Review by Zaccone

"Great Graphics Do Not a Good Game Make"

Well, judging from the near universal acclaim Uncharted 2 has received, it appears I'm absolutely in the minority with that 6/10 score. Nevertheless, I feel Naughty Dog has come up astoundingly short with Uncharted 2, an experience that begins with a bang but ultimately borders on the interminably difficult and becomes rather repetitive as the experience wears on.

First, the unequivocally excellent technical presentation:
Uncharted 2 looks great. From the environments and character models, down to the camera angles, Uncharted 2 is clearly gunning for a truly cinematic vibe and really nails it. Animations are effective, particularly on Drake and his cohorts. You will, unfortunately, fight a billion copies of the same old enemies, which is disappointing, and the game does tend to overuse the same snowy textures toward the end. That said, from a purely technical standpoint, Uncharted 2 absolutely delivers, and is certainly a showpiece game for the PS3. On the same note, voice acting is also very well done for all of the principal cast members, particularly the always reliable Nolan North and Claudia Black.

Plot wise, Uncharted 2 moves like a straight to video entry in the National Treasure franchise. Certainly sufficient to move the action along, but this isn't anything we haven't seen before, and plot pacing and progression still aren't on par with Nic Cage's two adventure films, let alone the Indiana Jones flicks. As with the first game, the plot does border on the absurd as you progress further into the game, but it's all sufficiently light hearted as to not detract from the experience. In short, this is Transformers 2 in game form -- pretty people, myriad locales, a few wacky plot points, and lots of explosions, with just enough exposition to (mostly) string it all together. That said, with your brain off even the Transformers flicks can be sufficiently entertaining, and compared to most action adventure games, Uncharted 2 offers up a bit more character and motivation. Compared to it's gaming brethren, an above average effort, but the acclaim it has received simply reveals how far this medium has to go.

Now, to the gameplay. While Uncharted 2 starts off with a relative bang, throwing you into the midpoint of the journey and then working up through flashbacks, the game is unable to maintain this momentum, and soon begins to boil down to one tedious room of bad guys or jumping posts after another. You see, Uncharted 2 features two rather distinct mechanics -- you climb and jump, or you shoot things. And that's basically it. Further, unlike in Assassin's Creed 2, these two features aren't terribly well combined -- rarely will you use the environmental mechanics in combat sections of the game. The stealth kills are also poorly implemented, and the sheer number of enemies you'll face later in the game render your melee moves nearly useless -- disappointing as the fight animations are rather good.

Furthermore, there's no progression in terms of combat or platforming, you'll largely be using the exact same moves, and fighting carbon copies of the exact same enemies ad nauseum. Sure, you'll trade out jungles for buildings and snow, but it all plays the same.

The game also is utterly unafraid to thrust you into frustrating set piece after set piece. Enemies will routinely require several rounds in the head to go down -- don't even bother aiming for their bodies unless you want to waste a whole clip. You, on the other hand, will go down with just a few bullets, rendering most combat areas into repetitive wars of attrition, with you simply popping up from cover to pepper your enemies with bullets over and over again. The few times you are forced to run and gun, don't bother to aim, simply splaying bullets toward your enemies seems just as effective -- with Nate's health seemingly modified based on the segment.

There really isn't anything here you haven't done before. What few unique and intriguing set pieces the game does offer up are often mired by repeated deaths, dragging things out unnecessarily. The game is often at odds with itself, focusing so much on a cinematic experience, yet forcing the player to repeatedly play out these sequences, destroying whatever momentum the game might have possessed. Imagine needing to repeatedly rewind and rewatch parts of a film a dozen times before the projectionist allows you to see the next reel -- this is what the latter half of Uncharted 2 feels like.

Ultimately, Uncharted 2 is an example of exactly what's wrong with the medium. Slick gloss and high production values wrapped around largely uncompelling gameplay mechanics. It is the gaming equivalent of a Micheal Bay flick -- though it's uneven difficulty prevents it from achieving even that level of mindless success. Hopefully, with an inevitable Uncharted 2, Naughty Dog can put a bit of substance behind the gloss, and deliver a game that truly moves the medium forward.


Reviewer's Score: 6/10 | Originally Posted: 03/08/10

Game Release: Uncharted 2: Among Thieves (US, 10/13/09)


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