One of the admittedly many justified complaints about the Playstation 3 is the limited library. Since it launched the lack of first party titles and exclusive games has been a point of contention for fans and detractors alike. The strategy and games that made Sony a behemoth for decades in the gaming industry seemed to be shed from the emerging new system, leaving fans with precious little to hold onto. Finally, after years of bickering on message boards and all of those lonely, doubt-filled nights, PS3 owners can see the light at the end of the tunnel. With the release of Uncharted 2: Among Thieves this week, Sony has finally laid out its hand and shown us what the system can offer. The result is a game that grabs onto the player from the opening scene and propels them through a cinematic rollercoaster with fewer stops.
The original Uncharted ended up being a quiet hit. The game was loved and lauded by the Sony community, but it was overlooked by the majority of gamers and the public at large; the game failed to crack the top 10 after its release. However, the fans around the game multiplied as word of mouth spread, and it gradually started to build a loyal and passionate following. The pulp-esque adventure of Nathan Drake, his partner in crime Sully and the intrepid reporter Elena struck a chord with gamers, and the phenomenal presentation and game play helped add to the hype surrounding it. Thankfully, the clamor became such that Naughty Dog was given the chance to present a sequel and pull out all the stops in the process.
Presenting a good follow up to any game is all about keeping what works while adding enough that the game still feels fresh. The core mechanics we became accustomed to in Uncharted are still here; the game is in third person, the shooting reticle is identical, and you are still forced to scale walls and buildings. Naughty Dog kept these while improving on certain points, mainly stealth and cover. One of the major complaints about the first game is Nate’s inability to leave cover when needed. Among Thieves has solved that issue, and transitioning from one area to the next is now seamless. This small addition makes combat much more smooth and enjoyable. The added stealth element also adds a new winkle to the game. While using the stealth is entirely optional save for a small part in the beginning of the game, it makes Among Thieves are far more tactical and enjoyable game. Moving up behind enemies or, more often, hanging from a ledge below them, allows you to take them down silently and quickly. Pulling these sneak attacks is not only helpful to avoid huge throngs of enemies, but the attacks themselves are varied and often exhilarating. Hand to hand combat is also much improved, removing the button mashing of the first game and adding a timed parry and block to your repertoire. While it is a small addition, it makes engaging in hand to hand combat far more interesting and enjoyable.
As before, the AI in Uncharted 2 is superb. The enemies you face are smart, use cover very effectively and move in packs, combining armored soldiers with snipers and gunners to keep you pinned down. What is different this time around is the regular companionship of a partner. Typically, the knowledge of having an AI counterpart is a horrifying concept; anyone that has suffered through Resident Evil 5 on their own can attest to that. Somehow, Naughty Dog managed to craft AI partners that were always near, constantly shooting enemies yet never getting in your way. You never have to care for them or watch for their safety, and that means you can concentrate on what you are doing as a player while occasionally getting saved from hairy situations. Going into the game this was the part I had the most reservations about, but it ended up being a welcome change.
Another cornerstone of the Uncharted experience that was improved was the puzzle sections. The first game featured platforming puzzles as well as more traditional puzzles. Uncharted 2 involves far more platforming puzzles; the straight forward ones you come across are far more in-depth and require more of you as a player. The change is noticeable and welcome, making for a much more involved experience on all levels. To help you solve these puzzles you have a journal once again, however this time it is Nate’s journal and features pages of sketches and jokes that kept me preoccupied far more often than I’d like to admit. As the game goes on the journal expands, which kept me going back time after time. The platforming aspect works much like the original, just on a larger scale. All of the areas are bigger in both size and complexity, but that never hinders your movement through them. The only noticeable difference is the lack of SixAxis compatibility when crossing bridges. I love an under-supported Sony peripheral as much as the next guy, but I wasn’t sad to see that part missing as I climbed around.
On top of the pristine combat system and puzzles employed by Uncharted 2, the sheer visual polish present in the game is mind boggling. One of the most breathtaking moments I have ever experienced in video games came while standing on top of a building and looking over the city of Nepal. Not only can you count the individual cobblestones on the streets below, but you can see every rooftop and mountain peak clearer than you would be able to in person. The draw distance is amazing throughout, which allows for the breathtaking scenery you scale across to be more grandiose this time around. Naughty Dog set out to make a playable action movie, and they succeeded. The camera angles are able to be wide, to pan around impressive and daunting obstacles and add tension and awe to an already tense situation. The visual masterpiece set up allows for a game that constantly crosses into film territory in its size and scope. This attention to detail isn’t limited to the expansive world around Nate and company, but is present in the character builds as well. Every character is crafted beautifully, with every hair noticeable and every thread of their deteriorating outfits moving in concert with your actions. The effect is breathtaking to watch.
While there is certainly a lot to discuss with Uncharted 2, what sets it apart for many is its ability to suck us into the story and the characters. All of the staple actors are back as well as a few new faces including Claudia Black of Pitch Black and Farscape fame as Chloe. While the story is straight out of the pulp novels of the 1950’s, it is thrilling none the less. This time the story takes you across the world, giving variety to the game play and the backdrop for the actors. Everyone in the game gives a fantastic performance, and the humor is present throughout the game. Many of the jokes are intentionally lame and heavily reliant on the puns, but the jokes are sold so well by the actors that you can’t help but painfully grin and Nate’s not-too-subtle flirting and Elena’s constant exasperation at Nate’s antics. Even the bad guys play their villainous roles with gusto, teetering on the brink of cheesy but never falling over. As the story become larger, the characters keep it grounded and exciting, an effort that is seldom seen in the gaming world.
As I played through Uncharted 2, knowing that I would write about it, I kept trying to find flaws. Nate occasionally feels a little too lose and uncontrollable and the platforming is sometimes a bit too easy and straightforward. However, I had to really nitpick to find faults, and that alone should tell you how fantastic this game is, and that was just through the single player mission. The multiplayer addition to Uncharted 2, while too long to go into here, is just as amazing as the game itself. Naughty Dog created a game that feels more like a summer blockbuster than a game; it’s what the last Indiana Jones movie should have been. The game grabs onto you from the outset and continues to rocket you across continents and through battlefields without ever letting up. Putting the game down to sleep was an exercise in willpower I wasn’t sure I had. The affection put into making the game is infectious, and Uncharted 2 will certainly be on the tips of every PS3 owners tongue when asked about why someone should buy a PS3; and it will be hard to argue against that.
Article from Gamersyndrome.com