Update: I was unfortunately not aware of Shamus Young's severe criticism of Fallout 3 available here to link in the original piece and I regret that. It dovetails rather nicely with what I've written and it's much better executed than my piece. I strongly recommend anyone...
Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune is one of the PS3 exclusives which still stands out as a phenomenal game. The graphics, story, locales, gameplay and sheer wit of the characters made it a joy to play. The game came from Naughty Dog, the developers best known for the Crash Bandicoot series, and although Uncharted was a huge departure from Crash’s cutesy approaches it still made a huge impact on the gaming community thanks to its quality.
So, two years after the original Uncharted took its place in our disk drives we get chance to play its sequel and boy, what a sequel. I haven’t even got to the much lauded snow levels yet and I am thoroughly blown away.
The sequel opens with Drake unconscious on a crashed train hanging over a cliff. I’d like to say now that when I said I hadn’t reached the snow levels I was, strictly speaking, telling the truth; what I didn’t mention was that the game opens on a snow level but as it’s the tutorial level I didn’t count it. The tutorial is masterfully executed, it introduces gameplay elements, explains how to control Drake, shows off the beautiful snow and other graphics and gives a taste of the cinematic gameplay you’ll be experiencing throughout the game. Not only that but it shows you where Drake will be after the first few levels as the tutorial actually takes place a little into the adventure.
Gameplay is as smooth as in the original but has been improved. The cover system works nicely although sometimes Drake goes somewhere unintended. This is a minor problem and has happened only a couple of times to me. Shooting isn’t too easy but isn’t too hard either, running and gunning is suitably inaccurate while precise aim works well. Drake is certainly an agile fellow and easily navigates the levels by running, jumping and climbing wherever he needs.
A wonderful element of the gameplay in this game is the inclusion of cinematography. I won’t give anything away because my god it’s worth experiencing with fresh eyes but Uncharted 2 feels like an interactive film in the best possible way. Cutscenes are non-invasive and only add to the experience, set pieces are rarely anticipated and always awesome; my breath has been taken away on numerous occasions.
The graphics in the original game were impressive but Naughty Dog have really outdone themselves this time. The developers have gone on record by saying that theirs is the prettiest snow in a game and until I’d actually played the game I scoffed. Not because I didn’t believe them, certainly Naughty had set an impressive graphical precedent with the first Uncharted. I scoffed because boasting about snow is like boasting about how many socks you own: sure it may be true, but what does it matter? Well, I am willing to eat humble pie now because the snow in Uncharted 2 truly is astonishing. It kicks up, leaves a trail and is otherwise sublime. Not only is the snow beautiful, the rest of the game is. Character models are detailed and realistic, Nate’s skin is subtly pockmarked, loose items jangle and light plays off them realistically. Speaking of light, I have recently finished a puzzle that involved Naughty Dog showing off. Without spoiling anything, the puzzle was essentially to do with manipulating light with mirrors but the physics of light throughout the game are so well executed it’s hard to accept that this particular puzzle wasn’t inserted simply for Naughty Dog to brag about how good they are; not only at depicting light but at crafting cool puzzles.
Away from the visuals we have the sound. I am not what you could call an ‘audiophile’. I enjoy music and so on but don’t insist on the top of the line speakers. As a matter of fact I’m using the built in speakers of my TV at the moment and have only once owned a 5.1 system. Anyway, better back to the point: Uncharted 2’s whizzes, bangs and general atmosphere setting noise; the way the music escalates to a cacophonous racket at appropriate moments and settles back to atmospheric quiet in the interludes has set me on a search for a set of decent, affordable speakers to which to hook my TV.
Thankfully the wit and camaraderie are back from the original with Drake playfully goading Sully and flirting with the women. Basically he is a Jack the lad and it is wonderful to watch his interactions and marvel at how a glorified thief can be so likeable.
Because Drake is likeable; despite his obvious flaws and dubious motives he is a great character. You want him to succeed and not just because the villain of the piece is so much worse but because he is the sort of person you kind of want to find his fortune. More important than that though is the fact that he takes you on an astonishing adventure which gives exciting set pieces, beautiful graphics and a Hollywood-like experience from start to finish.