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How Uncharted 2 got gameplay right (and how Uncharted 1 got it wrong)

Having recently gotten my hands on a PlayStation 3, I immediately sought out the much-trumpeted Uncharted 2: Among Thieves. I also procured a copy of Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune along with it so that I could get the full pulp-adventurer experience.

Uncharted 2 lived up to my expectations. I loved every bit of it. But I hated Drake's Fortune.

“What's the big difference?” you ask. “Both games are the same! You run, you jump, you shoot, and you solve puzzles!” On the whole, yes. But there are a few small differences between the two that warrant closer scrutiny — because they separate a good game from a great one.

 

Enemy Actions

When you shoot an enemy in Uncharted 2, they stop. They stagger. They recoil. They grasp their chest. Not only this is a fairly realistic depiction, but it gives players a split second to determine their next move when facing a group of foes.

The first Uncharted doesn't have this. Instead, enemies who've been struck but not killed immediately shoot you. Notice I didn't say they shoot at you. No, they hit their target with inhuman accuracy. I challenge anyone reading this to take an M4 bullet to the stomach, then fire with any sort of accuracy from a range of 30 meters.

This wouldn't be an issue if everyone had ridiculous amounts of health and basic, low-damage weapons But you have as much health as the enemies, and all weapons do significant amounts of damage. Other games can get away with this because they make an effort to be realistic, like ArmA, Delta Force, or even Call of Duty on higher difficulty settings. In Uncharted, everyone is a bullet sponge — which brings me to my second point.

Enemy Health

In games with a heavy focus on gunplay, how many bullets it takes to kill an enemy should be somewhat proportional to (a) the amount of enemies in an average fight and (b) the amount of ammo available to players. The problem with Uncharted 1 is that bad guys soak up too many bullets unless you have great aim and can pull off methodical headshots without trouble.

Point of fact: It takes eight bullets to kill a basic enemy with the AK-47 in the Uncharted: Drake's Fortune. Uncharted 2 drops that number to six. Combined with the more pronounced reactions to hits, enemies are much easier to face in large groups. You can now incapacitate multiple foes at once before delivering the killing blow. Other weapons in the game become more effective as a result, creating a more level playing field.

Derringer
This might as well be your weapon in Uncharted: Drake's Fortune.

Weapons

This is the most subjective aspect of my argument because I could not get any hard data for comparison between the two titles. But I'm sure that anyone who has played both games back to back noticed that the weapons in Uncharted 1 seem rather inaccurate, with a lot of recoil. I remember placing the annoyingly small reticle over an enemy’s head and watching the bullets hit the wall right beside his ear. 

Worse yet, the weapons in Drake’s Fortune kick around a lot as well. If your first shot hits the wall beside the enemy’s ear, you will have to aim all over again, lest you start blasting the wall above the enemy. I could not get consecutive headshots to quite literally save my life in Uncharted 1, and yet I could in Uncharted 2. The difference? A slight auto-aim that pulls bullets toward any part of an enemy caught within my crosshair.

Waves

Uncharted 1 also suffered from poorly timed "waves" of enemies. The game was filled with moments where players would walk into a room, take out the bad guys, then get shot because a second wave of enemies spawned from some random location.

Near the beginning of Chapter 6, for example, you come into a courtyard, battling two enemies on the ground and two on the ruins above. After dispatching them, you must traverse up the stairs behind you. Trouble is, a second wave of foes spawns in when you're three quarters of the way up the staircase. The only cover available is angled so that your flank is always open to an enemy.

I could not pass this section by going forward, no matter how fast I got my shots lined up. Instead, I had to go back down into the courtyard and use the cover there. While I am not adverse to this technique when it comes to exploiting the game’s AI or environment, it is counterintuitive when the goal is to simply progress forward. A shooter should generally not have to force a player to return to the previous area in order to combat enemies ahead of them.

These situations are limited in Uncharted 2, making for a more streamlined and expansive experience. Both games took me around nine hours to complete, but Uncharted 2 felt like it was much more of a sprawling epic — mainly because I wasn't forced to fight off waves of enemies in a single location. Uncharted 2 constantly keeps the player moving forward through longer and more varied levels.


And there you have it: Whether intentional or not, developer Naughty Dog fixed every single one of these issues for their sequel and created the perfect example of how small differences in gameplay can do wonders to turn a game from being merely good to a generation-defining masterpiece.


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