Review by KWang
"A few flaws keep an otherwise enjoyable experience from being an excellent game"
The name "Uncharted" has never been well-known in the video game industry. The developer of the Uncharted series, Naughty Dog, is only known for also creating Crash Bandicoot, Jak and Daxter, and... well, that's pretty much it. So when I bought this game, I really didn't know what I was getting myself into. All I knew was that it was some sort of a third-person shooter. In fact, it's much more. Along with being just another shooter on a console already rich in the genre, Uncharted 2 includes puzzle elements and one of the most intense adventures to be found on the PlayStation 3, all wrapped up in a nice little package. And being the sequel to Naughty Dog's successful original Uncharted: Drake's Fortune from 2007, a solid hype for the game made sure it would not just be another shooting game to pass under the radar as the holiday season for 2009 approached.
In Uncharted 2, players take on the role of the treasure hunter Nathan Drake, as he seeks hidden artifacts while single-handedly killing an entire private army, just like in the first game. Although the inclusion of available guns to use would technically classify this game as a shooting game, it should be considered part of the action-adventure genre before anything else. As players control Drake through a number of chapters, they must deal with climbing, jumping, hanging, falling, shooting, and more climbing. It almost feels like you're on an adventure yourself, playing as Indiana Jones or some other daring explorer. But the problem is that all these elements become predictable and repetitive when you realize that's all you'll ever do.
Gameplay is divided into a number of chapters, but the idea for each chapter is more or less the same, although some chapters are certainly more boring than others. But for the most part, they consist of making your way to the objective, which is told to you but not shown to you on a map, and killing any soldiers that try to kill you and get in your way. There are hundreds of these soldiers out there that want you dead, and they will employ some of the most dangerous firepower out there just to kill this one man and stop him from finding his treasure. These generic enemies mostly look the same, so it is really not clear whether they are clones or actually different people. Either way, most of these soldiers will die to Drake's hands before the conclusion of the game, and it really becomes hard to suspend your disbelief when you know that you're just playing as a guy who's just looking for treasure, but can kill hundreds of heavily-armed soldiers all by himself. All in all, the shootouts are still not as intense as the ones from Uncharted: Drake's Fortune.
To prevent this shooting from becoming stale, an innovation introduced to the combat is the cover system. Or, I shouldn't really say innovation, since the feature has been used before in numerous other games. Arguably, it isn't even implemented as well as in other titles including Gears of War. Since taking on dozens of enemies at a time would likely get you killed very quickly, you can take cover against or behind an object by pressing the Circle button. By doing so, you hide behind the nearest wall or other means of protection and are safe from bullets coming from the other direction. During this time, you can heal any damage taken by just waiting and not getting shot anymore. It is also possible to return fire from this position by just firing the equipped weapon without aiming it; this "blindfire" keeps you safe from enemy attacks, but is also so horribly inaccurate that it only ever finds use in desperate situations. Not only can the shooting become horribly inaccurate during cover, but the cover itself may not go the way you intended either. Drake will often cover behind the wrong objects or the wrong side of objects. A little fine-tuning here would have been welcome.
Complementing the cover system is the number of ways to perform melee combat. All these commands are executed by pressing the Square button. The player can push an enemy off a cliff, kill an enemy from behind stealthily and quietly, or simply punch him to death. The last option is the one that occurs most of the time, so when Drake and an enemy become involved in bare-handed fighting, mashing of the Square button is all that's necessary to win. To break up this monotony, occasionally a press of the Triangle button is needed along with Square, but this fails to keep button-mashing from being repetitive because these instances are predictably placed. Not only can you tell when you'll need to press Triangle, but you don't need to time the button presses either. No penalty is assessed for rapid button-mashing, so this becomes the norm.
In a round of hand-to-hand fighting, everything else in the world seems to stop for the two people. Drake may only fight one other person at a time like this. It must have been too hard to incorporate meleeing two other people, because button-mashing would not be able to discern one target from the other. While time freezes, Drake seems to be invulnerable to enemy fire, since the melee fighting is the only going on in the world at the time. For this reason, fighting bare-handed actually becomes a form of protection for the player. Imagine resorting to bare hands because it's the safest available weapon for the player. Such attacks are also surprisingly overpowered, because they oftentimes seem just as powerful, if not even more powerful, than bullets fired at the enemies. Only a series of punches is all you'll need to kill a person, and in fact it can sometimes be more efficient than shooting simply to charge head-on into a group of enemies firing at you, just so you can pick them off one by one using melee. The reason I emphasize the use of bare hands is that there are no weapons one can use for melee attacks. There are no improvised weapons, no knives or swords or anything of the sort.
Thankfully, the emphasis of this game is not placed on shooting alone. Often, to get from one objective to another, you will need to do climbing, and lots of it. Climbing is such an integral part of this game that it actually records how much time you spent climbing. The problem is that you simply spend too much time scaling these improbable walls. Drake will find any way to climb a wall that does not look possible to climb. Even more outrageous, he will often jump from one section to another, horizontally, vertically, even backward from one wall to the next, even more outlandishly than the wall jumping in Shadow of the Colossus. Despite all these adversities, he will never slip or let go when he has gotten a grip on something unless you make him let go. Falling will either kill Drake and make him restart from the last checkpoint, or it won't hurt him at all. There is no middle ground; Drake cannot simply take damage from falling. I realized that I was playing a video game, but was it really necessary to make the player character a superhuman who follows some rules of common sense but not others, when the game otherwise obviously adhered relatively well to the physics of real life?
The gameplay is not the only thing about this game that you will find fairly realistic. The visual presentation is also a sight to be beheld. Everything looks so detailed that it's hard to believe what you're seeing is only a video game. Environments, explosions, characters, and everything look well done. I'm not personally aware of any PlayStation 3 game with more impressive graphics than this game. And the graphics by themselves are not what succeed in making the visual presentation enjoyable. The cutscenes feel like part of an action movie, and the directing, save a few parts intentionally made cheesy, could not have been better. While astounding, the graphics are not perfect by any means. A few parts seem glitchy, like when you're jumping off a ledge from one to the next, you can actually press Jump slightly after Drake leaves the platform, so he'll jump from mid-air. Another nitpick is that one character, Elena, has hair that always looks wet and clumped together, like Rikku's from Final Fantasy X.
The sound in Uncharted 2 is almost equally well-composed. The main theme from the original Uncharted is recycled and played during the title screen for this game as well, but that's hardly a complaint since it's probably one of the better songs of the game. The other tracks don't really have much of a melody; they only exist to create a mood for the setting. There aren't that many of them in the first place, so while they may sound dramatic, the intensity is lost when they are heard over and over again in the same playthrough.
Though all the flaws listed so far have been relatively minor, the main factor that prevents this game from becoming an instant classic is that it is far too short. Admittedly not as short as the original Uncharted, but the adventure will nevertheless take up no more than 15 hours of your time. After that, there is not much to do other than start over and play the exact same game again. You cannot continue where you left off, so any single-player replay value for this game consists of re-experiencing those short few hours the game has to offer. To make up for this, there are 100 treasures scattered throughout the game for the player to find and collect. These treasures are hidden well, perhaps a bit too well. Most of these treasures are placed in such out-of-the-way locations that no ordinary person would think to look in those places without the aid of a walkthrough. So what was intended to add to replay value instead becomes looking up a guide to tell you the locations of these 100 treasures, so that they can be found in just a single playthrough.
Aside from the lack of replay value, a few general complaints make the game less enjoyable on subsequent playthroughs. You only get to be placed in the shoes of Nathan Drake, and you don't get to play through any other characters' stories. What happens while they're gone and you don't see them is a mystery best left explained by your own imagination. Aiming with guns is a little bit too easy, not because you can auto-aim, but because aiming is perhaps a tad too accurate. Single-handed weapons don't seem to have less range than two-handed rifles, and Drake has a perfectly steady hand that never shakes. A few puzzles involve going back and forth through a journal that Drake keeps handy, and it becomes annoying to switch between gameplay and viewing the journal to complete the puzzle. Making puzzles even more frustrating is the occasional falling to death while attempting to complete them through a poorly-placed jump. And honestly, the game feels too much like the first Uncharted. You could tell the same engine was used, and not much effort was spent on improving it.
For players who use Twitter, an option allows you to tweet your progress in the game. I cannot imagine why anybody would want to do it. Although I have not used the feature myself, I can only picture the game filling the page with a bunch of useless game-related updates. Other online features include a multi-player option, which is just the extension of the game as a third-person shooter, except in multi-player. This can be played online of course, but it's not as fun as the one found in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2. Plus, the online for Uncharted 2 has now been largely deserted in favor of Modern Warfare 2, so if it's an online shooting experience for the consoles that you're looking for, Modern Warfare 2 might be more up your alley.
Any PS3 owner who is a fan of action-adventure or shooting games would find some enjoyment out of this game. However, with its hefty price tag of $60, I would not recommend this for anyone not interested in the genre. The game certainly isn't below average, but it could have spent more time in development being polished for release. Unfortunately, it feels like a title that was rushed to the shelves for the holiday season of 2009. Hopefully, Uncharted 3 will fix these flaws and improve where Uncharted 2 really shone.
Reviewer's Score: 6/10 | Originally Posted: 03/29/10
Game Release: Uncharted 2: Among Thieves (US, 10/13/09)
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