Uncharted 2

Nathan Drake doesn’t strike me as the sort of guy I’d want to meet at a bar. Not because I’ve watched him snap countless necks and gun down hundreds of men, but the odds are I wouldn’t have much to say that would interest him. I can just imagine his face going slack and his eyes staring off into space as he realizes that not only do I not have the Holy Grail hidden away in my basement, I’m not even the secret ancestor of Marco Polo. I’d have nothing to offer this man.

The fact that Nathan Drake strikes me as anything more than an avatar to drive through Uncharted 2 is proof that Naughty Dog has accomplished something special with nuanced use of motion capture and real actors. Comparing my reaction in this case with a game like Gears of War, the accomplishment is even more striking. The only time I’ve ever imagined meeting Marcus Phoenix was in the men’s room at a bar, laughing while he tried to extract his gigantic, armored ass from a bathroom stall. It makes me giggle, but it doesn’t make me care about the characters in Gears of War any more than a street artist drawing a balloon-headed Mona Lisa on a skateboard would make me care about da Vinci’s work. Nathan Drake is still an adventurous stereotype, but he has enough personality to ground you in the world he inhabits and make you care of about the people in it.

The heart and soul of Uncharted 2 is found in Naughty Dog’s unwavering eye for detail. Every visual element is dutifully crafted, always with the aim of convincing me I’m operating inside a real place. The combination of clutter and seemingly unique textures on every other surface acts as a gauze curtain, obscuring the widgets and cogs working away in the background. Games often stumble when believable game space needs to coincide with believable world building. How many convenient crates, vines, ledges, cars, piles of dead bodies, etc. have I climbed up in my decades of virtual exploration? Uncharted 2 has plenty of timely rocks, handholds and dodgy bridges to traverse in the world, but the extreme detail in the areas often mask the deliberate nature of their placement.

This isn’t to say you can’t peek behind the curtain anyways, but half the fun is losing yourself in the adventure, and they do everything they can to make that easier for you. The downside to all the graphical detail is that sometimes I’m left wondering where to go next because half the things I want to climb don’t work, and Uncharted 2 always wants to me to go on a very specific path to proceed. Framing the camera placement to settle on likely access points and the hint system alleviate some of those problems, but these slow spots can hurt the flow between gun fights and exploration.

Combat tries to walk that same balance between realism and action with less success, gunning down dozens of enemies and soaking up bullets while dodging from cover to cover. The aiming, cover system and melee are much more refined than the first game in the series, so I’m usually too busy having fun and making sure I’m not being flanked to worry about whether or not even Indiana Jones could handle that many bad guys. It’s just unfortunate that while they have reduced the amount of bullets you need to drop an enemy (unless they have armor of some kind), they still force a few encounters that ignore common sense in favor of boss fight design.

A good portion of Uncharted 2 is played between the frantic gun fights and running from large, angry military vehicles. These sections often have you climbing or exploring, which alternate between beautiful explorations of the space and drudging monotony since climbing and jumping require no skill, just an eye for where you need to go next. At its best, the conversations between Nathan and his companions as he looks for the next handhold are funny and interesting. Otherwise, you’re simply admiring the vistas as you move from place to place. The views are spectacular, but these sections often feel like little more than an aperitif between combat areas.

Pacing is what ultimately elevates Uncharted 2 above most action games. I’m never left doing something for so long at a stretch that I get bored or frustrated by it. By the time I’ve solved a puzzle or climbed up some old God’s statue, I’m ready to get back to sneaking up on bad guys and breaking their necks or throwing them off cliffs. The same goes for moving from shooting, to chase scenes to dialogue and exposition. There are even set pieces that are both awesome and never repeated again in the game. The temptation to take something that works once and replicate it a thousand times later was resisted in this case, and it’s much appreciated.

With full multiplayer support for everything from survival (think horde mode in Gears of War 2), to coop missions and a full suite of adversarial modes, it’s probably not going to surprise you that I recommend Uncharted 2 to every gamer with a pulse and a PS3. I’m glossing over the multiplayer because I haven’t had as much time with it as I’d like, but I can say it’s lag free and the Modern Warfare style persistent unlocks and level-up system add more than enough depth to avoid feeling like a tacked on extra. Load times can be extreme when you’re getting online, however, so be prepared to wait a minute or so before a round starts.

If all games had the kind of budget and production values Uncharted 2 enjoys, the industry would probably collapse under its own weight in a matter of years. It’s testament to Naughty Dog that they have put all their resources to good use and made a game that not only delivers on visuals and acting, but on gameplay and variety too. Highly recommended!

Comments

Wow, something that might make me use my PS3 for something other than DVD player.

Certis is awesome

What's the review score?

I'll probably pick this up when it's a greatest hit.. too much on my plate as it is.

I wondered why you were still only lvl 7 in Dragon Age this morning! I'm doubly impressed, first for the great Perspective, and second for the sacrifice of gaming time you made to put this together.

Certis wrote:

I’d have nothing to offer this man.

What's new?

I wholeheartedly agree. My favourite action game thus far is probably God of War II, and while I don't think Uncharted 2 surpasses that masterpiece, it comes pretty damn close. My only complaint is that the final boss fight was a little underwhelming and generic, but there's another great action sequence afterwards that helps to end the game on a high note.

I just finished Uncharted 2 and much like everyone else, I loved it to pieces. There are some flaws with it such as you can only progress through one linear path, even though the one that I tried would make more sense. The end battle is just dumb, but I understand why they do it. What I am most impressed with is how incredibly fluent everything is when it works. You go from neckbreaking to shooting to climbing to swinging to solving puzzles and never does it feel contrived or cliche.

One thing that I must commend Naughty Dog for is the amazing, amazing facial animation of the characters during cut scenes. There were quite a few moments were I felt I wasn't looking at digital creations but characters from a movie. Subtle eyebrow motion, smirks and other small things where they just nail the characters, often more than 2 at a time. Great, great stuff.

It's one of my favorite games this season so far and one I highly recommend to anyone who enjoys Indiana Jones.

*Legion* wrote:
Certis wrote:

I’d have nothing to offer this man.

What's new?

I was lucky enough to read your initial comment prior to you ninja-ing it over.

Just finished the first game last week, and just placed my order for the sequel yesterday. Can't wait to dive back into that world.

any more than a street artist drawing a balloon-headed Mona Lisa on a skateboard

Eh?

Gorilla.800.lbs wrote:
*Legion* wrote:
Certis wrote:

I’d have nothing to offer this man.

What's new?

I was lucky enough to read your initial comment prior to you ninja-ing it over.

First one wasn't snappy enough.

Really, I couldn't find any response that I was completely happy with. It's like being served up a great big fat softball and swinging so hard that you just hit a pop fly.

I said in the thread that I liked the final boss, because I love it when the villain in these sorts of cornball movies can do nothing but scream the hero's name, so thoroughly has the hero's persistent pestering consumed him, and the villain in Uncharted 2 lets fly one for the ages. He makes the world shake, so completely have I, Nate Drake, gotten under his skin.

I agree with the article...and, to tell you the truth, I'm still stunned that Uncharted 2 is really this good. So many of the issues with the first Uncharted were marginal ones that eventually just added up to a promising, yet unfulfilling experience. And yet, rather than rest on their laurels and deliver more of the same best-selling cinematic action, Naughty Dog actually went through and methodically addressed almost everything. They took a game concept that originally delivered something in the B/B+ range before and put it very solidly as an A with the sequel. Unlike the first entry, Uncharted 2 is a complete game.

The biggest issue throughout the series, I think, comes down to something Certis mentions about halfway through the perspective: despite his position as an "everyman", Nathan Drake still ends up being a nearly-invincible killing machine at times. You really do gun down a bunch of people in both games.

The key differences between the first and second game, however, is that the sequel establishes a real sense of vulnerability to Drake and expertly paces around the "superhero" moments that do occur with other gameplay aspects to keep you from completely entrenching in the Rambo mindset. To put it bluntly, Nathan Drake needed a good *ss-whooping...and the opening sequence of the game completely delivers on that, finally rounding out some much-needed humanity in the character. And then, once you attain some sense of satisfaction by fighting your way back, you're hit with one stunning set piece after another to take the focus away from the usual target practice of the stop-and-pop gunplay segments.

A couple of months back, I hammered the PS3-exclusive lineup in one of the threads here for being decent, but ultimately not distinctive enough to win over potential customers in TEH CONSOLE WARZ. Since then, we've seen the release of Uncharted 2 and Demon's Souls (which, admittedly, I haven't played), both of which seem to have vastly over-delivered on the initial expectations. Maybe, after so much Sony booster wishcasting, this is finally The Year of The PS3 after all.

Clemenstation wrote:

Certis is awesome :(

He sure is!

Shazam wrote:

What's the review score?

7 out of 10. It's always 7 out of 10.

I have almost finished this game. I still have about 5% to go, and I shall do so tomorrow before I get my hands on Dragon Age. Talk about perfect timing.

I agree wholeheartedly. This is one of my favourite games ever - not just on the PS3. A beautiful, believable world. Fantastic characterisation. Humour. A cheesy, but really fun storyline. And of course, the incredible production values that would be at home in, and in many cases exceeds, any Hollywood blockbuster. It's not perfect, but then no game is. And this one comes as close as any game I've ever played. If you have a PS3 you really owe it to yourself to get this game. If you don't have a PS3, borrow one from a friend who does. Also, buy this game so that Naughty Dog can keep giving us gaming that flows with milk, honey and lots of blood!

Multiplayer is much fun. We got 10 GWJers together the first Friday that we played and it was a blast. 5 vs 5 deathmatch is awesome when you're all just there to have fun. Last week we only mustered up 5 of us, but we were able to head out into Public Matches and mix it up. We'll probably play again this Friday, too.

I can just imagine his face going slack and his eyes staring off into space as he realizes that not only do I not have the Holy Grail hidden away in my basement, I’m not even the secret ancestor of Marco Polo. I’d have nothing to offer this man.

For a man like Nathan, I imagine the idea of sitting down to a bowl of Wheatabix is as exciting as any of his adventures are to us.

On second thought, no. But considering how far and wide Genghis Khan spread his seed, you have a good shot at being related to lil' Kublai--that's something!

Chairman_Mao wrote:

Location: Beijing, China

The great firewall of China hasn't blocked this site?

I take that as a personal challenge.

*Legion* wrote:
Chairman_Mao wrote:

Location: Beijing, China

The great firewall of China hasn't blocked this site?

I take that as a personal challenge.

I'm sure it wouldn't be too hard, but were my comrades to deny Chairman_Mao access to all that is equitable, be assured the Sword of Damocles would be hanging above their heads.

Chairman_Mao wrote:
I can just imagine his face going slack and his eyes staring off into space as he realizes that not only do I not have the Holy Grail hidden away in my basement, I’m not even the secret ancestor of Marco Polo. I’d have nothing to offer this man.

For a man like Nathan, I imagine the idea of sitting down to a bowl of Wheatabix is as exciting as any of his adventures are to us.

On second thought, no. But considering how far and wide Genghis Khan spread his seed, you have a good shot at being related to lil' Kublai--that's something!

I for one am grateful that your Red Sun is shining over the former kingdom of Shagrila and you have liberated the serfs and returned them to the bosom of the motherland.

藏汉一家人!

藏汉一家人!

I will not tolerate your ironic nature!

The only time I’ve ever imagined meeting Marcus Phoenix was in the men’s room at a bar, laughing while he tried to extract his gigantic...

I was getting really really uncomfortable here, thank God it wasn't the ending I first thought!

Bear wrote:
The only time I’ve ever imagined meeting Marcus Phoenix was in the men’s room at a bar, laughing while he tried to extract his gigantic...

I was getting really really uncomfortable here, thank God it wasn't the ending I first thought!

Wasn't just me then! For future reference, avoid discussing meeting anyone in the men's rooms unless it's for... you know... stuff.

Also, I've been telling everyone I know about Uncharted 2. One of the things I think we take for granted is that once the game starts there is not a single load screen until you're done. It's an amazing feat.

Unfortunately I followed up Uncharted 2 with Dragon Age and boy do all the characters in that seem so wooden after playing Uncharted 2! Just look at their arms while they talk, straight down at their sides, then look at any character in Uncharted 2 and see they are always in constant motion and never, ever act wooden.

Unfortunately I followed up Uncharted 2 with Dragon Age and boy do all the characters in that seem so wooden after playing Uncharted 2! Just look at their arms while they talk, straight down at their sides, then look at any character in Uncharted 2 and see they are always in constant motion and never, ever act wooden.

As much as I am LOVING Dragon Age, I have to agree with this.

I also finished Uncharted 2 and went straight into Dragon Age from there.
It is a bit jarring.
I wouldn't go quite so far as to say DA has wooden characters but...honestly, it really isn't even close.
Uncharted 2 did a rare thing with its characterizations and dialog.
It got me to care.

But then these two games are aiming to do very different things in very different genres.
I am (immensely, after the above "shock" at the difference in production) enjoying Dragon Age: Origins for what it is.