Monday, October 26, 2009


The fellows at Naughty Dog have suitably demonstrated that they understand how to make a game that feels like a movie. Rather than weigh the action down with interminable cutscenes as has been the tradition of games with cinematic aspirations, Uncharted 2: Among Thieves embraces it's interactivity and gleefully plunges the player into setpiece after setpiece without worrying that we'll muck things up. The result is a 12+ hour thrillride that feels like both a game and a movie without the sense that anything was sacrificed in the amalgamation.

The pacing and atmosphere is solid right from the start where you are thrown into an opening tutorial/action scene that is one of the better I've seen since Eternal Darkness. From there the game skillfully segues into a series of cutscenes that instantly demonstrate the striking level of direction and voice-acting present. Nearly everything about Uncharted 2's presentation just feels classy, from the way plot-points are presented, to the excellent musical score and the lavish graphics that feature numerous breathtaking vistas and make use of some absolutely astonishing water and snow effects.

The gunplay and exploration is a whole lot of fun, with intuitive controls and an abundance of awesome and memorable setpieces involving collapsing buildings and speeding trains. There's rarely a dull moment, and the game is just a whole lot of fun to play, bringing to mind similar games I've enjoyed such as Tomb Raider: Legend and the oft-overlooked gem Everything or Nothing, which also features the single-button cover mechanic popularized in Gears of War and used to good effect here. In fact putting aside the cutscene quality and the nifty snow effects, there isn't much in Uncharted 2's actual gameplay that we haven't seen plenty of times before. Luckily everything gels together so well that what Uncharted 2 lacks in originality, it more than makes up for in sheer fun and style.

That's not to say the game is without it's problems. The enemy sprites get to feel repetitive, and their AI can be quite thick at times and will sometimes do things like stand in the open during a gunfight or fail to notice commotion that should be in their field of view. One spot I felt the AI really shined though was the way enemies behave behind cover. Rather than simply popping out to shoot at regular intervals, they vary their timing and position and now and then seem to display a genuine sense of self-preservation.

Climbing about the impressive locales is fun and intuitive, but it is not always evident what can be climbed on or jumped to. This is exacerbated by the fact that much of what Nathan Drake, the series' protagonist, does acrobatically is ridiculous even by the standards of Hollywood physics. The game is also rather inconsistent about how far you can fall without dying, and falling as little as two meters can sometimes be fatal if you weren't supposed to be going that way. Luckily your deaths can be rather humorous, and the game is quite generous with its checkpoints, on occasion starting me ahead of where I had actually died. Once I stumbled off a ledge and somehow managed to skip past an entire cutscene without even being asked to retry. That said, the game does offer some decent challenge in its enemies later on, but because most battles tend to play out differently each time, having to retry them is rarely frustrating.

Though a fair amount of the environment is destructible, it tends to destruct due to scripted events rather than by your own doing, and the physics can feel a bit lifeless at times. Rockets and grenades don't always send enemies flying the way they should. The hit detection also sometimes feels a bit wonky. We seemed to differ on what constituted a headshot, and though I consider myself a fairly competent gamer, I was surprised to find myself unable to complete the challenge of getting five in a row after considerable effort. Luckily there are plenty of other challenges one can complete to earn the amusing bonus features like the sepia filter, or the "next gen" filter (which makes everything drab and generic). It's also pretty fun to watch a morbidly obese "Doughnut Drake" swing about on streetlights and climb like an acrobat, stealthily tackle enemies from behind, or float languidly into the distance like a flabby dirigible.

All things said, Uncharted 2 is more fun to play than it is to nitpick. It may not have the most groundbreaking gameplay (though there is a fair amount of environmental destruction), and you shouldn't go in expecting a deeper experience than what you'd get out of a good summer blockbuster, but everything the game does blends together very well, and it respects your time as a player by being consistently entertaining with little filler. The plot and dialogue is well above the usual standard, and though the last 20 minutes or so is a little anticlimactic in light of what's come before, the overall experience manages to remain engaging from beginning to end, which is no small feat. This is helped a lot by the ongoing banter between Drake and his entourage which, while not always gold, is frequently fresh and fun, and really makes the whole experience a lot more immersive. I must confess that I have not yet played the original, though the consensus seems to be that this game improves upon it in basically every area, and I have also not had the chance to try the multiplayer component, so I don't know if that aspect warrants a purchase. Just for the singleplayer though, I can heartily recommend this to nearly anyone as, at the very least, an awesome weekend rental.

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