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During this escort mission, our movement was curtailed. We couldn’t drop Jeff, and could only use a pistol, making us slower and less deadly. This part of the level took Drake and his team into the rain-soaked alleys of the city that had previously been cast in sunlight. Despite slowing the pace down, Naughty Dog has managed to make this escort gameplay exciting by constantly keeping you on your toes. You’re led down dark narrow alleys and streets, but just when things get comfy, a truck with a gun nest will pull up and force the action into a new route - through a bombed out building or up a stairwell, where a Lazarevic gunman might burst through a door and attack the party, forcing them into another bewildering route. You’re always kept thinking and anticipating the next assault.
This was more evident in a recent play of the three-player co-op mode. Here we were back in the city streets post-rainfall and searching for clues. Though the level’s route is very linear, you never know when or how the enemies will attack. Lazarevic’s men like clambering up and over obstacles, so gunmen come at you from all angles and directions, leaping off buildings, over walls and from behind burnt out cars.
The controls are the same as in the original Uncharted, so there’s no learning curve to be had as such except in terms of getting used to the new AI. There are some surprising tricks the game plays on you - during a melee brawl some enemies can block Drake’s punches and catch his fist - tapping Triangle will overpower the counter. The animation of the melee fights is impressive too, as each character has a different take down move - you can punch an enemy in the nads, then slide under him or leap onto a gunman’s back and wrestle him like a monkey.
The hands-on also illustrated the sequel’s new action bent with different types of enemies appearing for the first time, including mid-level mini-bosses that look like rejects from Army of Two. They take more hits to kill and teamwork is needed to ensure you’re not distracted from the boss by his minions.
This is a beautiful looking game, but the visual impact is being used to spur on the gameplay. The same way the escort mission kept turning and diverting is how the whole game plays out. Though there’s linearity to the game, what happens in each section always changes. Cover can be destroyed, ensuring you need to think on your feet. One section in which Drake and Chloe were trapped in a hotel dining room and under fire from a helicopter gunship and soldiers was telling. On the first playthrough the wooden tables, chairs and sofas were destroyed. But on the second, a table shot across the room, taking out a few of the enemies.
There are some doubts about the darker tone. Why do all sequels try and pull an Empire Strikes Back? Still, it plays well, packs in the punches and Elena’s back in the game. What more could you ask for?
Jul 23, 2009