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A Late Review of Uncharted 2: Indiana Jones Directed by Michael Bay

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For the sake of full disclosure, I'm going to begin by admitting that not only have I not played Uncharted: Drake's Fortune, but the series as a whole never really appealed to me. It just didn't look like my kind of game. But when a friend of mine found this out he forced his copy of Uncharted 2: Among Thieves into my hands in hopes of showing me what evidently the rest of the gaming world considers one of the best games ever. Ten minutes in and I was pretty sure this was Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom directed by Michael Bay. Several hours later and I was sure of it. Here's why that didn't work for me. Beware of spoilers, though I sense I'm the only PS3 owner on Earth who hasn't played this one.

Now I've heard this game lauded for it's excellent story, and while it's certainly epic in scope, it's essentially the story of a thief trying to find a lost treasure before some other thieves can. Of course, even an Indiana Jones movie wouldn't be complete without the old saving-the-world gambit, so there's that too. But even that falls into the whole "find the treasure before the other guys" plot. And so we follow Nathan Drake as he searches for the lost Shankara Cintamani Stone once sought by Marco Polo and Nazis alike and said to not only be priceless but able to grant the possessor great power.

The developers do their best to make Nate a hero, but I'm not seeing it. I remember reading Penny Arcade's take on the game way back when it came it out a year a half ago, and while it was funny on a basic level, it kept coming back to me as the game wore on.

Ambiguitas

Granted, the situation's exaggerated, but the sudden shift from Nate's non-lethal, stealth take downs of museum guards to out right, ninja neck-breaking struck me! His rival Lazarevic points this out near the game's conclusion, wherein Nate does the right thing by not killing him–he just leaves him to be killed by natives. This makes Nate confusing as a character who has very little development anyway. Sure, he goes from a breaking into a museum to trying to save the world, but it's all for very selfish reasons. In the end, Nate does save the day, but he also perpetuates genocide, destroys a lost civilization, and commits ecological terrorism to do so. But this is all in a day's work for our action "hero," and it's all for the sake of that "epic scope" mentioned early.

And then...And herein lies my major complaint with Uncharted 2. While essentially using all the staples of a Michael Bay film–jumping in front of explosions, high speed chase scenes, death defying leaps, and outrageous gun fights–is not bad in and of itself, I'd have much rather played through them than watched them. Uncharted 2 is probably the most "cinematic" game I've ever played, and for me, this is its biggest fault. The story is told entirely in cut scenes and the gameplay features moments of fixed camera angles that all give the game a very cinematic feel. But I could have easily played through some of the cut scenes. Were the developers afraid I was going to screw up their "story"? And there were a few moments when I literally took about ten steps between two cut scenes. Why didn't they just combine those into one scene instead of giving the false impression I was actually playing a game?

The simple answer is that more often than not, the developers clearly sacrificed gameplay for a stronger cinematic feel. In one harrowing segment, Nate's sliding downhill while trying to shoot a bad guy off one of his two love interests. Luckily for him, he has unlimited ammo for that, which kills the challenge but looks great since he can just keep shooting instead of having to reload! Right before that he's running down a crumbling bridge, leaping over the portions that have already fallen apart. As if that weren't dramatic enough, the camera suddenly switches angles to show the destroyed buildings and bridge he's left in his wake. It looks amazing! But it also makes it really difficult to see the next jump the player has to make to not fall with the collapsing bridge. I died at that part–several times.

Those moments are really jarring and remind me of playing games with friends who were older (better) than me as a kid. They'd would know a difficult bit was coming up and say, "Oh let me do this part for you. It's so hard," while snatching the controller away. Those experiences were not satisfying, and much of "playing" Uncharted 2 isn't for the same reasons.

But I don't want to give you the impression I downright hated the game; I wouldn't have completed it otherwise. The "story" may be ridiculous, but it's at least enjoyable. In true Michael Bay fashion, the characters and dialog are all great–even (surprisingly) the female ones–making for awesome scenes the whole way through. And whether it's "my thing" or not, even I have to admit the game is beautiful! It's just not my kind of game, and I wouldn't buy it or any of the series. That said, I can easily see why it's so popular–for the same reasons as Transformers–as well as why it's received so much attention; there simply isn't another series quite like it. Its cinematic qualities make it stand out from other games, but for me, it stands too close to film to enjoy as a game.

Questions? Quibbles? Controversies?


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