I’ve always wanted to travel the world. Walk the Great Wall of China, visit the Sydney Opera House… Heck, one day I’d love to bungee jump at Niagara Falls, just for the hell of it. I wouldn’t say that I was an extremely adventurous type, just that I’d love to witness the beauty of the world.
It’s for this reason that Adventure games like Uncharted (PS3) and Tomb Raider (Playstation, Xbox) have always held a special place in my heart. Here I am, an ordinary guy, living a pretty mundane life, who can be transported into beautiful tropical landscapes, whilst sitting on a sofa, drinking a glass of coke and generally trying to unwind after a long day.
And beautiful these landscapes are, if we’re to believe Uncharted 2. It’s been said before, but it’s something that’s worth repeating. Uncharted 2 is a beautiful game. There are times when it’s easy to forget that you’re playing a video game, and instead momentarily believe that you’re watching the Travel Channel (albeit a tremendously action-packed Travel Channel).
From the game’s initial starting point in the snowy Himalayas, you’re taken through a fantastic variety of locations; from the luscious tropical jungles of Borneo, through the dusty decrepid streets of Nepal and into the mystical land of Shambhala, with every unfolding scene as stunning as the one before it.
Of course, the entirety of Uncharted 2’s status as a videogame does not depend on its beauty. If it did, then the review would end here, with a hearty recommendation and two thumbs up. Fortunately or otherwise, there are many aspects to Uncharted 2, with not all as polished as the scenery.
Thankfully, the traversal of the landscapes is nigh-on perfect. Your character, Nathan Drake, moves with such ease around the environments, it is as though he’s been doing it all his life. Which, of course, he has. Never does a moment come where you miss a jump due to the game’s faults, nor will you ever doubt Drake’s ability to reach a ledge. This, however, has its drawbacks. With such a believeable and beautifully animated world, and a character that appears to be capable of the impossible, it’s easy to forget that Uncharted 2 is a videogame, with set limitations imposed by the developers.
It’s clear that with Uncharted 2, Naughty Dog set out to create a world with the illusion of freedom. Unfortunately, that’s all it ever is; an illusion. In the latter stages of Uncharted 2, the smoke and mirrors are all too easy to see through, with the curtain fully drawn back. Herein lies the major problem with Uncharted 2: It’s an incredibly linear game.
Although it appears to be a huge open environment, Uncharted 2 is just a sequence of well-placed, pretty-looking corridors that punish the player for daring to push the boundaries. There were far too many points where I would instruct Drake to jump to (what looked like) an interactable ledge before he hit it, bounced back, and fell to his death. At points, I would instruct Drake to jump to a ledge not five feet below him, to which he would suddenly decide to die.
As you can imagine, this was frustrating. Very frustrating. Incredibly frustrating. Immensely, categorically, unequivocally the most frustrating aspect of a potentially great game. Because, otherwise, Uncharted 2 IS a great game. The shooting mechanic, although completely unnecessary, works well and is comparable to games like Gears of War, and whilst the story isn’t up to much, the characters are all entertaining enough to keep you going through the 10+ hour metagame.
Putting aside all grievances about the story (which is ridiculous, but oddly entertaining in a ‘Sci-fi Channel movie’ kind of way), I have to ask; was it worth focusing so much of the game on the shooting-aspect of Uncharted 2? Admittedly, it works well and despite a few tough-to-kill enemies, there are no real problems with the shooting mechanic itself. However, the real magic within Adventure games has always been the exploration aspect; finding hidden treasures, climbing to the top of mountains… just experiencing these foreign lands has always been a huge appeal. Uncharted 2 seems almost embarrased to admit it’s exploration background, and replaces these magical moments in favour of a large number of run-and-gun sequences. Again, these sequences work well and even when forced upon you, are largely enjoyable to play, but the illusion of freedom is almost maddening, to the point where I had to put the controller down and take a break, for fear of hating the experience altogether.
All in all, I didn’t hate Uncharted 2. I hated aspects of it (why tease me with freedom?), but on the whole, Uncharted 2 is an incredibly well-made, linear experience. The locations are stunning, the gameplay solid and the characters likeable, but the flaws within some of the chosen design implementations stop it from being something truly fantastic.
Post Script: No review of Uncharted 2 can go without a mention of the game’s cinematic qualities. Not only is it a beautiful game to play, it’s a beautiful game to watch as well. The cutscenes are brilliantly interwoven with the gameplay segments, and some gameplay set pieces are so epic they deserve their own movies. Whilst the story might’ve been worthy of a fun B-movie, the cinematography was truly AAA. It’s just a shame that not all the other aspects of the game were as good.