Saturday, February 20, 2010

Uncharted 2: Among Thieves (PS3)

I always have a lot of trouble reviewing games I liked. It's always much easier to tear apart a game that sucks. And then I realized that I like Uncharted 2 not because it did something revolutionary, but primarily because it doesn't suck. So this is about the ways in which Uncharted 2 doesn't suck.

Uncharted 2 is your average action-adventure archaeological platformer/sneaker/shooter. Think Tomb Raider with waxed chest hair instead of jiggly bits, then add in a dash of Metal Gear Solid 2 on Very Easy.

All of the bits present are very satisfying. Even the sneaking mechanics, which are usually tacked onto otherwise solid games in a cumbersome way, feel well-integrated into the rest of the play experience. I even found myself looking forward to the opportunity to sneak up on a dude and murder him silently. It's especially satisfying to throw a dude off of a cliff by reaching up from below and grabbing his shirt.

The platforming is also well done, with a couple of caveats. The first is that grabbable surfaces and wall features are often nearly indistinguishable from environmental textures or decoration. And the second is that the platforming often makes little or no sense within the context of the location and story. If Uncharted 2's architecture is to be believed, the Ancient and Illuminated Seers of the Orient consisted mostly of monkeys.

The combat does the worst out of the main game elements, but still is not lagging too far behind. The basic combat throughout most of the game is entirely adequate. It does its jobs of spicing up the platforming and punishing you for sneaking failures. The controls are a little weird if you play a lot of shooters, and I struggled with them mightily. The biggest letdown is that in the last quarter of the game, new enemies are introduced that render useless the vast majority of weapons you acquire--and these enemies must be overcome by force.

Throughout nearly all of your adventures, you work with one or more of a revolving cast of sidekick characters. This could have been a fucking disaster. But all crisis was averted by making the sidekick indestructible, and respawning him a short distance away if you ever lose him. You don't have to babysit your sidekick.

The levels seem like they should be cliche and hackneyed, with locations like jungles, tombs, jungle-tombs, and trains. But, inexplicably, all the level design feels fresh. I think this may be a result of choosing some well-worn concepts and locales, then building the level in an unconventional part of the locale. For instance, the urban jungle level is set in a Nepali city ravaged by war. Instead of being confined to sewers, tunnels, and markets at night, you climb through bombed-out houses and evade armored personnel carriers.

The puzzles are pretty decent as well, being legible without also giving away the solution. Most of them even consisted of something more complex than dragging a crate to a pressure switch. But, of course, none of them were real mind benders either. The most difficult puzzles involve quick reflexes more than keen wits.

One thing I really appreciate is the camera work in the game. The camera is never at a useless or even ugly angle. While open combat sections give you full camera control, many platforming and drama-building sections use a fixed camera position. These fixed cameras are excellently placed, and give the entire game the feel of an action movie. My wife actually commented that she often couldn't tell what was a cutscene and what was gameplay. The game looks pretty damn nice.

I liked Uncharted 2. And I bought it on the recommendation of a friend, who told me not to take it too seriously and just enjoy the ride. So if you can appreciate the stupid spectacle of a big-budget summer action movie, you can probably dig on Uncharted 2.

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