Naughty Dog has learned some lessons
The predecessor to this sequel had its share of problems, but it quite successfully fell back on its humble cast of strikingly charismatic characters and a narrative that, while not overly complex, remained compelling throughout. Though Uncharted 2 is a dramatic gameplay improvement over the original in literally every way, it’s in this area that the original nearly perfected that the game shows off the absolute best of its inimitable, effulgent polish.
Naturally, Nathan Drake has returned for his sophomore adventure, lured in by an apparent discovery involving famed explorer Marco Polo. Victor Sullivan and Elena Fisher reprise their roles as comedic relief and love-interest respectively, while an old flame makes its way back into Drake’s life in the form of newcomer Chloe Frazer. The original trio play off of one another just as easily before, the chemistry between the actors during motion capture sessions easy to imagine. Chloe injection into the group is quite fluid, and her character has obviously been carefully crafted to fit her role amongst the established heroes of the story.
I’ve heard said many times before that in the grand scheme of things, visuals aren’t what matter in a game. When it comes to Uncharted 2, that shouldn’t at all be considered the case. I’m no game developer, so I can’t really tell you what exactly it is that Naughty Dog has done with their engine in this sequel, but they definitely need to keep it up. Segments of gameplay that would be otherwise spent on some blankly gazing upon monotonous task such as stumbling Drake along a snow-ridden path or climbing a a set of lofty pipes instead take the time to pull you into a startlingly beautiful vista. Uncharted 2 makes a point of showing off distant locations when things get a little on the slow side, dishing out a sense of destination while also taking some time to show off just how consistently rich the textures and lighting are throughout the entire experience.
Where gameplay is concerned, Uncharted 2 doesn’t deviate much at all from the formula that fans of the first game should already be familiar with. Instead, it takes several -- perhaps dozens -- of strides beyond and addresses perhaps every concern raised in regards to quality. First and foremost, the few forced Sixaxis controls have been entirely scrapped for a more traditional control scheme, which is nearly enough on its own to have me kneeling at the feet of whomever signed off on that design decision. Shooting is also just a heck of a lot more entertaining in this game. Blind-firing over cover is now considerably more effective, and the addition of being able to fire while running is something I one day hope to take for granted. Enemies aren’t especially varied, but they’re thrown at you in differently enough ways to keep you on your toes. Aside from the progressively common armored soldier sporting his more intimidating weaponry, most foes are easy to dispatch of relative to the original game, which really does a lot to speed up the gunplay and turn it into a far more reward process.
Exploration is remains mostly as it has been. You’ll climb walls, work your way across paths of conveniently appending stones and leap between platforms pretty regularly. Like before, there is a certain level of puzzle-solving involved, but it really serves to pace everything out evenly and will rarely take any amount of brainpower to come up with a solution. For the most part you’ll rely on a journal, which in addition to containing knowledge beyond that of any mortal man also provides some insight into Drake’s character that can oftentimes be quite humorous.
When it was announced that Uncharted 2 would include multiplayer, I was admittedly skeptical. The experience of the original was so complete that I just couldn’t see where it could possibly benefit from the addition of any sort of online play. I’ve been proven wrong, as both the cooperative and competitive offering plenty of entertainment on their own. The cover-based focus of the single-player does make the online modes feel just a little too much like Gears of War, as does the cooperative arena modes during which you and two friends will be bum rushed by waves of A.I. controlled enemies. Still, there’s enough differentiation boiled in between the included platforming elements and distinctly Uncharted feel of the action to flare something of a unique vibe from the online package.
The word “cinematic” fits more perfectly with Uncharted 2: Among Thieves than with any game I’ve ever played before it. The derived mechanics are smoothed out and executed alongside some of the most memorable set-pieces in recent video game history. I’m not going to go so far as to agree with the extreme level of hyperbole being thrown around in regard to this game, but I’ll at least say that Nathan Drake’s latest adventure is by far the best game I’ve played this year.