten by the natives and the city collapses on itself and everyone lives happily ever after. Better than riding off into the sunset with some really big rings.

It’s strange, yet wonderful, though. At the time of playing, I could have just about called myself a fan of Uncharted. In fact, at that moment in time, you could say I was actually looking forward to playing Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception.

The only question is whether I’d enjoy it as much as this.

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