Uncharted 2 Review
Let's be honest. No one expected Uncharted 2: Among Thieves to be bad; it was really just a question of how good it would be. As the sequel to a title that still stands as one of the hands-down best experiences on the PS3, Naughty Dog's next chapter in the seat-of-your-pants action/adventure series easily could've glided along on its predecessor's success—give hungry gamers more of the same, sell a million copies, do it all over again in two years. Thankfully, Nathan Drake's handlers are better known for pushing envelopes than pushing out rehashes. With their latest Indiana Jones-meets-Tomb Raider-meets-awesome romp, they've not only outdone themselves in the solo campaign, but incredibly, have found the time to squeeze in some surprisingly compelling co-op and multiplayer modes.
While every last element of Uncharted 2 has been polished to an eye-melting sparkle, it's the story, complemented by top-notch voice acting, that had the greatest impact on me. I've played plenty of titles with spot-on controls and gameplay depth, but I can only recall a handful that have grabbed me with their story as effectively as this one. The tale packs a punch from start to finish, snaking in and out of unexpected areas, and taking more turns than a monkey on a tricycle. Within minutes of popping it in, you'll find yourself anticipating each reveal as much as the next explosive set piece or big budget scripted moment. In short, Nathan Drake's latest treasure-hunting quest makes Indiana Jones search for the crystal skull seem about as thrilling as a trip to Pottery Barn.
But it's not only the cinematic thrills, breathless twists and shocking turns that earn this one a spot alongside the best silver screen popcorn rides; just as much credit goes to the characters and their verbal and physical responses to what's happening around them. Nothing is lost on Nate and his partners in spelunking, so they appear much less like cardboard videogame protagonists, and more like living, breathing characters with a purpose that goes far beyond nailing head-shots and digging up artifacts. From quick quips to engaging conversations, every line is not only delivered with excellence, but is believably weaved into the narrative. Even when characters are spouting exposition to keep the player up to speed—a practice that consistently breaks the immersion in most games—it's done in a way that makes you feel as though you're listening in on a conversation. Additionally, all the characters, complemented by convincing chemistry, seem as though they have genuine relationships. Similar to well-acted characters in television and film, Uncharted 2's cast can almost make you forget they don't actually have lives outside of the game world. Just as a tiny part of me still believes Tony Soprano continues to reside in Jersey, capping thugs and collecting from deadbeats, my mind could easily be tricked into wondering what Drake's up to beyond his in-game exploits.
Despite delivering storytelling and acting that could teach Hollywood a thing or two, how Uncharted 2 feels behind a gamepad is what's most important in this interactive medium. Thankfully, the action, platforming and exploration-driven play mostly match the title's narrative excellence. In the original game, enemies would seemingly spawn endlessly and absorb bullets like Arnold Schwarzenegger. This time out, though, gun-play has obviously been refined, offering battles that are a joy rather than chore to complete. There are some late-game baddies that still take a bullet—or 50—but even their thick skin is mostly explained by their appearance and abilities. New stealth tricks, weapons packing an aural blast that'd have Call of Duty's soldiers inserting earplugs, and some slick melee moves all round out the addictive combat.
The platforming has also been streamlined, allowing Drake to scurry up, over, and around objects like a hyper-caffeinated Lara Croft. The jumping is occasionally slippery, but that's due more to sketchy camera angles than controls. Thankfully, forgiving checkpoints ensure you'll never have too far to travel following a leap to your demise. Platforming segments also make more sense in the sequel; whether you're escaping a haze of bullets, exploring an alternate path, or chasing an out-of-reach treasure, you'll feel like you're scrambling about with good reason, and not just to slog through an obligatory obstacle course. Underlining the solid gameplay mechanics is a seamless integration that sees Nathan's skills naturally woven together. You'll rarely feel as though you're in a “platforming level” or a “shooting mission”; instead, it all comes together, mixing various elements in such a way that you'll be consistently compelled to move forward through an adventure, rather than compartmentalized levels.
Visually, Uncharted 2 ranks among the best games I've seen this generation. From sweat and frosty breath, to mud and blood-stained clothing, characters drip with details realistically suited to their surroundings. And judging from the spectacular animations, the amount of cash Naughty Dog spent on motion-capture seems to be more than most titles' entire development budgets. Whether he's jumping, sliding, climbing, or even just casually ascending stairs, all Nate's movements pop to life with realistic physics and accurate weight shifts. Place these scary-real characters in beautifully realized environments, brimming with diversity,--you'll spy more than lush foliage, this time—and you've got a graphical powerhouse you're HD display will thank you for.
Uncharted 2's genre-defining solo campaign is an easy recommendation for anyone who enjoys having their adrenaline spike through the roof. But with their sequel, Naughty Dog has gone above and beyond, adding a surprisingly robust suite of co-op and competitive online options. As someone who's generally just in it for the single-player campaign, I expected my time in the multiplayer modes to be limited to what I needed to check out for this review. And honestly, I was pretty sure I'd ultimately be singing the solo game's praise, while suggesting the online content was merely a requisite, tacked on to add a back-of-the-box bullet point. To my shock, though, I've returned to these decidedly un-Uncharted modes again and again.
Not only are they full-featured challenges, complemented by the sort of games and character-building perks that keep Modern Warfare fans returning to the front lines, but they also manage to boost my confidence in the fiercely competitive online space. I'm guessing the “hardcore” guys haven't had the time to tear themselves from ODST's Firefight; either that, or they don't believe Uncharted 2 is capable of delivering an online experience to satisfy the itchiest of trigger fingers. Regardless, I find its online melees friendlier to the unseasoned shooter fan. Hell, I spent as much time scoring kills than I did face down in the dirt. If, like me, you usually drop out of multiplayer matches around the sixth or so time an out-of-nowhere sniper's bullet splits your skull, I recommend giving Uncharted 2's online play a fair shake.
Alongside Batman: Arkham Asylum, Naughty Dog's stellar sequel sits as the absolute best this year has to offer. Actually, that would be the case if it only offered the amazing solo adventure; toss in multiplayer that could teach the big guns a few tricks, though, and Nate just might give the Bat his toughest competition since the Joker. Regardless, Uncharted 2, despite a few nitpicks, is the best reason to own a PS3. In fact, if you've been on the fence about that particular hardware purchase and have been eyeing its slimmer design (and sleeker price tag), this one should be enough to push you over. Chasing fortune and glory has never been so much fun.