Game Reviews
Sweatin’ Like A Hooker In Church – Uncharted 2 Review

For those who are already familiar with Nathan Drake – his charm, his style, his ass — this game begins in the most dire of circumstances. The beloved hero has somehow, to everyone’s complete surprise, screwed up royally. You can surmise that much when you’re hanging over the side of a cliff in a tattered rail car. This segment alone managed to tickle me endlessly. Someone at Naughty Dog must really hate Drake. When you’re first given the task of getting back to solid ground your first reaction might be to await some epic cutscene. Unfortunately for Drake he needs your help. As impossible as the task seemed at the onset you will not believe how hair raising the journey will get towards its end. That statement sums up the entire game in a nutshell.

I know that there are scholars who have researched the boring aspects of archeology and world history and never found anything quite so fantastic as the basis of this game. That said I challenge them to close their mouths long enough to form a rebuttal against this game’s subject. Drake is now focused on the lost fleet of Marco Polo and the infamous Chintamani Stone. A relic world renowned mercenary and terrorist Zoran Lazarevic has his eyes and infinite number of goons set on.

The story in this game may take a few liberties but it is a very exciting ride. It never feels forced no matter what the characters seem set to do. Drake will find himself in a variety of environments on his quest, each one unique and explained believably. The main strength of the journey is those who accompany Drake. We’re introduced to new romantic interest Chloe who manages to mix sensuality with back stabbing and betrayal. Just when you think you have her figured out, she’ll surprise you. Sullivan and Elena return as well and provide back up for when Drake needs it most. The banter through out the game will become just as addicting as the gameplay.

This game is all about set pieces. In the first game a lot of the major story changes and obstacles were handled by unplayable cutscenes. This game features a minority of those. You will directly control Drake during most every action scene and even the ones you don’t will require your complete focus. I predict this will become a staple of other games as they easily enhance the gameplay beyond its own merit.

Not to say that the gameplay is weak. Everything mixes together quite nicely. Several improvements are made to the first game’s weakest areas. Gunplay is tightened and the kickback on automatic weapons creates a good dynamic between just holding down the trigger and timing your shots. Grenades are removed from a dedicated weapon slot and mapped to the R2 trigger. Cover is a bit improved from the first, and firing from a cliff face as well as other moves make for a savior in tough binds. Hand to hand combat is handled really creatively. You can counter an enemy’s attacks which avoid you from getting too beat up when things get tough. Don’t get crazy with that however. While it does look cool it leaves you open to get shot, particularly in the back.

The enemy variation is a touch you might not expect. You’ll become instantly aware of how much damage certain enemies can take at a point. From juggernauts draped in Kevlar from head to toe wielding shotguns, to faster moving light troops that want you dead more than you know, this game has a multitude of soldier types. For a game without aliens this is pretty rare. Whoops, I guess that might be a spoiler. No aliens. Take joy in knowing that while you may find some crystal carved skull it won’t summon a Spielbergian mothership.

A big complaint fans of the first and those skeptical on the sequel had was undeniably the platforming. In this it’s fair and balanced, the FOX news of tomb raiding. As much as you’re shooting you’re constantly traversing the game’s environments. Platforming is even more a part of the combat than the first. You can run and gun in some situations, but in others stealth will be a key portion of the game. This will have you leaping across balconies, snatching and dropping guards to the ground below as well as snapping their necks before their buddies realize what’s happened. This game is all about moving, and you never stop doing that. I was a bit put off at the idea of stealth in this game but it works beautifully. Think of the silent predator strategies you learned from Batman: Arkham Asylum and you’ll be fine.

The puzzles themselves are not very deep. Although they’re interesting they’re  also pretty obvious. However I didn’t necessarily say they weren’t fun. Like the set pieces, the traversal is made more exciting than you would think. When debris is crashing all around you and you’re close to falling to your doom, you’ll be surprised at how that menial and clear cut objective became a highlight of the game. The trickiest ones require memorization, and not even real memorization. You can either get it right, or open Drake’s journal to figure it out again. The Nepalese symbols do all look alike, so don’t feel too bad that you need to look back and forth to figure out patterns.

As I said before the banter in this game is exceptional. There is a lot of dialogue in this game and an hour and twelve minutes of cutscenes (note: I counted them up in the main menu, and it was late). The main villain Lazerevic is not too impressive however. You will become afraid of him, believe me on this, but he’s not all that special. There are some great scenes with portraying him as a hated guy, and as tough as his minions are at some stages they only allude to your inevitable encounter with the big dog. The main issue with Zoran as a villain is just that he seems like the hired muscle. We’ve seen mercs as the middle men in games/movies for years, so basing your main villain as one, no matter how big a douche he is just doesn’t set right. A small oversight for otherwise wonderfully crafted characters. You really see the motivations of Drake and his friends as well as learn something about each of them by the time the game ends. As much as Grand Theft Auto IV prided itself on having good story-telling, this game trounces it convincingly. Not to mention the performances by everyone. There’s no character that seems out of place in this game making the entire world, as crazy as it may be completely believable. A class act by the cast as well as the animators.

Just taking a look at these screens you can tell this game looks amazing. Best looking console game by far. There’s a portion where you are traveling across the battered rooftops of Nepal and the splendor of the lighting hits on all fronts. The graphics aren’t realistic, but they’re not overly cartoony either. It’s a very unique look that matches everything well in a visual style all to its own. Then there are those segments of rock face or ruin that just make you ask how the hell they could make it look that good. Naughty Dog has been known to share its development tools with first and second party developers, and with technology like this in play it just begs the question of how good they can get games to look.

For the duration of the ride I was completely soaking in the experience. I was agreeing with every positive review I read, and Adam Sessler was being undeniably right for once. But then I hit the wall. Readers, when you finally reach the City of “You’re Going To Crap Yourself When You See It,” pick up every Crossbow you find. They’ll make your journey a lot easier. But it’s a shame that the game tries so hard to break itself at the end of the journey. I guess Naughty Dog felt the need to make the last hour or so incredibly difficult to prolong the climax. While it only takes a few tries to overcome the sequences, you will fail in the most frustratingly annoying ways that will defeat you temporarily. If they’d just maintained the same enemy balance as they had throughout the game this could have been avoided.

I may be in the majority here, but I was shocked when my clear time clocked in at around 10hrs. That was only a mere 2hrs more than it took me to blow through the first game, but the substance of the game made it feel far longer for me. There’s a difference between a solid experience that you enjoy thoroughly and one you just breeze through. This is easily a solid singelplayer experience that makes many games look less fulfilling regardless of length. On the plus side there’s a lot of incentive to keep playing. You’ll unlock character skins, weapons and cheats, modes and rendering styles. It really does lend itself to that time in gaming where developers used to throw in bonus stuff that they fooled around with while they were bored. Playing the game over again with Donut Drake is a must do. Not only does his appearance change but his voice does as well. You can tell the developers knew what they were doing with some weight sensitive dialogue in certain spots. Also if you’re anal about replays and how they’re never unique the second time, you can enhance this with Mirror World. It flips the game from right to left. You’ll really be surprised how that messes with your memory. It makes a lot of areas feel new.

That said, you always have a sense of urgency throughout the game. A lot of times in the progression of games I find myself second guessing the choices of the cast. Why is the enemy doing this, why am I doing this. You don’t really feel that way throughout this game. You really feel like Drake knows what he’s doing, even when he doesn’t. No matter how incredibly crazy his obstacles are and how he chooses to face them, you’re willing to go with him every step of the way. That’s a rare attachment that you get to a video game character. One that translates into a resoundingly well crafted experience. It keeps you on your toes, keeps you centered around the main character, and makes you laugh in the end when you somehow got out of that awful mess. You feel complete at the end of the game. No cheap sequel setups, just a great ride that was immersive from start to finish. Although Drake’s body count is high enough to keep him in the ranks of Rambo and he gets out of more bad situations than John McClane, he still feels like a regular guy.

This game has some generation defining moments. It redefines how a game has to engage its players. You’ll have to judge for yourself if it’s the best game ever. It’s an amazing experience that has more great moments in a single level than most games do in their entire experience, but that’s totally dependent on the gameplay clicking in the first place. I can say from everything I’ve gotten out of this that Uncharted 2 is the best game I’ve played on the Playstation 3, maybe even this generation. Naughty Dog put a lot of polish into this game to make sure it was better than the first, and it shows. As much as I liked the first game, this is better in all the right ways.  I had a few front runners for my GOTY pick, but this game would have to win in my book. If you have a Playstation 3 and do not check this game out then you’re doing a great disservice to yourself, not me.

Oh, and before we end, check Drake’s journal. You’ll find a few treats inside that will reveal the secret origins of Victor Sullivan, the one responsible for that awesome quote in the review title. Yes, he is a dirty old man.