Uncharted 2: You Had Me At Marco.

Back in the early days of the Playstation 3 there wasn’t that many good games to be had on the console. The only launch title that was any good was Resistance: Fall of Man and that was enough to tide most people over until some of the big titles started to hit the shelves. Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune came out in November almost 9 months later to a crowd of Playstation owners who were desperate for something new, exclusive and hopefully good. By all accounts Uncharted managed to fulfill these expectations completely and the wise cracking hero had his triumphant return announced a year later, and was on the shelves a year after that. In my first weekend off from various project work in well over a month I decided to sit down and play through the sequel from almost start to end (I caved when I bought it last year and played about 2 hours before putting the controller down) and thought I’d share my experiences with you.

The first thing that you’ll notice about Uncharted 2 is the absolutely stunning graphics that Naughty Dog has managed to cram into this game. From the jungle ruins to the mountains of Nepal all of the levels are carefully crafted to be visually stunning and not one of them fails to deliver on this aspect. I caught myself a few times just spinning the camera around just to look at everything and was always suprised to see those little details that you usually go wanting for in such games. You can see why this game was made exclusive for the PS3 as they needed the full 25GB of space on the blu ray disc in order to have such rich detailed environments.

The visual onslaught doesn’t stop there either. One of my gripes I had with Assassin’s Creed 2 (although I failed to mention it in the review) was that whilst the story was deep and thoroughly engaging many of the characters were stuck firmly in the uncanny valley. In Uncharted 2 however the motion capture technology coupled with the extremely well done character models made the characters that much more believable. Couple this with the amazing voice actors and exceptional camera work done for many scenes and you have a game that has an almost Hollywood feel to it. This is quite a feat for a game that isn’t part of my secret pleasure genre cinematic gaming.

Uncharted 2 is a strange mix of several different core game play mechanics. Initially it starts out as your not-so-typical 3rd person shooter, with Drake being able to carry 2 guns, some grenades and of course his fists. The variety of weapons isn’t huge but there’s enough for you to be able to handle any situation the game throws at you. The inclusion of special items such as riot shields, chain-guns and mounted weapons (ala the first Predator movie) also provide some fun with an almost comic relief quality to them. Whilst there aren’t any vehicle sections that you control in Uncharted 2 you’re not starved for vehicle hi-jinks, with many adrenaline fueled scenes to play through.

The next game play mechanic is that of a 3D platformer. Having just finished Assassin’s Creed 2 just a week before you’ll excuse me for making some direct comparisons between the two. With Drake the climbing is much less of a star than it was in Assassin’s Creed 2. Realistically it would be more appropriate to call the platformer sections of Uncharted 2 a mini-game as whilst there are many of them (and it has been integrated with the other mechanics seamlessly) all of them are quite linear with few opportunities for you to stray from the designer’s path. That’s not to say that some of them aren’t challenging, far from it. But if you’re used to being able to climb almost anywhere ala Assassin’s Creed 2 you’ll be sorely disappointed in Uncharted 2, as many of the surfaces that appear climbable simply aren’t. One advantage of this is there’s less chance for you to leap unknowingly off a cliff or into a deep abyss, although that can still happen from time to time. Overall the platformer aspect of Uncharted 2 is quite good and I won’t fault the game because of it, but that still doesn’t make the numerous falling deaths Drake suffered at my hand any less annoying 😉

The last is something that many games attempt to do and usually fail at: stealth combat. Whenever games have tried to give you the option of going stealth it usually ends up in a blithering mess. Games with it as a core mechanic such as the Theif series and Splinter Cell: Pandora Tomorrow usually do quite well but until Uncharted 2 I hadn’t had one that seemlessly integrated the stealth with its shooter aspect. They even give you “ninja bonuses” for taking out opponents in sneaky ways, something that lead me to try it whenever I could. Granted you’ll usually end up in a point where you can no longer do it by stealth and have to start spraying bullets, but that just seemed to be part of the fun.

There’s something to be said for a game that’s both visually gorgeous at the same time as having a plot to rival most blockbuster movies . Just like Modern Warfare 2 Uncharted 2 had a kind of hollywood action feel to it. In fact both of them share very similar lineage as both of them were new IP when they were released (MW2 had the edge here with brand name, but make no mistake MW1 was new IP for Infinity Ward) and both were leaps and bounds more successful than their prequels. Most of this can be put down to them building successfully on the groundwork laid by their predecessors, which is unfortunately the source of my biggest gripe with Uncharted 2.

It would seem that we as a gaming community have a very short memory in terms of prequels. For all the accolades that Uncharted 2 seems to pile up none of them seem to make the connection that the game is really not that much more different from Uncharted 1. The climbing mechanics are the same, the weapons are the same and whilst the levels are set in a different location they play almost exactly the same as they did in Uncharted 1 all those years ago. Sure the game is enjoyable and the plot is vastly different but when you had something like Assassin’s Creed 2 that managed to basically reinvent itself between releases you start to wonder why Naughty Dog didn’t attempt the same thing. Granted when you have a formula it’s hard to convince the investors to let you deviate from it but at its heart Uncharted 2 is the same game as Uncharted 1, which is why it is surprising to see this one so critically acclaimed whilst its predecessor’s reception was lukewarm by comparison.

To be honest though I don’t think I could’ve spent my first Saturday off any better than playing my way through Uncharted 2. I put off playing the first one for a long time until one of my long time friends (and fellow blogger, definitely worth a read) swapped me Uncharted for Assassin’s Creed. I’m glad I did as the first one was a refreshing change from the garbage I had been playing and Uncharted 2 is no exception. Whilst it may be almost the same game it was 2 years ago that doesn’t stop it from being extremely enjoyable and well worth a playthrough should you be a memeber of that not-so-exclusive club of Playstation 3 owners.

Rating: 9.0/10

Uncharted 2 is exclusively available for PS3 right now for AU$78. Game was played on the Playstation 3 with around 12 hours of gameplay total and a paltry 37% achievement completion. No multiplayer has yet been attempted but from all accounts it appears good. Review may be updated should I ever attempt it 🙂

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Uncanny_valley

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