Uncharted 2

I better post this before I disappear into the world of Minecraft again. Sorry, did a pretty shoddy proofing reading and editing job, even for me. I was looking for a new console game to fix on a few weeks back and ended up purchasing Uncharted 2. TL;DR, it’s really fun, go buy/rent it. I really didn’t know what to expect from this game, it was a title that I have heard of multiple times, heard that it was fantastic, but just blew off because of a time constraint or general lack of interest. More specifically, at the time it seemed like a generic action game, in that it didn’t fill one of my fantasy/sci-fi weakness niches so I passed on it.

In some sense, it is a generic action game: Nathan Drake, from a design standpoint is such a normal character. He’s un-noteworthy to a point: He doesn’t have an eye-patch, a mechanical arm or super powers. There’s not a whole lot that stands out about him on a surface perspective, which is what I think makes him a great character. There’s no gimmick or “miracle.”  Nathan Drake and the cast of Uncharted 2 are believable characters to the extent that I think players get the feeling that if they were a little more athletic and well studied, they too could climb walls and partake in wonderful adventures. It creates a connection rarely seen in a game nowadays.

Uncharted 2 is cinematic. It plays out like an interactive movie, which in game speak translates to a well paced plot-based linear title. The action scenes are artfully scripted, the dialogue is well placed and well written, and the cutscenes are plentiful, but well done and don’t overstay their welcome. In fact, many could have been cutscenes were replaced by (for lack of a better term) playable scenes.

Uncharted 2’s gameplay is pretty standard fair in terms of action games. Much of the gameplay reminds me of Assassin’s Creed in the, climbing around and jumping on things sense (but without the sandbox element). The free running and climbing is very fluid if not a bit obvious, since much of it consists of searching for conspicuous bricks and ledges sticking out from walls, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In fact, it feels very very similar control wise, so having played Assassin’s Creed not so long ago, there wasn’t really a learning curve which is nice (because apparently, my game attention span has shrunk).

The camera angles are very deliberate; it’s like a movie and its director: We are supposed to experience certain scenes from a certain angle. It works well for the story and the game’s atmosphere at a small sacrifice to gameplay (in my opinion at least). Any time a game takes control of the camera, console games especially, awkward control situations are created. For example: At one point a truck is chasing you. the camera pans around to a full frontal shot so that Drake is running towards you with the truck speeding after him in the background. You are supposed to run and gun, but which way do you  hold the stick? Are the controls reversed because the camera is reversed? The point of reference tends to change with some frequency and that just feels really really odd to me as a primary PC gamer. It’s not that big of a deal, but camera antics are a personal pet peeve.

The combat felt a little weak for an action title. Aiming and targetting is a little cludgy and the cover system doesn’t feel as natural as it should. Much of the ranged combat also felt somewhat off. I mean, in what magical land, real life, gaming or otherwise are headshots not insta-kills? Did they just not register or do they really take two or three headshots to go down. Awkward. Uncharted 2 also suffers from Obvious Level Design Syndrome, though to a pretty minor extent: You walk into a large round room with boxes and other low cover walls strewn about. There are two doors off on the opposite side. What are the odds that a swarm of enemies are about to rush?

Even so, the combat system is fun and doesn’t feel like a chore. You have the option of sneaking up and stealth killing an enemy, going balls out and rushing, taking a cautious ranged approach or any number of strategies. There are a surprising number of combat options depending on both level and weapons available. One method might work well for one particular scene whereas poorly in another.

I, being a primary PC gamer am usually poo-poo about console graphics, but I was legitimately impressed with Uncharted 2, specifically its color palette. This game is notably color. As in, a game that actually achieves a realistic graphical design (as opposed to cartoony or abstract) while using colors extended beyond shades of brown and browner. Amidst, drably designed “modern” games, Uncharted 2 is a shining jewel. Seriously, it’s vibrant.

Uncharted is a visual treat. The environment is lush, detailed and quite varied; Ranging from jungles, to temples, to snowy mountains. The shadowing is gorgeous and the visual design is pleasing. There were a couple occasions in which I hit an invisible wall, but not many. The game boundaries and level flow are presented naturally enough not to notice. Nothing breaks immersion more than a game element sticking out like a sore thumb. Speaking of which, instead of having a giant bar across the screen, color is also used to indicate Drake’s health level. As he takes dangerous amounts of damage, the game’s color saturation will fade, when you are about to die it’s black and white.

Uncharted 2 isn’t the most original game. It’s one part Indiana Jones and one part Tomb Raider, mashed together in cinematic video game form. It also doesn’t excel in any particular area (though as mentioned before, the graphics are very impressive). What it does provide though, are a variety of experiences neatly tied together in a package that has been polished to a mirror shine. It’s the kind of game that will make you wonder why other similar games aren’t as fun and polished. Well worth buying.

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