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January 30, 2010

Review - Uncharted 2

Wow.  Uncharted 2, available only for the PS3, has to be one of the best games of 2009.  Admittedly, I didn't play that many games, but it is so unbelievably awesome that I can't see any other game beating it.  Not even Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2.  Take the combination of wonderful graphics, excellent gameplay, and a story that rivals many movies, and you've got yourself a blisteringly good time.

When I started playing the game back in December, I had favourable first impressions.  Little did I know that even those impressions would be blown away.  Put some big name actors in this and you would have an experience to compare to many adventure movies.  If they ever do decide to bring Nathan Drake to the big screen, they will be hard-pressed to make it any better than the game is.  Ok, maybe that's exaggerating (then again, video game movies inevitably suck, so I could be more right than I wanted to be, and I have heard that a movie could be in the works).  But that is the feeling I had once I set the controller down for the final time.

For those who didn't read my First Impressions, here's a bit of the story (taken from the First Impressions because I really don't feel like changing it).

The basics of the story is that you play as treasure hunter Nathan Drake, a man who's good with a gun as well as his fists. The game opens with Nathan wounded high above a mountain top, trying desperately to save himself from the ruined train he is in before it falls over the edge of the mountain (how he's doing all this jumping and running with a belly wound, we won't talk about). This section gives you a good overview of the various things you're going to have to do throughout the game. There's jumping, climbing, even a couple of bad guys to sneak up on or shoot. Once you get to a certain point, you flash back to what started this all. An old "friend" finds you in a bar and recruits you to help him steal something from the Turkish museum that just may lead to a secret treasure from Marco Polo's trips to the Orient.

 (Click on the images for larger versions)

The story brings some old characters back from the first game, as well as bringing us some excellent new characters.  Chloe, an old Australian flame of Nathan's, is a wonder to behold (and quite attractive, too, for an animated figure...must be the voice).  Claudia Black does a great job of bringing this character to life.  You never know whether she's with you or against you, which just adds spice to the whole relationship.  Nolan North again brings a great quality to Nathan, a combination of resignation (whenever he realizes he's going to be in yet another fight for his life), humour, and determination to get the job done.  He's a treasure-hunter, but he's also a moral person.  When he realizes what the bad guy's plan is, it would be easy to walk away.  But his sense of good won't let him.  I do have to admit that Graham McTavish, as the villain, does go a bit over the top.  But don't most good villains in movies like these?

Gameplay is much improved on the first Uncharted, which was great to begin with.  It's a lot easier to aim, fire, move, etc.  Uncharted 2 is involves a lot of climbing as well as the gunplay (similar to Tomb Raider, but much better done), and the climbing is totally improved.  It's much more forgiving.  For the most part, if you can't make a move, the game won't let you try it.  Thus, you won't find yourself jumping into oblivion time after time, trying to time your jump right.  This only applies when you're hanging, of course.  If you are standing on one side of a chasm and try to jump to the other side, you will plummet to a grisly demise.  However, when you're walking across narrow beams to get to the other side, the game won't let you fall.  The worst that will happen is you'll go over the edge and hang from it.  Of course, if you're getting chased by bad guys, that will be a bad thing, but you can't have everything.  There's also a new mechanic, the "stealth kill", where you can pull a guy over the ledge or behind a wall and take them out noislessly without alerting the other guards.  This gameplay mechanic comes in handy at times.

Uncharted 2 has everything, from climbing to gun battles, puzzles to solve using your trusty notebook as a guide (and if you look through all of the pages, you'll find some great jokes entered there by Nathan, such as comments on his friend Sully's mustache) and so much more.  The AI (Artificial Intelligence, for you non-gamers) is intelligent, with the bad guys trying to flank you when they can, as well as throwing grenades to smoke you out from cover.  Probably the best sequence in the game, both in graphics and sheer gameplay goodness, is the train level where you are trying to make your way to the front of the train from all the way in the back.  Hanging on the sides, going through windows, running along the top, danger at every turn.  Damn, is that exhilarating.

 Of course, I can't end this review before talking about the lush graphics.  These have to be the best graphics I've ever seen in a game.  There are so many little touches, like birds flying around in the jungle, the flickering flames in the ancient temples, the fact that when Nathan has been trudging through water, he stays visibly wet for a while.  There were a couple of times I was just marveling at the graphics when I realized that somebody was shooting at me!

The story has some great twists and turns and is always full of adventure.  It's also very light-hearted.  Nathan Drake is very much the modern day Indiana Jones, though he's not an archeologist.  However, he brings the same humour to the situation as Jones did, as well as being the same type of action hero.  There will be betrayals, and reunions, and thoroughly evil bad guys who must be stopped.  It will keep you hooked from beginning to end, even more so because you're actually playing it!

Of course, every game has its faults, and Uncharted 2 is not immune to them, though they are fairly negligible.  The only major gameplay problem is that the cover system can be quite annoying at times.  You're hiding behind cover and you want to do something, but you're locked to that countertop/rock/table/etc and it's hard to move.  (The game does have an excellent "fire from cover" system, however) You can jump/roll from cover to cover, but coming out from the cover to be in the open again can be quite annoying.  It's much better than the first game, but it still needs some work.  However, that and a couple of minor story peculiarities are the only things that even come close to bringing this game down.  You'll have so much fun playing that it won't matter to you after a while.

Those of you who are into multiplayer won't be disappointed, as it has quite a few different multiplayer options that you can play online.  The only problem might be finding somebody to play.  When I started playing this game in December, I could usually find a game but there were only about 4500 people online at any one time (at least when I was on at night).  I think it had been a bit busier, but then Modern Warfare came out and it became a virtual deadzone.  Now that it's even further from Uncharted 2's release date, the servers may be even more empty.  That's a shame, because the various game types were quite fun.

Seriously, unless Peggle is the extent of your game-playing, you have to buy this game if you have a PS3.  Or at least rent it.  It's that good.


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