Review by Mad_Ogre
"An epic game with some minor flaws and room for improvement"
If you've read my review of the first game, then you'll know I wasn't a big fan of the game. I can tell you right now, though, that this game was quite an improvement over the first game, and was much more enjoyable to play. It has been difficult to put my finger on exactly why this is, but I will attempt to do so now.
So the gameplay is much the same as in Drake's Fortune, except this time around the pacing is far better, and there is much more variety. Somehow up till the final two or three chapters of the game it doesn't seem like all you're doing is shooting and climbing around... even though you are. This might be because the levels are so much more well designed and so much more fun to navigate, and there is never a dull moment. It is far less repetitive than Drake's Fortune as they have a lot more variety now in terms of enemies and tactics - for example you will find riot shields around the place that you can use as portable cover, and there are gas cylinders you can throw about and shoot for an epic explosion.
So, now, instead of just shooting your way mindlessly through waves and waves of the same goons, you'll also have to evade and shoot down helicopters, there is an epic train level which was one of the coolest gaming experiences I've had in a while, epic car chases and being chased through a village by a tank. From beginning to end this game is packed with awesomeness and is a top level cinematic experience.
As for the climbing (platforming) sections, they are a lot less dull than in Drake's Fortune for a few reasons. One is that they are paced a lot better, and another is that now Nathan Drake is even luckier than he ever was before. Nathan Drake is literally the luckiest video game character ever created - in almost every platforming section he could (and should) die at least twice over, and yet every time he survives by the luck of the jam. By the end of the game I felt sorry, in a strange way, for his enemies, because with that much luck on his side he is actually unstoppable.
Another element they added to the game is stealth sections. The stealth sections in the game provided an excellent break from the action. The problem is that they are pretty weak, to be polite. We're talking really basic and outdated stealth mechanics, like if one person so much as sees you then every single enemy that is currently spawned in the game knows precisely where you are. I mean, Metal Gear Solid 2 was more advanced than this almost a decade ago. They really could have done far better than this.
There are also still a few niggles which have been recycled from the first game. One is that you cannot crouch unless you're covering against a wall. Not being able to manually crouch in a shooter game is pretty unforgivable, there were several points in the game where I really wished I could just crouch. In my review of the first game I talked about the enemies outflanking you, and I have to say that this is still a problem in Uncharted 2, though not as much of a problem. There were one or two instances in the game where I found that the environment allowed the AI to flank me and leave me in a hopeless position, and I'd be immediately saved by the game once I died, which would start me off in a better, or more advanced position, which would allow me not to be instapwned. Still, this felt cheap because I knew I was being dug out of a bad situation by the game, rather than being left to dig myself out. I talked, in my other review, about how the game forced you to use cheap tactics in Drake's Fortune, well I suppose now instead of making you use cheap tactics the game just coddles you a bit in these situations.
The game appears to be a bit more liberal with ammunition than the previous installment, I rarely found myself crying out for more ammo during a firefight. The enemies still take a bit too many bullets sometimes for my liking, but this wasn't as big a problem as it was in the first game because of several other accompanying issues which have either been diluted or resolved completely. I'd really like to see more effort put into the puzzles, though. In my opinion they fixed the shooting sections and the platforming sections, but they entirely left the puzzle sections hanging out to dry. I may be in the minority who say this, but I would really like to see some puzzles which make you think and use some logic to work them out, instead of just 'okay so I'm aware that something has to be done here, so let me just consult this little book that Drake carries around with him (and magically updates during his off-screen time, which is about 25 seconds in the entire game) which will tell me exactly what to do now.' Bottom line: make some actual puzzles!!!
To summarise: there is never a dull moment in this game, and the pacing is almost perfect, the stealth sections are forgettable, and there are still some (albeit diluted) problems which have not been properly addressed from the first game. A great game.
The graphics are stunning. Simple as that. There's just no argument about this. There is also a lot more variety in level design in this game than before, there is less jungle and more city, and more snowy Tibetan foothills. There's precious little not to like about the games graphics and areas.
I found myself far more interested in what was going on in the story, even though the basics of the main plot are dangerously similar to that of the first game, there are a few more aspects to it this time: betrayal, love etc. The story is definitely better this time around. You start off badly wounded, right at the bottom of a train that is about to fall off the edge of a mountain - how did you get here? What happened? You climb out of the train, hardly able to move because of your injuries, and you barely make it out before the train falls off the edge of the mountain, everything you climb on breaks away at your fingertips, this is a close call. Once out, you fall unconscious in the bitter cold, and have some flashbacks which begin to explain what happened. You awake and advance a little further, and find a dagger in the snow, you sit down again and enter a flashback which will take you through everything that has happened up to this moment, and will explain everything. There's only one word to describe it: epic.
I found the music to be fairly typical of the genre, nothing here that I would consider putting on my ipod or anything like that, but it adds to the atmosphere, sure enough. One gripe with the sound is that, in game, if you look away from a character you will not be able to hear what he/she is saying. This might not apply if you have surround sound or something, but on my television the subtitles will show up that one of the characters is saying something and you just can't hear it. So, you can either play the whole game making sure you're constantly looking at all the characters you're with, or you can have subtitles on and just read it. The real unforgivable thing is that this even happens in the cutscenes, which is just totally unacceptable. Who thought it would be 'realistic' to not be able to hear anything thats behind you? The last time I checked I was able to hear things in any direction. I've heard (or not heard) this happening in other games recently, as well.
The final word is that this game is definitely worth playing - it is epic from beginning to end. I thought the final boss battle was a bit disappointing compared to the final boss of the first game, but meh, that is the only thing the first game did better. There are some niggling things but they are much improved over the first game, in fact I doubt I would've spotted some of them if I hadn't played the first game. I really would like to see some real puzzles in these games but I guess the developer has a low opinion of how intelligent and impatient its fanbase is.
Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 08/03/10
Game Release: Uncharted 2: Among Thieves (EU, 10/16/09)
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