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Naughty Dog delivers a lesson on how to create a cinematic experience without QTE's or elaborate cut-scenes...
- Outstanding production
- Stunning visuals
- Game never wanes
- Poor Istanbul heist mission
- Lacks 'true' co-op mode
- More puzzles would have been nice
With the exception of one poor stealth section, we're struggling to find fault with a game that is undeniably the new standard for all future third-person action/adventure games to follow and a perfect example of how to deliver a sequel.
The follow-up to Nathan Drake's 2007 adventure to discover the lost fortunes of El Dorado finds the treasure hunter/small time thief/loveable rogue switching his targets to Marco Polo and the lost city of Shambhala. The creators of Crash Bandicoot and Jak & Daxter are evidently enjoying their time with the PS3, in the process creating one of the first games that we can confidently claim is only possible on the format. Uncharted 2 displays a command over production and direction that is unsurpassed, in many ways Uncharted 2 is the 'next-gen' title we've been waiting for, and we're not just referring to the stunning visuals.
Much of the accomplishment stems from the Hollywood "quality". It's easy to imagine the treasure-hunting adventure being brought to the big screen with Nicholas Cage in the lead role, but then again, Naughty Dog have done a magnificent job of outmatching Hollywood in the first place. Drake's latest adventure takes us on a journey between Istanbul and Tibet, as he races against the psychopathic warlord Zorin Lazarevic and his army to retrieve the fabled Cintamani Stone. The quality displayed throughout the script, voice acting and overall direction gives Uncharted 2 a movie-like experience with characters that you can genuinely feel a sense of attachment. It's a game that will have everybody else who doesn't have the pad kicking back on the sofa, eating popcorn and watching on eagerly.
Each and every one of the 25 levels (except the Istanbul heist) features a staggering array of scripted events (big and small) to maintain Uncharted 2's silver screen façade, and ensure there's rarely a sense of the mindless walking between A and B characteristic that typically defines the genre. Large and magnificent events are balanced with smaller, smarter, more reactive-based events. As an example, lots of games feature scenery details such as swimming pools, but we struggle to think of many that will trigger an impromptu conversation between the two characters and a game of 'Marco Polo' when you decide to (Trophy Hunters tip#1) jump in trivially for a quick dip.
On top of the events and the scene-setting layered animations, Nate and whoever is tagging along will chat throughout the stage, reacting to specific proceedings and helping to fill the rare occasions when you're walking between events. It all helps to keep Uncharted 2 feeling a little bit richer and more believable - finally 'this-gen' - than most games in this generation. Naughty Dog also gets our supreme admiration for the way in which they've used the camera. Uncharted 2 rolls captivatingly with dramatic motion through each of the 25 stages (except the Istanbul heist), and we've got to put a lot of that down to the fact that Naughty Dog hasn't been content to just stick a staid camera behind and slightly above Drake. On the numerous occasions when Drake finds himself desperately fleeing from uncontrollable trucks hell-bent on squishing him into the tarmac, the camera switches direction and has the hero running towards the screen - it's not entirely unlike Naughty Dog's beginnings with the Crash Bandicoot series.
So Uncharted 2 can deliver the story and presentation, but it wouldn't be worth our attempts to justify inventing superlatives to describe its brilliance (Supamazintastic, Unbelawesogasmic), if it wasn't for the manner in which Naughty Dog has incorporated this quality into the actual gameplay. Just when we thought the third-person action/adventure had run out of ideas, Uncharted 2 proves that all it needs is wonderful production on the established concepts to revitalise the genre. It's no wonder that Eidos has decided now is the time for a Tomb Raider reboot.
Gameplay is peppered with scripted events, which are seamlessly tied to the cut-scenes, making it difficult to determine whether you're meant to be playing or watching. Truly, Uncharted 2 is one of the most gameplay-centric, cinematic video games ever created and does so without having to resort to cheap QTE's or overly long cut-scenes. Such a plaudit is typically overused (a fault we'll happily admit), but its description in this case is perfectly justified. It's largely the way in which this effortless fluidity builds upon the movie qualities that maintains the pulse-pounding tempo throughout (except for the Istanbul heist), but it's also Naughty Dog's skill in creating enjoyable video games. Uncharted 2 doesn't bog you down with meticulous planning before a jump, doesn't make its puzzles overly elaborate (and always offers a hint) and puts the emphasis squarely on the action.
Combat generally forms the key component of the game with platforming and puzzles following behind. With a considerable selection of weapons on offer, the gunplay initially seems solid if a little routine, but it's the AI that turns it into a success. Members of Lazarevic's army may not be "intelligent" but they certainly know how to keep Nate on his toes and the gunplay dynamic. The covering system is a little bit like Gears of War in that it allows you to easily duck behind objects and seamlessly transition between them, but Uncharted 2 feels just that little bit more enjoyable and varied. The resulting combination never resorts to the 'whack-a-mole' syndrome frequently faced by covering systems in shooters. The melee combat system uses only one button to punch and one button to counter, but the rhythmic based approach and varied attacks are many times more satisfying then the vast majority of button-bashers.
All of this is layered upon with the new ability to play the game from a stealth like poise. Hiding behind objects and swiftly transitioning between them, before sneaking up on an unsuspecting guard and breaking his neck is a worthwhile addition to Drake's repertoire. Nate can also hang from ledges and pull guards over the banister to their doom below. There is one exception to this, which if you hadn't already guessed, is the dreadful (in comparison) heist mission in an Istanbul museum early on in the game. The clinical nature in which this particular mission gives an instant failure when Nathan is spotted in some contentious circumstances is a rare blot on Uncharted 2's otherwise magnificent landscape. It also highlights some iffy patrolling AI on behalf of the guards, who won't spot Nate despite standing right next to him. It could have been a great mission to inject some pure stealth elements into the overall mechanics, but as it is, it's left as a poorly executed afterthought.
Although the balance of combat, big scripted events, puzzles and platforming is largely faultless and key to keeping everything feeling so varied and compelling, we'd like to have seen one or two more puzzles if we had to find a fault. The puzzles that do appear are of a generally high standard and likely to cause a few head-scratching moments, but we'd liked to have seen a few more, grander puzzles that require Nate to check out his journal for clues.
Globe-trotting across the 25 stages offer a considerable length of between 10-12 hours, but it's the fact that there isn't a single minute of padding that makes the game a genuine 10 rated title. From the moment Uncharted 2 boots up it's impossible to put down, the pacing and tempo is timed to perfection and injects enough variety with exhilarating on-rails shooting sections, cryptic puzzles and intense action. Perhaps if we were being a tad cynical we'd say that the final couple of stages have a habit of dragging on a tad in comparison to the rest of the game and that the final showdown with Lazarevic is a little anti-climatic and a bit of a cliché. But that's nit-picking of the highest order.
Even after the single-player campaign is over there's an inclination to play it all over again, which is something we can't say about the vast majority of games. But the addition of online multiplayer modes is likely to keep Uncharted 2 sitting in PS3's for a long time. We're slightly disappointed that the game doesn't offer a genuine co-op mode considering that many of the stages feature at least one other character alongside Nate. Instead there are a selection of one-off maps that up to three players can enjoy. The competitive multiplayer modes however build upon the enjoyable gameplay mechanics, with an impressive list of eight game types covering the classic multiplayer modes (Deathmatch, Elimination, King of the Hill, etc...) along with a Machinima mode that allows you to record and playback the action.
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