Uncharted 2: Among Thieves PS3
Just over ten hours ago I began what would turn out to be one of the most exhilarating games I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing. My knuckles are white, my heart rate is through the roof and my trousers are damp with a mixture of sweat and excitement-wee. While I’m not usually a fan of over-used metaphors, to describe Uncharted 2 as anything other than a non-stop rollercoaster ride of an action game would be truly unjust. The original Uncharted made its name by doing two things well; ripping off Tomb Raider and Gears of War, then combining them with a well scripted, well acted narrative. For Nathan Drake’s second expedition, Naughty Dog have taken those fundamentals and tweaked, chopped and polished until what we’re left with is akin to an interactive collaboration between Michael Bay and Jerry Bruckheimer – a sleek, sophisticated, adventure-romp to rival the greatest Hollywood blockbusters.
The first game was heralded as one of the must-haves of the early PS3 exclusives, but despite this it wasn’t without its flaws. Though the lush jungle scenery and neat graphical touches were good enough to carry the game through some of the less interesting moments, there’s no denying that both the acrobatic platforming and tactical shooting were treated mainly as separate entities within the same game. This often led to a break in the game’s flow, and combined with some questionable AI and occasionally ropey melee combat resulted in some frustrating moments. Moments, you’ll be glad to hear, that don’t once rear their ugly collective head in Uncharted 2. From the game’s breathtaking opening to its heart-pounding finale the entire package is one incredibly exciting set-piece.
That is, once the ball starts rolling. The first mission sees Drake attempting to steal an ancient lamp from the Turkish Palace museum. Acting as a tutorial it introduces the stealth elements of the game, with areas of patrolling guards specifically set up for silent take-downs. The ironic thing is, it’s only later on in the game that this tends to click. The beauty of Uncharted 2’s combat mechanic is its versatility – moving around a building of guards taking them down one by one with beautifully animated strikes can soon turn into an all-out fire fight the second an enemy gets wind of the situation. The change in tempo is what drives the game, and in the opening level in which it’s a checkpoint restart should Nate be spotted, it becomes a bit of an annoyance, slowing the experience ever so slightly. This is however, the only gripe to be had with Uncharted 2 so on to what makes it brilliant.
The cover-and-fire combat and elegant ledge jumping have now been synthesised into one smooth system, allowing Nate to go from flinging grenades into a crowd of soldiers to hanging by one arm and picking them off with a pistol with zero disruption. Using the familiar one-button press to enter cover, it’s now possible to move around corners whilst keeping out of sight, taking down unsuspecting guards silently, and dragging them behind your defence – out of the line of enemy fire. This provides far more opportunity to mix up the way the game is played, as well as moving each gunfight through a greater wealth of areas. No longer will the game stop spawning enemies so you can traverse a wall or scale a building, now you have to use the walls and roofs to your advantage constantly moving to create room in which to work.
A good deal of why this works is down to the superb level design. The open plazas and claustrophobic corridors ensure that you’re constantly thinking on your feet. Enemy AI will flank Nathan whenever possible, and successfully moving from cover to cover is the only way to ensure success. Using both the vertical and horizontal plain to your advantage it’s now essential to be aware of your surroundings, especially on the harder difficulties. It soon becomes second nature to back up to walls, boxes, cars even hanging street signs all of which have been placed with great care and attention to provide defence to those who know how to use it well.
It helps that all of this takes place in the most jaw-dropping scenery ever. Uncharted 2 is hands-down the most visually stunning game so far this generation. Standing on the roof of the Hotel Shangri La and taking in the surrounding environment is enough to cause goose bumps. The wealth of detail and vibrant colours across the frankly colossal draw-distance are astounding, and this level of detail is sustained throughout. In a generation of greys and browns, Uncharted 2 provides a sanctuary of incredible variety, and while it’s most impressive during its daytime settings, the amount of detail that has gone into the ancient interiors is equally impressive. The water effects, the snow effects, basically every kind of effect you can think of is on display and ramped up to the highest of qualities. As a video game, Uncharted 2 is up there with the best of them. A snappy control system, beautiful visuals, and some cleverly designed set pieces that border on heart-attack inducing, make it impossible not to recommend. What really drives it home however is Naughty Dog’s use of character.
By all accounts I should hate Nathan Drake. He’s the sort of unnaturally attractive stubbly hero who hangs around with hot women, making incessant quips and being all ‘Lynx Effect’. Technically the guy’s an utter cock, but it’s impossible not find him charming. Maybe it’s something subliminal, or maybe I’m just a bit gay, but it’s incredibly difficult not to get sucked into the game’s story, no matter how ‘National Treasure’ it might be. Uncharted 2 is like an exercise in increasing blood pressure. With each new reveal, each new double-cross or back-stab, each new confrontation with some kind of heavily armed military vehicle, the stakes are raised and the controller stays firmly in-hand. The race from one lavishly detailed country to the next through city, jungle, mountain and snow the pace never falters.
Even when it’s all over and done with, there’s still plenty of opportunity to continue the excitement. The multiplayer on offer is one of the most streamlined on the PS3 so far, featuring the always welcome party-up system, allowing matchmaking players to join forces whenever it takes their fancy. There’s also online co-op, which takes place in instanced missions from locations within the main story. These are separate from the actual narrative, but prove that should Naughty Dog make the single player campaign of Uncharted 3 to work in a co-op mode, it would be the greatest thing ever. Then there’s the cinema mode, which is ever so slightly like the theatre mode in Halo 3. Each online match is saved to watch again and again. Almost every aspect of the camera can be tweaked, including lighting levels, fog density, colour saturation, you name it – it’s got it, topping off an already full to bursting package.
In fact, full to bursting doesn’t really cover what Uncharted 2 offers. There’s almost always something new to unlock, be it a bonus trailer, a character skin for use online and off, or one of the more interesting items such as the ‘no gravity mode’, which makes certain objects (the most amusing being dead bodies) slowly float off up and away. These are bought with money earned in single and multiplayer modes, and are so numerous that the replay value is vast.
It’s probably pretty obvious by now that Uncharted 2 is a bit special. It’s the amalgamation of years of action games, adventure stories and box office smashes rolled into one ten hour action sequence. It’s Indiana Jones meets Broken Arrow, meets Cliff Hanger, meets Bad Boys – and then some. The production values are through the roof and the level of polish that’s gone into this game are something else. Naughty Dog have outshone all competition, making the Gears/Tomb Raider mash-up a genre of their very own. Uncharted 2 is one of, if not the definitive action title of this year.