Every so often a game hits shelves that captivates and entrances the audience from start to finish. Uncharted hit shelves two years ago with audiences expecting a good game, but a getting more than they bargained for – a great game. Usually games that accomplish such levels of acclaim have disappointing sequels, and the sequels that don’t disappoint overall disappoint in a few areas that were expected to please. This is what makes Uncharted 2 a near perfect game.
The game begins with a dramatic opening backed by another round of silver screen quality score where players must immediately pull themselves from danger, giving players the dose of adrenalin they’ve waited for these past two years. The main character Nathan Drake finds himself in a dangling train car bleeding from the abdomen, as it’s slowly edging off a cliff on the side a snow covered mountain. As players maneuver Drake to relative safety the audience is given a series of flashbacks revealing how Drake came to be in his current situation. It all started several months earlier when he was approached by an ex-lover and a fellow treasure hunter in search of Kublai Khan’s Lost Fleet, a fleet of ships lead by Marco Polo. Of course no solid adventure story is complete without betrayal and unfortunate events, but spoiling the entire plot is something readers will have to seek elsewhere.
On the graphical side of the game, the first thing players will notice is effective use of depth of field. Objects in the distance and in immediate proximity of the camera are slightly blurred out while focus is kept on Nathan or what it is he’s looking at. This adds a sense of visual depth and tangible space, and Naughty Dog pulled this off very effectively. The lighting in the game is done in a more realistic fashion as well though the use of screen space ambient occlusion, a technique used only in a couple of games to date with the most notable being Crysis. In short, this technique adds to the realism of a 3D object by controlling how light reflects not only from the surface, but from the texture as well – diffusion and refraction also get represented more realistically. Dark or poorly lit areas conceal obstacles and items more effectively (though collectible treasures still shimmer and glint in a tell tale manner) while areas saturated with light give ambient glows and reflect light to other surfaces. About the only thing that could be seen as a negative in the graphics are the eyes. Eyes in the game look a tad glassy, reflecting too intensely off the surface to be taken as anything other than glass marbles fitted into a socket. The eyes are easily overlooked however, when the entire character animations are taken in as a whole. From winces in pain to full on belly laughs, animators carefully captured things like eye direction and squint, the pulling of muscled around the eyes, mouth and nose to the shudders of the shoulders and bending of the knees – and on that note the glassy eyes become something to whine about.
The musical score is something to behold as well. Previously the score was ‘normalized’ compared to this. By that, the volume didn’t change with the events – there were no loud waves of intensity to go along with the action and while the score in Uncharted fit well with the events taking place, Uncharted 2 is backed by a score that drives the emotion behind the actions and events taking place and never get’s drowned completely out by the sound of gun fire or explosions. What’s more is that there’s never truly a moment of silence – either there’s a soft lull of waves or wind, birds chirping or fluttering as they take flight, sticks crunching underfoot or idle chatter of someone in the distance. The sound environment is definitely conducive to the actions.
The meat of the game - what makes the game enjoyable goes beyond the story, how it looks and sounds, or even how it makes the player feel or feels to the player. A game can go from great to horrid by simply having poor execution, awkward controls, or limited actions. Uncharted 2 retained every bit of the control and menu interface so those familiar with the pace and control of Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune should be able to pick up Uncharted 2: Among Thieves without having to relearn the game. Added to the already practical game play is the ability to sneak attack – catching a foe off guard and knocking them out and thus allowing Drake to remain relatively hidden. There seems to be more enemies in an area at any given time so being stealthy becomes practical by nature. Of course, players aren’t restricted from opening fire and taking cover as a wave of enemies rush to kill them – some people prefer the run and gun, no guts no glory style of play while others enjoy being a respective ‘ninja’ about it. Still, stealthily dealing with enemies is a welcome practical addition to the game play and it definitely adds to the feel of the game in a positive manner. It is defiantly refreshing to see that developers didn’t implement a new facet of goal oriented game play and then force players to use it exclusively through the entire game.
The multiplayer aspect of Uncharted 2 is something many players have been all a buzz. It offers players the opportunity to play with or against one another. If players choose to play with one another, they’re offered one of three main “good” characters while playing against one another players can choose any of the available character from the game. To add to this, players earn skins, weapons, and various ‘boost’ abilities that can help them gain an edge. People who pre-ordered the game were given an unlock code for the ‘revenge’ boost which… drops a live grenade when you die. As an aside, some players may find that a ‘cheap move’ and the word on the street is that it gives players who pre-ordered an unfair advantage in a multiplayer setting, but let’s face it – the only fair fight is the fight you win, right? Well then, FIRE IN THE HOLE!
Perhaps the coolest part of the newly added multiplayer feature of Uncharted 2 is the ‘Chain Reaction’ setting. Chain Reaction is more or less ‘capture the flag’, but the flags must be captured in a certain order. This removes the frenzy of swarming a number of flags at once and calls into play an ‘order of battle’. Players have to use a bit of strategy outside of sheer numbers or simply being well practiced at perching and pistol packing. Sure, players can still swarm a flag at a time or send teams out to wait at other flags, but there’s still a strategic mix up that needs to happen – it’s not the “same ol’ same ol’” here.
Also, there’s an Elimination mode where players once killed, do not respawn making “revenge” more like it’s name rather than a cheap parlor trick used by players wanting to martyr themselves for a team time advantage (i.e. sending in a player with the revenge attribute to die and hopefully take with them a handful of opponents thus removing defenses around the goal just long enough for another player or players to accomplish the goal prior to the martyr respawning starting the cycle anew). Elimination also applies pressure to the players who excel at removing opponents easily because those players now become targets of interest and find themselves the target of many whereas the usual ‘easy pickings’ can be left for later.
In closing, this game is near perfect and taken into context of what most games on the PS3 offer and titles released just before or to be released just after it’s easy to see and understand way so many critics give this game a rating of ‘perfect’. The execution, ambience, storytelling, and added multiplayer are just as good is not better than the original. This game along with its predecessor should proudly sit on the every gamers “wall of totally effing awesome games”, even if to just collect dust after the first run through. If it doesn’t it needs to… that or people just need to hang their head in respective shame.