As Nathan Drake sits slumped forward, shirt drenched in blood, on a derailed train, lost in an endless abyss of snow and ice; it’s difficult to comprehend even in the first few seconds of Uncharted 2 how our hero can possibly get out of this mess, let alone how he got there in the first place. Then as the train carriage begins to slide and Drake’s horizontal world becomes vertical, and the mad scramble for survival begins. Clinging to train seats for dear life Drake is sent crashing through the carriage, wood splinters and glass smashes as the train careers over the cliffs icy knife edge. Then as Drake somersaults down the carriage his one last ounce of strength allows him to cling precariously to just an inch of piping. That’s where you’re left, dangling and just moments away from an unfortunate end…
And that right there is the genius of Uncharted 2. In fact I’d go as far as to say that it’s the best opening sequence to any video game, ever. It’s like one of the classic James Bond film openings, only without the shoddy aiming of the Russian army or a Union Jack parachute. It’s a heart stopping thrill ride even in the first 10 seconds. and the blend between cut scene and open gameplay is totally seamless, a feature which every studio should aspire to accommodate.
As well as the set piece action and wonderful use of camera angles there really is something for everyone in Uncharted 2. Whether you’re into stealth, run and gun, fire and manoeuvre, puzzles, climbing, vehicle combat or any other gameplay element known to man, Uncharted 2 has you covered. Which for most studios would be a huge gamble because generally the rule “jack of all trades, master of none” applies, but not with Naughty Dog. They’re the complete masters of all of these arts, and then some. The only thing tighter than Uncharted 2’s gameplay is Chloe’s trousers which remain skin tight throughout.
And speaking of good looking items of interest, Uncharted 2 is simply a visual feast for the eyes. Naughty Dog have harnessed the power of the PS3 beautifully, and I’m sure they’ve left many studios scratching their heads wondering how they’ve managed to do it. One moment which springs to mind is early in the game when you’ve fought your way through the lush jungles of Borneo and you’ve discovered that the ship wrecked crew of Marco Polo must have headed to higher ground in their bid for survival. As you climb up, eventually the path swings left and the landscape opens out in to bright sunshine with only the sprawling ocean and cliffs edge as the back drop. Very rarely do I halt mid gameplay to stop to admire the view, but this was one of those stand-out moments of pure Uncharted magic.
The visuals once again prove that Naughty Dog don’t mind taking a risk with their game design because Uncharted 2 is quite literally a whistle stop, world tour of different cultures and environments. From lush jungles to icy mountains, hidden temples to gritty suburban streets, Uncharted 2 has it all and yet still keeps the game feeling cohesive and story driven, which is by no means an easy task. As each chapter passes you always feel that the development team have pushed themselves to the absolute limit and Naughty Dog’s hallmark of quality is stamped all over this game.
Then there’s Drake. Creating a believable hero from scratch is a very difficult task these days with so many iconic gaming characters packing the store shelves. But, for me, Nathan Drake stands proudly alongside the very best in the business. Funny but never the clown, murderous but never the villain, charming but never the Casanova. The balance is so right and so in tune that Nathan Drake really is the 21st century action hero.
With such a lavish single player campaign and after the unquantified success that was the original Uncharted, implementing a multiplayer component in Uncharted 2 would always be seen as unnecessary or pandering to the masses. But this is Naughty Dog we’re talking about here and they just don’t do things by halves.
The multiplayer in Uncharted 2 is a triumph and the third person view combined with the cover mechanic is very similar to that of Gears of War. However, when you mix in the climbing abilities of Drake, the agility of the characters and the exemplary level design you have something very special indeed. Why everyone feels the need to run around in the skeleton costume online is beyond me, but besides that idiocy the multiplayer in Uncharted 2 is the only thing which can drag you away from the single player crusade, and that is praise of the highest order.
I just love this game, from start to finish, because there’s so much fun and intrigue to be found. Even the simplest of climbs can be the hardest of puzzles and that’s one of the best things about Uncharted 2, it tests your gaming skills on every single level. The story is wonderful and the voice acting is comparable to the movies, which when selling the Uncharted 2 experience is crucial. Graphically it’s a joy, technically it’s a master class and if Uncharted 3 (as we all expect) goes beyond this benchmark, we really will be in for something out of this world come November.
So as I begin my climb up the snowy train carriage for the fifth time there’s only one thing on my mind. Which way to Shambhala?