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Uncharted 2 Is Off The Charts
By: Jonathan Tuala | Game Data | 2:20pm, December 6, 2009

Every summer, a couple of movies stand out as the “blockbuster events” of the season.  Rumors circulate of their over-inflated budgets, high-profile celebrities and abundance of explosions.  In recent years, the hype hasn't necessarily translated to a quality movie: Transformers 2 was (in my oh-so-humble opinion) one of the worst, overly hyped movies of the last decade.  In the world of video games, however, you can believe the hype – Uncharted 2: Among Thieves is just about as close to a summer blockbuster equivalent in video games as everybody would like you to believe.

You play Nathan Drake, treasure hunter extraordinaire, as he is recruited by some of his colleagues to discover the fate of Marco Polo's 1292 voyage to China.  As noted in the absence of the word “honor” in the game's subtitle, Nate is soon double-crossed and is trailed by a Russian warlord who is bent on obtaining Polo's riches for himself.

Naughty Dog struck a home run with their first incarnation of Uncharted, a game with dazzling graphics, gripping storyline, great mechanics and believable, three-dimensional characters.  They certainly didn't need to fix what wasn't broken, and Uncharted 2 continues what they did best.  The graphics pop from the screen, details and textures simmering from every surface.  It's almost become cliched now, but there were indeed several times I had to tear my eyes away from the scenery to concentrate on the gameplay.  The sheer amount of colors present in a ruined city of Nepal is truly a sight to behold.

This quality extends to animations and cut-scenes.  The movies in Uncharted 2 flow so naturally and cinematically that you don't notice how good it is until it's missing.  After playing Uncharted 2, I played Dragon Age and was completely flustered at the latter's comparative lack of cinematography.  The bonus movies included on the disc explain how the production team simultaneously captured voice and motion to create a complete performance.  As a result, there is never a rift between a character's voice and his or her physical presence onscreen.  I would be remiss if I didn't mention that the voice of Nathan, Nolan North, is a revelation; you believe every single grunt, sigh, and whisper.  These cut-scenes should be the template against which all others should be compared.

Nathan Drake and the rest of the cast are all strong, well-defined characters.  Nathan himself is immensely likable.  His quirky and irreverent quips in the face of insurmountable odds were some of the highlights of the first Uncharted, and he hasn't changed much since then.  In sticky situations, you'll often find Nate echoing your thoughts, as in “How the heck am I gonna out of this mess?”.  Chloe Frazier, the jaded thief with questionable loyalties and Nate's partner in crime, is the perfect foil to good girl journalist Elena Fisher, who returns alongside Nate's old friend Sully from Uncharted 1.  The Russian mastermind Lazarevic is nothing particularly unique for a villain, but with the strength of the rest of the cast, he doesn't have to be.

But what happens when you finally pick up the controller and actually play the game?  The platforming mechanic of the original Uncharted is carried over, with a few new tweaks.  Thankfully, gone are the gimmicky Sixaxis controls of throwing a grenade and balancing over logs.  In its place, you can now throw grenades using the shoulder buttons and the left analog stick.  Also, if Nate is hanging on a ledge and an enemy is right above him, you can throw the enemy off the ledge with a quick button press.  This is very useful in the game's occasional stealth sequence.  Unfortunately, there were a few times – as in the original – when the direction of the next objective is not quite clear.  I fell to an untimely two or three times because I couldn't see where the next ledge was.  But out of the dozens of incredible jumps Nate has to perform throughout the course of the game, I would say those unclear ones are few and far between.

The storyline is your typical popcorn movie material but punctuated with some of the most exciting action sequences in a video game to date.  In the opening stage, Nathan is literally hanging on for dear life, as he finds himself in a train car dangling by a thread off the edge of a cliff.  Nate also gets to exercise his inner Prince of Persia, as he scrambles over rotten timbers hundreds of feet above the ground.  The adrenaline rarely lets up, as the player is constantly put into pistol fights with helicopters or is running away from superhuman yeti-like creatures.  It's worth the $60 just to see what it's like to be inside a building as it tips over. 

Single player is a rewarding experience with its incredible action sequences and well-paced storyline, but the developers also included several strong multiplayer modes, as well, both competitive and cooperative.  Competitive modes involve the requisite deathmatch, elimination, and capture-the-flag modes, as well as “Chain Reaction,” reminiscent of the Onslaught mode of Unreal Tournament.  The leveling system includes Boost abilities like those of Call of Duty, and the matchmaking system –  more often than not – ensures balanced combat.  This reviewer, unfortunately, is pretty awful at multiplayer, so Naughty Dog has graciously given players like me a recording system that automatically records each match.  You can then go back and study opposing team tactics, correct mistakes, or relive particularly thrilling victories.  Players can even upload and share these recordings with friends.

It's almost a shame that such rabid fanboy-ism has sprung up between fans of the PS3 and the 360, because Microsoft loyalists are missing out on a game that has truly pushed the bar to an incredible height in every respect.  I don't say that out of malice in any form, but more in the spirit of encouraging gaming unity across platforms.  Games as good as Uncharted 2 are rare, and need to be supported so that games can be seen as a viable entertainment venue in everybody's eyes, not just a certain subset of consumers.  Uncharted 2 is a well-deserved triumph that truly blurs the boundaries between interactive and non-interactive cinema, and should be experienced by as many as possible.  Go find a copy.

9.8 Gameplay 999 9
Visuals 101010 10
Audio 101010 10
Value 101010 10
Intangibles 101010 10
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