Improves on the Original in Almost Every Way
You no doubt have heard, at this point, an inordinate amount of buzz surrounding Uncharted 2. People talk of one of the greatest single-player games they have ever experienced, and many view this as the “Killer App” Sony has needed to sell their console. Well, having made my way through the entirety of the game, I can say with certainty that, for the most part, the buzz is justified.
Uncharted 2 continues the tale of Nathan Drake (voiced by Nolan North), as he searches for the lost city of Shambhala (Shangri-La). The narrative is much more sweeping than that of the first game, and carries Drake across multiple continents as he follows the trail laid by Marco Polo before him, in the hopes of finding the mythical lost city, and the riches it reputedly houses. The narrative is gripping all the way through, and while it does nothing to advance the art of story-telling in general, it embraces the ridiculousness of the “Hollywood summer action movie” genre to great effect. The story twists and turns, and while not all of these twists will catch you by surprise, enough of them will to keep you engaged to the very end.
What makes the story in Uncharted 2 so gripping, however, is the manner in which it is told. Every level has some sort of explosive set-piece (and some entire levels are set pieces). While most games tend to pull you out and force you to watch as your character leaps across the scenery, firing blindly behind himself as he dives between points of cover, and generally pulls off bad-ass acrobatics and head-shots, Uncharted 2 puts you right at the center of the action. The quick-time-events are, blessedly, few-and-far-between here, and every move you pull of just feels right. Cinematics, on the other hand, are used primarily to propel the narrative, and give a little more character to the already wonderfully realised cast of Uncharted 2. It is in these cut-scenes that you realise how well-voiced the entire cast is, and it pulls you in so much more when you start to believe in their struggles.
When you do take control, the game stumbles ever-so-slightly. The shooter controls are tight, and popping out of cover to pull of head-shots feels much more fluid than it did in the original. Enemies are no longer bullet-sponges, and you now also have to deal with the various enemy types, as some will lumber towards you, covered in body armor and wielding shotguns, as others dart between cover behind them tossing grenades. The action feels frantic and fast-paced, and yet you always feel in control. Additionally, you are now given more options as to how to deal with a situation. Much of the time, you will enter an area to find enemies casually patrolling, leaning against walls, and generally ignorant to your presence. This gives you a chance to pick-and-choose how to approach a situation. Although it is entirely possible to go in guns-blazing, on higher difficulties this will get you mowed down with surprising frequency. As such, I often found myself scouting out enemy patterns and taking out as many as I could with stealth-kills. It’s not a full blown stealth game, but there were multiple encounters in the game during which there was not a single shot fired, as I flitted between cover, snapping enemies’ necks as the opportunity became available. It is in these mechanics, as well as the improved melee-combat, that the improvements over the original game are most clear.
However, there is a second aspect of the game-play that did not receive quite enough attention, and that is the environmental traversal. Most of the time you spend not engaged in fast moving fire-fights will be spent scrambling up walls and swinging between poles. While these sections are more cleverly interspersed between the action, making the second game feel like a more cohesive experience than the first, far too often you will find that the game will ignore your commands, sending Drake plummeting to his death. This aspect of game-play certainly hasn’t gotten worse since the original, but I believe it could have used a tad more fine-tuning before the game’s ship-date.
The campaign will last you anywhere between 9-12 hours, depending on how collection-hungry you are. And while this presents a nice, meaty, single-player experience, the new multi-player portion of the game serves to significantly lengthen your time with the game. The multiplayer is comprised of both co-operative and competitive game modes. The co-operative portions are not taken directly from the single-player, and are instead crafted with co-op in mind. The competitive multiplayer, on the other hand, is made up of some fairly familiar takes on death-match and capture-the-flag game-types. What makes the multiplayer stand out, however, is the concept of verticality. Most multi-player games are played on fairly flat maps, where all of your attention is focused straight ahead. What Uncharted 2 does, however, is take aspects of the platforming from single-player, and throw them into the multi-player mix. This added dimension makes the multi-player a much more interesting proposal, and makes the game stand out from other third-person, cover-based shooters.
In the end, Uncharted 2 nearly lives up to the buzz. The game-play is mostly solid, although it is held back ever-so-slightly by some clunky platforming controls. The multi-player game modes are by-the-numbers, but manage to differentiate themselves through the game’s tight controls, and the aspect of verticality that keeps you on your toes. The single-player campaign is one of the best you will experience on this generation of consoles, and while it isn’t perfect, it’s as close as any game has gotten in a long time. This is the “killer app” Sony has so desperately needed, and it is now up to them to make sure they take advantage of it. In short, don’t deprive yourself of one of the best games of this console generation, buy Uncharted 2: Among Thieves.