Did you love the first game or was it not quite your cup of tea? Were there perhaps some elements that tainted your experience? The great thing about Uncharted, is that almost everyone has an opinion, I know I did when I reviewed it, and for the record I loved it, not in a creepy, unwanted homoerotic stalker fan fiction kind of way that the review might have hinted at, but like a fat man loves cake. Understandably I was excited when the review code found its way to my doorstep, 5 hours later I realised I was still wearing my pyjamas and hadn’t showered, eaten, or brushed my teeth when my ride arrived. Sounds like its going to be a good game right? Either that or I have decided that personal hygiene simply isn’t my bag.
In most games cinematic sequences are touch and go, some (in my humble and uneducated opinion) go overboard with too many fancy pre rendered graphics making it so distantly removed (or improved) from the gameplay that it feels disconnected. Others have them occurring far too frequently, some use the in-game engine and camera for a more immersive and coherent experience, but might look like a steaming pile of the proverbial in comparison to its competition. Uncharted 2 strikes a balance in that it creates a unique visual method of story telling and drama. First of all, the linking events are conveyed in cutscenes that are rich and well scripted, the camera is detached from the in game experience during these moments, but the style and detail is not so far removed as to make you think the pretty switch was left unflipped at all other times. Mid mission the gamer is not pulled out for a show, but the dynamic camera does change position to emphasise whatever might be happening.
The presentation is again very movie like, but fortunately paced and structured well enough to pull off a good length campaign. I played through on Easy (not very easy ’cause that would just be silly) and it took me eight hours and twenty minutes, on a normal difficulty setting it would be a sizeable undertaking. The fact that I enjoyed it enough to play through the entire story it in two sittings over a single day does make it seem a little shorter (says the guy that turned off the PS3 at 4:35am) but a thoroughly enjoyable day at that.
As mentioned above, the graphics in game and during the cutscenes are not worlds apart. Not to say that the cutscenes don’t rival the best in the industry, but rather that the game is undeniably gorgeous at all times. Detail upon detail upon fantastic minute mind-blowing detail, there is some obvious repetition in some of the interior areas of the cities but given that most cities might see similar effects in real life that isn’t something that I was going to get hung up on. The colour palette, just like in the first game, is refreshingly bright, while the faded war torn Himalayan is appropriately run down, but you do get a sense of it’s former hustle and bustle from the signage, street lighting and roof top gardens. Tropical rainforests, ice caverns, hill top villages, it is stunning location after stunning location, with vista’s that are surreal.
One area of concern when firing up Uncharted 2 was whether or not Naughty Dog had managed to flesh out the exploration and puzzle sequences. The short answer is – yes, yes they have, the long answer is – fucking hell this is incredible. I am sorry, but I had to write that, and please understand that I am the one that normally edits out that sort of thing. The way you are going about solving something and a curve-ball is thrown in. That might seem rudimentary, but when the music changes tempo to match and the camera swivels to catch everything, it’s a little piece of magic. The bulk of the experience is completely linear but there are often times when you do feel like there are many options open to you, there are usually only two paths (one for collectables and one for the direct route) but with the views that you have and the way paths are structured it is an organic experience that I don’t feel would have been possible in an open ended scenario.
Combat has also evolved from its starting point, which wasn’t all that shabby anyway. The hand to hand combat is more intuitive, forgoing the combo system for one that is timing based with one button for attack and one for dodge. Some animations and attacks are the same (slide between the legs with a blow to the testes) but there is also a good amount of new attacks and counters. New enemies are obviously on the cards, but the range of guns at your disposal is not drastically changed. Something worth pointing out, is that turrets do not have a magical unlimited supply of ammo, or at least they don’t when the player is using them.
The story is not an area I wish to talk about too much for the review, I don’t want to spoil it, the basic outline is that there is treasure, it relates to Marco Polo, and Nathan wants to have money in the bank. Are there twists? Of course there are, what kind of adventure game would it be without a deviation from the anticipated path. Is it like the twist in the first game where the entire experience changes at the mid point? That would be telling. Suffice to say, I was engaged the entire time and felt the occurrences were within the realms of possibilities set by the Uncharted universe. The ending of the game acts as a perfect send off, even if it was a little corny, what a great way to finish.
Something that this review will not, and can not take into account is the multiplayer portion of the game. It will be there, and while I did try out the beta, I can’t say with any certainty whether it is something that I will enjoy. There are too many variables, especially for New Zealand gamers, to tell prior to its release if it will take off and offer something new to the community.
I feel like I have used too many superlatives thus far and they might have lost all effect, well here is some bitter to contrast the sweet. The lip syncing is disappointing. It feels like they went for an understated approach but it often ends up looking like Nathan and his circle of friends consist primarily of half assed ventriloquists. Specifically it was the mid levels that suffered, the final few mission scenes were great and the beginning were OK. It could well be that this is one of those little loose ends that gets the final touches added between review build and retail code, probably not though.
There are also two places in the game that gave me a massive case of déjà vu, one because it repeats something you have already done in the game, and another that gave me flashbacks to the first game. Another little thing that bugged me was the canned animation when Nathan reacts to a ladder being let down by a companion, I mean, seriously Nathan, you are going to feign surprise every time? You lifted the bloody person up there expecting them to do what? The alternative would be to lot lower the ladder for you…. but then you would be stuck wouldn’t you.
Some people won’t like Uncharted 2: Among Thieves, it is probably also these people that hold up signs at funerals of dead service men, the same 280 people that don’t like bacon (except the vegetarians/vegans who obviously just love animals more than their stomachs). Rather tenuous links to be sure, but Uncharted 2 is just so good in so many ways that I just can’t imagine sane people not liking it. A perfect game? Don’t be silly, a must buy? Damn right. My only request for Naughty Dog is to get started on instalment three and perhaps change the formula a little in regards to the cases of déjà vu I mentioned.