Uncharted 2 :: a love affair
"Oh look an introduction! How mind-blowingly original, I bet it took you weeks to think this one up!" Funnily enough, it did. It's come to my attention that my reviews lack any kind of structure so I though that separating my usual ramblings from my review rambling would be a great start.
It's safe to say that I liked the first Uncharted, I liked it a lot. In fact I distinctly remember ogling over the graphics and the Indiana Jones-esque feel for the full five hours I spent mesmerised by the events occurring on my friend's 52 inch, nuclear powered, 1080p mega-TV. I did own the game of course, but you don't get quite the same effect on my ancient, 22 inch brick that substitutes as my television, it doesn't even have proper speakers. Anyway, Uncharted: Drakes Fortune sees the mouthy protagonist, Nathan Drake, battle through hordes of mercenaries and puzzles in a lush jungle spotted with Aztec ruins. It was pulled off immensely well, it felt just like movie (what the game was going for) and the platforming sections were fluid but it was let down by repetitive shooting mechanics and 20 minute long, flow breaking skirmishes. Nevertheless, overall it was a truly brilliant game, not to mention gorgeous.
So when the release of Uncharted 2: Among Thieves caught me off guard I spent over 2 hours trawling through every game shop in my town including Tesco and (god help me) Argos, only to find that it was all sold out. It took a further 2 hours to bus into Oxford, obtain the very last copy from Gamestop, make my way back, install the damn thing and get round to playing it. Was it worth it? Well, I'm hardly going to tell you now am I! So here goes...
Oh and by the way, SPOILER ALERT.
The actual review
You like that Domble-style transitioning don't you?
________________I bet you do.
As a game, Uncharted 2 has changed a lot since the first title, although it still relies on the same general formula of a mix of platforming, shooting from cover, fantastic set pieces and dramatic plot twists. After the events of the first game, our favourite cocky protagonist, Nathan Drake, is left without any swag so sets off to steal another piece of ancient swag from a museum with the help of two equally arrogant treasure hunters. One thing leads on to another and Drake is betrayed and embarks on another adventure in hope of power, riches and revenge.
First off, Uncharted 2 hasn't failed to impress with its visuals that take full advantage of the PS3's futuristic graphics card and processor. Surfaces gleam when wet, textures are breathtakingly detailed to the point where some may mistake it for the real thing and you can see Nathan Drake's smirking face in exquisite clarity. Furthermore, this perfection is applied to a variety of landscapes; whereas the first game centred around a jungle, Drake finds himself in an Asian metropolis, high up in the Himalayas and in yet another jungle. There is not one weak spot and the game even seems to show off about this by having the player climb up every tall structure in sight in order to partake in a little sightseeing. When you add the fabulous soundtrack to the sublime visuals, you are left with something beyond spectacular.
The shooting mechanics have also improved since the first game. The shoot behind cover system is still in place but it is now a lot more fluid, with Drake snapping in and out of cover effectively, though somehow he seems to still take cover behind the wrong object every now and again. Shooting now feels a lot more responsive in Uncharted 2: enemies go down with a relatively small amount of bullets and react when they're hit, instead of soaking the bullets up as they did in the first game. The small amount of guns feel different and all have noticeable advantages and disadvantages, while the sparse appearance of ammo means you are continuously picking different guns up so you are forced into changing your playstyle here and there. The melee aspect too is well done, it is controlled by just one button but still manages to feel epic with nice combos and slow motion finishing moves. All of these combine to make a third-person shooting experience that is satisfying as well as easy to get into, but hard to master.
But then add another, important part of the game, our ballsy protagonist's climbing ability. You can clamber up most objects in Uncharted 2, whether that be to access the next part of the level or to get a better view of your enemies. This means that every playthrough of a level will be different as you find new areas and tactics to deal with the opposition. It also leads to some quite fun and challenging platforming sections where Drake has to, say, escape a train carriage that is dangling off a cliff or climb a hotel to get to one of those beautiful viewpoints that I mentioned earlier. It gives the game variety, it's a break from simply shooting people while allowing your your right index finger a rest along with allowing for some awe-inspiring set pieces.
Set pieces are fast becoming a staple appearance in the Uncharted series, usually popping up once or twice per level. As a result you never know when the building you're in is going to start collapsing, leading to an epic "jump out the window at the last second" moment, or you will be forced to sprint from a truck down a narrow alleyway while the camera swings round to face backwards. It is these moments that make Uncharted 2 so exciting and more importantly, make it feel just like a movie. Some are jaw dropping, others are adrenaline filled while a few herald the reaction "Oh SHII-"
Your feelings are further pulled around by the story. Sure, many of the characters are unlikable, for example, many of you will have realised that I'm not a big fan of the dick head protagonist Nathan Drake, but it is all held together by a script that should have replaced the current one for Indiana Jones 4. You are never quite sure of what is going on, in a good way, and many twists are completely unexpected and pulled off very well. There is also a mystical twist in the form of (yet another) curse that involved monsters and other such good things, while this is incredibly similar and not quite as cool as in the first game, it's still a good experience. At times, when the gameplay as slowing down I even found myself playing for the story, which really says something.
But has anything been added to this game, rather than improved on from the first? Yes! The addition of stealth is something I thought was a brilliant idea on Naughty Dog's (the developer) part. Stay behind cover and keep out of site and you can sneak up behind enemies for silent assassinations, it is not broken in any way and is brilliant if you ever want to play the game differently. There are several moments in the game where the it actively encourages (or in one level, forces) you to go in silently and it can lead to heart-pounding moments where you try desperately not to be caught. It may not quite reach Metal Gear Solid levels for stealth-awesomeness but it is certainly close, impressively so for a game that doesn't concentrate on stealth in the first place.
Multiplayer, in both competitive and cooperative form, is another addition, but unlike many-a-series that have made the jump to multiplayer, it doesn't feel tacked on or like an extra in Uncharted 2. The competitive mode is fleshed out, you can unlock skins and boosters (perks in disguise) as you level up and there are many different modes you can play. The problem is that Uncharted 2's gameplay does not lend itself well to competitive play, so I wasn't too interested in it.
What is definitely interesting is the cooperative mode: there are three modified story levels that you can play through with up to two more people, a survival mode and a mode called gold rush where you and your friends must escort an artefact to a certain point on the map while fending off waves of bad guys. The survival mode is challenging, fast paced, enjoyable and ultimately possible to beat (there are 10 waves) if you know what you are doing. Gold rush is similar to survival but a lot harder, to the point that I've never got past wave 8, for this reason alone I never play it. What I like though, what I really, really like, are the modified story mode. It's all the magic and wonder of the single player with two friends and can lead to some amazing experiences. For example, I went through half of a level using only stealth until we were caught, this was with two complete strangers and the feeling was incredible when it lasted. You can choose the difficulty of the levels as well, which trends it toward your skill level.
So what d'ya reckon?
Uncharted 2 is, with little doubt, a classic. It's a game that does what it does so amazingly well that it completely outshines the first game, and many would have called that a classic. If you own a PS3 and have not played this game then there are several mental institutions that I can happily recommend for you.
Now feedback me :)
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