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Uncharted 2 Review

October 15th, 2009 · No Comments · Gaming

Here’s my quick take on Uncharted 2: Among Thieves. Overall, the game delivers just as much if not more than the original Uncharted. It also does well as a stand-alone title in the franchise – as they’ve said in many interviews, you really don’t need to have played Uncharted 1 to play Uncharted 2. However, having played the first game does let you understand more about the characters and their interactions during the story – namely Drake and Elena of course. It also raises a fair amount of questions that, for some reason or other, do not get answered. But more on that later.

I have not read any reviews of the game yet – this is my personal view after playing through the entire game on Normal. ***There are spoilers in this review*** so if you haven’t played through yet I suggest doing so before reading any further.

The Awesome, the great, the good and the bad

Awesome. One of the things I love about Uncharted is that it’s all very well scripted. I mean the game – the story has great scripting too but I’m talking about the pace at which things happen. The great thing is that it’s totally up to you how fast the game moves, and they manage to pull this off even with Uncharted 2′s very demanding environments – the train ride would be the very best example. While the train is obviously on its way somewhere, there’s no timer or any other indication as to when you will get there, because the game moves along depending on where you are on the train. You pass through a forest, riverside, tunnel and finally snowy mountains, and each segment will stick around until you’ve moved to a certain length of the train – however fast or slow that  is. Despite your supporting characters telling you to “Hurry up!” or that “We haven’t got much time!” you can dilly dally all you want and the end result will still be the same. Some people will say this isn’t very realistic, and I’ll say this is a damn video game, so shut up.

Awesome. Another of my favorite game aspects that is similar to not worrying about a ticking clock is not having to worry about your supporting characters all the freaking time. There are very, very few instances overall in which a supporting character can die, and it’s usually a result of your inaction rather than enemy soldiers shooting the crap out of them during a regular firefight. I can’t imagine how frustrating this game would be if I had to worry about killing people, staying alive and making sure my friends (sometimes numbering as many as 3 onscreen at a time) don’t go and get themselves killed. AI is expensive, and the game creators worked around this by not bothering to give the supporting cast enough brains to think about survival, they simply find suitable cover and shoot. They don’t do even half as much damage as you do so their invincibility isn’t advantageous to the player beyond simple freedom from an extra burden.

Awesome. Naughty Dog said they completely filled up the Blu-ray disc for this game, and I believe it. They also said they’re running the Cell processor at 100% of capability. I believe that too. The visuals are simply stunning. And it’s not just the detail that goes into the close-in environments, but the times were you’re able to get a glimpse of the expansive views the game is capable of delivering: Scaling the top of the museum in Turkey, you get to look out over a bay and small city at night lit up by the moon. Right before you enter the tomb in Borneo, you can’t help but look out over the island and water, to a distant peak, all lush with green vegetation swaying in the breeze. Reaching the roof of the hotel in Nepal, you see hundreds of buildings spread out at the foot of the mighty Himalayas, with smoke rising and distant flashes of battle. Up in the mountain village, you look out over a broad valley with a river winding it’s way down below. And this is all rendered – it’s not static imagery. The results are, I’ll say again, stunning.

Great. I like how they used a more dynamic method of storytelling this time around, opening at the train crash and through a series of flash backs setting the stage for the story and the character dynamics. You learn how Drake got started on this quest and what his ultimate goal is, and you learn who Chloe is and that she and Drake already had a history together. From there the story returns to its linear form like Uncharted 1, but even from a gameplay perspective the opening chapter was very well used to teach the player a lot of the basic moves they will need to use in the more action-paced parts of the game – way better than having the player learn while also defending himself from sea pirates.

Great. Melee fighting is very enjoyable as well, especially since they simplified the melee controls. Instead of button combos all you have to do is tap the square button, with the triangle button used as a dodge. The dodges are obvious because the fight goes into slo-mo. After dodging you can return to tapping square to deliver a crushing finishing blow or just disengage from the fight and return to shooting or running away. The fights are dynamic, which means Drake and his opponent can throw a variety of moves to keep it all looking fresh if you go hand to hand against multiple opponents in a row. And it looks good. They did some great mocap on the fighting moves. My favorite finishing blow is when Drake spins around and drops a chop on the back of the guy’s neck. Owch!

Great. The sound design was phenomenal. I’ll admit it was mainly the sound of bullets hitting the water in Borneo that cause me to compliment this entire aspect of the game, but certainly everything else is imbued with a very accurate soundscape. I have a Cockatiel that simply would not shut up as I played through the jungle areas of the game, because he was constantly trying to talk back to the birds he heard in the game. Out in the streets of Nepal you’d hear distant explosions and gun fire as you wandered around the city. Up in the mountain village getting shot at by the tank, the cannon rounds and minigun and the resulting impacts of the shells was staggering. Anyone in an apartment complex playing with the sound up is going to get a visit not from the cops but from the fucking National Guard because neighbors are going to think a war zone has erupted next door.

Good. Stealth was also a nice improvement to the game. Stealth actions were well crafted and executed, and the decision of whether to sneak around or not was always optional – with one exception. However, the player generally benefits from a good deal of sneaking around to help even the odds during the inevitable firefight – especially on Hard and Crushing modes where you do not want a lot of people shooting at you. This brings up one of my few gripes though, which is that sooner or later everything devolves into a gun fight. This wouldn’t be so bad except for sometimes the game doesn’t make it obvious when this will happen. In at least two instances in the game, no matter what you do to sneak up to a certain soldier after silently removing several before, you are spotted. The problem is that these soldiers are positioned in a way that strongly suggests a sneak attack – you can pull it off, but always being spotted in the process kind of defeats the purpose, and that’s annoying. Despite this though I spent a great deal of time sneaking up and using my stealth moves on opponents, restarting often to see if I can take down just a few more before being spotted.

Good. Hunting down treasure this time around is even more of a challenge, since they’ve not only hidden treasure on the ground, but on objects in the world and even in places you can’t reach without, for example, swinging on a rope. I spent a great deal of time on my first playthrough searching for treasure and only came away with just over half the 100 treasures hidden in the game. Many you have to shoot down from an object or high location. As with Uncharted 1, a lot of times it’s knowing where to look, as they flash every few seconds, even from far in the distance and during cut scenes (but not the cinematics). I had to use a strategy guide to find one treasure location in Uncharted 1 (that, embarrassingly, wasn’t even that well-hidden) and I’m thinking I might need one again to uncover all of the ones in this game.

Bad. They sort of failed on the “monster” aspect of the game again, but not initially. The “Demon Sasquatch” (as Drake calls it in his notebook) was pretty cool and suitably freaky. The one cutscene where Drake and Tenzin are climbing up a cliff as the camera pans upwards and all of the sudden a shadow in foreground bears fangs and growls – that honestly made me exclaim “oh shit!” and jump in my seat. Fighting the beasts was as hectic as the undead Spaniards from Uncharted 1, running and gunning all over the place while escaping from their clutches whenever they managed to grab you. Later in the game they’re revealed to be mutated humans guarding Shangri-La, but here they’re even harder to kill, and their shooting at you with what appears to be a machine gun set to burst fire, but what actually turns out to be a crossbow that you can only shoot one arrow at a time with. It’s also golden in color, so I guess that’s why it functions as a golden gun and kills the Shangri-La guardians with one shot whereas it requires like two full clips at least from an AK-47 to do the job. However, you don’t encounter them much and at least the last few times you do it’s with a fucking Gatling gun.

Could have been bad. I was so happy when Drake didn’t come back with a sample of the magical tree sap to apply to Elena’s wounds, you have no idea. As soon as she became injured in Shangri-La I groaned inside and pleaded that she would either die or just make it to the end wounded. They did a great job writing her “death” however, so this possible let-down was avoided.

Bring on Uncharted 3!

They’ve said since the first Uncharted that they wanted a franchise, and they’ve got one. So, where will Drake’s next adventure take him? As happily as this one ended, I hope that means they’ll back track a bit to the time between Uncharted 1 and 2. Despite Elena’s flippant remark of being “last year’s model”, it’s obviously been longer than a year since they’ve seen each other. There were multiple opportunities during the game’s story for either Drake and Elena to talk about their past or for Drake to explain to Chloe about what happened between the two of them, or even for Drake to explain to Elena what he’s been up to with Chloe. On one hand, the writers did a good job cutting out that stuff, as it’s not relevant to the story of this game in any way other than satisfying the rabid curiosity of fans like myself. Still, it leaves you wondering if there’s anything worth telling during that time. The only killjoy to this theory is Flynn, who says during the museum raid “C’mon, you missed this stuff”, which implies that the reason the he and Chloe had to track Nate down is because he dropped out of the business entirely, perhaps still sulking after his failed relationship with Elena (who apparently walked out on him). But then where does bad girl Chloe come in, having met him before he hooked up with Flynn?

While I’d love an answer to all these questions, I certainly wouldn’t mind seeing Drake go off on an adventure with Elena in a sequel set after these current events. I would mind a little less mutated monsters and grabbing of hands at the edge of cliffs, but overall I’ll be spending lots more time playing through on Hard and Crushing, collecting all the medals and the treasures, and playing co-op and multiplayer with my friends.

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