You know the great thing about only having one console per generation? When the next-gen comes, people sell their last-gen crap really cheap. I had never had a chance to play through a host of PS3 classics that were critically acclaimed, and getting a cheap PS3 was the perfect time to do so. After getting my PS3 in the mail last Monday, I finally had a chance that Wednesday to sit down and pop in my borrowed copy of Uncharted 2. Needless to say, I beat in two sittings, and it was awesome.
This is My Backlog, a place where I talk about classic games from the past that I missed out on. Hopefully, I'll inspire some of you to try classics that you missed, or go back and play some of your favorites again. Last time, I beat Banjo-Kazooie. Today I'm reviewing Uncharted 2.
Introduction to the game
How many of you have seen Indiana Jones? Pretty much, everyone right? That's pretty much what this game is. The lovable rogue seeks some lost treasure that has it's roots in real-life history, only for him to discover that something supernatural is associated with it and that other bad guys want to use it for their own nefarious ends. Since this is the second game, it's a good idea to quickly give a summary of part one and overview of our main character, Indiana Drake, I mean Nathan Drake, and some of the supporting characters. Nathan Drake is supposedly the distant relative of treasure-hunter Sir Francis Drake, and Victor Sullivan is his mentor/old guy buddy/father figure. Elena Fisher is a reporter/love interest from the first game who started out kinda ditzy but came into her own later in the game as someone who can handle herself. They overcame some bad guys who wanted to do bad stuff with zombie-mutagens and El Dorado and Nazi's and stuff. So, now that you know stuff you can play Uncharted 2 with ease. Yay!
Here's the story: Guy meets old treasure hunter friends, has history with the girl (Chloe), and goes to go steal something from a museum. Turns out supposedly worthless artifact is actually a map that leads to Shangri-La and the Chintomani stone (A Sapphire the diameter of a man's reach). Then bad stuff happens and you end up traveling all over the world looking for the buried treasure. It's a fun exciting story that serves it's purpose in creating a compelling, forward-moving story that moves you through a variety of exciting set pieces. There aren't any real surprises or emotional narrative themes, but like with many other games that's not where the appeal of this game lies. The best (arguably) part of the game however, is the banter between the different character's in the game. During the majority of the game, you usually have some companion following you around helping you shoot stuff, helping you climb stuff and just keeping the mood light in general. The game nails the dynamic between all these different characters very well, and each time you get a new character, you get a new dynamic.
Drake and Flynn, Drake and Chloe, Drake and Sully, Drake and Elena, Drake and Chloe and Elena, etc., all of these different characters interact with Nathan in different and usually hilarious ways. Look at Nathan Drake, look at that sexy mug. Who couldn't love someone like that? Nathan is charismatic and funny, that's his thing. Sully is a cranky, but reliable dirty old man. Chloe is the sensual, old flame who consistently plays double agent. Elena is the kind-off sassy, lost-love, who Nathan made a genuine connection with in the last game. I'm pretty confused about why she follows him around in this game, since there's not really anything in it for her except for proving that Lazarevic, the primary bad guy, is still alive so he can be chased by the UN, but I guess she just does it in large part because she just likes Drake. Regardless, the dynamic and history between these characters really makes them come alive and feel real to the player. The writing for all the characters is phenomenal and easily one of my favorite parts of the game.
Not much to say here. The sounds of the guns and the environmental feedback was great. The different sounding guns had very distinct sounds which helped differentiate them from each other during combat. That way you know whether there's a sniper or a shotgun for you to take care of. The sounds of the environment around you are fabulous, the crunch of gravel, the rustle of leaves, the splooshing water in South America, the sound of debris falling as you climb, all of it adds to the ambiance to make a really satisfying experience. The music is decent, but there wasn't any particular theme that stuck out during my playthrough so I can't give it any special points for that.
The best part of the sound design however was the voice acting. I mentioned this a little in the writing section, but the voice actors themselves deserve a fair amount of credit for what they managed to pull off here. The chemistry between all of them is fantastic and the way that they play off of each other when they talk during both action and cut-scenes makes the characters feel real and alive. The dialog is hilarious, but more importantly, the actors deliver the dialog brilliantly. A large part of the appeal of this game comes from the ease with which it captures the cinematic/Hollywood feeling and this is due in large part to the skill of the voice actors. Props to Nolan North, Richard McGonagle, Claudia Black, and Emily Rose for their performances. You guys really did a good job.
Beautiful, stunning, inspired, this is the prettiest game on the PS3. I play PC games, so I usually have a pretty high standard for graphics. The biggest things for me in terms of graphical fidelity are texture quality, anti-aliasing, face and character models, and screen tear. When I play games, if the game can't meet my standards in these specific areas, I generally think less of them. If you aren't familiar with these terms you can check out this article on PC Gamer. Needless to say, Uncharted 2 met my standards, but it is the first PS3 game ever to do so. The game looks like something that came straight from next-gen, and the whole thing looks stunning.
Playing on my 1080p HDTV, shooting, climbing and chatting looks just as good on PC as it could anywhere else. On top of this, the art direction and environments are all stunning and beautiful. Character models look great, cliff faces look intimidating, enemies look distinct and unique for each enemy type. In terms of set-pieces the Jungles of Borneo, Mountain Monastery in Nepal, War-Torn city, and the Turkish Museum all look absolutely incredible. I didn't have any nitpicks, glitches, or issues otherwise with this game, which is high above what I expected for this game. Good job Naughty Dog, you may be self-important pricks, but you made a really pretty game.
Okay, let's be honest here. Does Uncharted really do anything that revolutionary in terms of the gameplay itself? Yes, you can climb stuff and yes you can shoot stuff but is there really that much more in this game? These mechanics have been done in other games and better. I personally prefer the rebooted Tomb Raider in terms of both combat and climbing. Climbing in Uncharted is pretty ordinary, and there's not really any suspense or thought put into the way in which you climb. Combat works pretty well. The melee combat itself was kind of unique how it goes into a cinematic mode whenever you initiate it, and have to counter using visual cues that the game gives. You can also die during these mini-cutscenes, so it doesn't make melee OP.
The level design itself is pretty well designed, if not a bit linear. There are hidden treasures to find, but they're either really obvious to find or not obvious at all. The only other thing that I noticed was that having a partner actually meant things. They actually help in combat, they help you climb, and they banter back and forth through the game. That's pretty neat. The level design itself feels like it was made as a game, and not like an actual location. Rooms without doors or purpose, locations inaccessible without the climbing mechanics of the game, etc. The world just doesn't feel believable if you take the time to really look at it.
I'm a PC gamer, I've mentioned this before. So, at first I was trying to shoot stuff and it was awful. Joysticks are objectively not as good for aiming as mice in terms of shooters. However, once I got the hang of it, I was able to play pretty well. Climbing works really well, but it's kind of boring since you usually just hold a button and a direction. If there's one actual problem I had with the game, it was the cover system. Sometimes, it works really well, and sometimes you have trouble sticking to a surface you want to stick to, or moving around a corner. It was frustrating when I died because I was exposed and couldn't move where I wanted. Some of these problems went away as I got used to the controls and some didn't. I got better at aiming and started spraying more frequently, due to the near perfect accuracy of even the worst guns. I got better at moving through cover a little bit, but I still didn't completely get the hang of it. More often than I would have liked, I got stuck on a wall right in view of the enemy missile launcher, just long enough to explode.
Summary and Sub-Totals
If it sounds like I didn't like the game because of those last two paragraphs, it just isn't true. I really enjoyed the game, I played through the whole thing in two sittings of 7 and 5 hours. The game is genuinely fun to play, dare I say, it's actually a great game. I just think people give it a free pass because they want to like it so much. The character interactions, graphics and cinematography all make this a enjoyable, well-made product, but at a certain point you have to accept it for what it is and not what you want it to be.
Music/Sound Design: 8.5/10
Graphics/Art Direction: 10/10
Gameplay/Level Design: 7/10
Final Rating: 42/50 = 84%
— "I'm Sweating like a hooker in church" +2
— "Elena Fisher, Last Year's Model" +1
— "Is it always like this with him?" "Pretty much (Simultaneous)" +1
— The "How scared were you I was going to die?" conversation. +1
— Air-Boxing/Infinite punch attack (couldn't find the .gif) +1
— Playing on hard mode for the first couple of levels and realizing everyone is a meat shield. -2
— Drake is a sociopath who murders hundreds of people over the course of the game, but then doesn't kill Lazarevic because he's "better than that". -2
— Game acknowledges that Drake is a sociopathic murderer +2
— Playing Marco Polo in the pool +1
— That stupid helicopter -3
True Final Rating: 44/50 = 88%
Tips for Playing:
1) Don't play on Hard Mode your first run-through. I love playing games on hard mode, the challenge keeps the game interesting and makes the game last longer. However, since this game is more about the experience and less about the game-play itself, it is advisable to keep the difficulty at normal. Especially for your first time through.
2) Take your time. You don't need to find all the collectibles your first time through, but enjoy the set-pieces and views. Have fun with the game. Jump around, and enjoy the silliness.
3) SPRAY AND PRAY! Seriously though, the guns in this game don't become less accurate the longer you hold the trigger as would normally be the case. This means that if you zoom your sights onto their torso and hold the fire button, the cross-hair gradually drifts up right into their face.