Payback's A Bitch
I played through and enjoyed the first Uncharted, much like many other people, but I certainly wouldn't have trouble coming up with a laundry list of faults about it. With this in mind, I approached Uncharted 2 with a hint of skepticism; I was fairly sure it would be good, but there's no way it could meet the hype associated with it. I was wrong. This is not only the best game I've played this year, or the best game on the PS3 - it's one of the best games I have ever played. If you own Sony's console, there is absolutely no reason for you not to own this game, and if you don't, you now have the most definitive reason to get one.
On some levels, comparing Uncharted 2 to other video games can feel unfair. Let's get the obvious out of the way: it looks absolutely incredible. Everyone's favourite half-tucked bad boy Nathan Drake is hot on Marco Polo's trail for another globe-spanning, twist-filled story, and from the character's flawless expressions to the thirst-inducing waterfalls to the blinding, fantastic explosions, there is no better-looking offering on the PS3 right now. And its good looks come in handy to tell its exciting adventure plot line, which combines new and old characters to spin a compelling yarn. I won't ruin the story for you by saying much more, but suffice it to say that backs are stabbed, all sorts of interesting tombs and cities are explored, and many bad guys are dispensed, by lead or fist.
It's the same basic ingredients that make up any other action adventure game. Like the first game, Uncharted 2's core gameplay resembles other third-person shooters, particularly Gears of War. Pressing the circle button will have you take cover on anything close to you; walls, rocks, fences, you name it. Once in cover, you can pop up to take shots at enemies or blind fire from cover at the cost of accuracy. There are also a great deal of platforming segments, reminiscent of Prince of Persia. You'll be making lots of death-defying leaps, boosting some allies up different high points, swinging around on ropes and poles, rushing down improvised ziplines, and more.
It's nothing extremely unique, but Uncharted 2's secret weapons are its polish and pacing. I finished the 10 hour single player adventure in just two sittings, simply because there is zero downtime as you make your way through the game, and no filler to bore you. Every battle you enter or area you scale has a unique twist behind it. No two challenges are identical, and to sweeten the flow of the game, truly fantastic set pieces separate the game's shooting, exploration, and even stealth elements (more on that later). Prepare to be rocked around in a tumbling train car, jump from vehicle to vehicle in an amazing chase up a snowy mountain, and - in what might be a nod to Naughty Dog's Crash Bandicoot roots - running for your life from a variety of dangers, toward the screen.
The game's rather gentle difficulty slope is vital to its playability. The gunplay starts out pretty basic, with the occasional armoured character thrown in to make your life difficult. But by the end of the game, you'll be taking on rooms of armed goons, complete with snipers and riot shield wielding heavies supporting them, not to mention some surprising foes thrown at you in the game's final chapters. The going can get tough at times towards the end, but it always feels fair; after all, the story sets up Drake against some pretty impossible odds, and the gameplay fits that tone. After multiple deaths, a text description will vaguely tell you what you need to do next. It won't give you the solution, but it keeps you on track; it works very well.
Perhaps the most surprising contributor to Uncharted 2's success are its stealth elements. To all you stealth action developers out there; you should be absolutely, positively ashamed of yourselves. Stealth is almost never a necessity in the game, but you'll want to use it frequently; it's effective, it saves ammunition, and it's an absolute blast. Sneaking up on an enemy undetected will net you an instant kill as you choke, slam, or snap your foe into oblivion. In a brilliant move, you can also use these surprise attacks from cover, waiting for an enemy to approach before reaching out to finish them off away from prying eyes. In an age where stealth games are experiencing a sharp decline in popularity, it's an adventure game that conveys the feel of espionage better than anything before it. Simply brilliant.
Apart from the pacing, virtually every aspect of the game is tightly tuned. Every input you give the game, from basic movement to switching between pieces of cover in a huge firefight, feels easy and comfortable from the opening scenes onward. Beyond the basic game framework, though, you'll find lots of other great details you won't find in other games. When an enemy approaches your piece of cover, Nathan will shift his stance and move toward the edge, ready to strike the opposition before he even knows what hit him. Characters you work with during single player talk to you naturally, like real people, and if you're out of their line of sight, they'll yell out to you, asking what you're doing or how things are going. And with some truly top-notch acting, the atmosphere around you in Uncharted 2 is truly remarkable. I defy you to find better performances in any other game this year.
This thoughtful and thorough game design carries over in full force to the multiplayer section of Uncharted 2, which applies a Call of Duty styled online experience to the game's framework. There are both competitive and co-operative modes of play, from a basic deathmatch game type to more complex fare like Gold Rush, where a team of players must locate a piece of treasure and haul it to a treasure chest on the other side of the map, all while dealing with hordes of AI-controlled enemies. The matchmaking works well, and I experienced no lag or searching issues while playing. Like Infinity Ward's popular shooter series, basically anything you do in the multiplayer earns you experience points and - in this case, cash - that will advance your rank. This will let you unlock and purchase weapon upgrades and "boosters," perks that can improve your accuracy, increase your clip size, make you climb faster, and so on. There are already tons of people online, and at level 10, I feel like I've barely scratched the surface. See you there.
Throughout the single and multiplayer modes, only the smallest of nitpicks present themselves. Sometimes, the occasional control quirk will have you missing a jump that you probably should have made. And although it's not nearly as big of an issue as it was in the first game, some enemies feel like they take far, far too many shots to kill. I nailed an enemy twice in the head with a sniper rifle during a firefight late in the single player, and he kept on ticking. Oh, and I didn't really enjoy the final boss that much. That's pretty much the extent of my complaints about this game, though. Seriously.
Uncharted 2 consistently plays at a level of fun and excitement that most games don't reach for a minute. As much as your brain will try to shield you from the scorn of hype, believe it: this is one of the best adventure games to ever be put together. I absolutely loved the single player, and to my surprise, the multiplayer is awesome as well. Between all of its modes, extras, and sheer quality, you'll probably be spending a lot of time with this game, for months to come. It's amazing what can be done in just two years; in that time, Naughty Dog took a great game and shined it into one of the greatest adventures in gaming. To make a long story short; you need to play this game.