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Since we briefly played Uncharted 2 at Gamescom in Cologne recently and were part of the multiplayer Beta, we expected it to be pretty good, but shittin’ crikey, not this good.
Sony has searched long and hard for their killer-app - a sole reason to part with your cash - but have come up short. Killzone 2 had good-looks but offered very little in terms of originality. LittleBigPlanet was mega-fun but too niche for many. Ratchet & Clank is great but too juvenile to win over the hardcore masses. Uncharted 2 now fills this void - and then some.
So good are Nathan Drake’s new adventures, that unless Lara Croft goes fully nude for the entirety of her next game, then she won’t even get a look in over this.
Here’s the obligatory gist of the action: It’s a couple of years after the events of original game (which is surprisingly, very rarely spoken of). Drake and Elena have parted ways for reasons unknown and a British bloke, named Flynn, ropes Nathan and Kiwi crumpet Chloe, into stealing an antique oil lamp from a Turkish museum.
Above: The Turkish museum heist in action
From here, Drake ends up on the trail of terrorist Zoran Lazarevic and the secrets of Marco Polo’s doomed expedition to find Shangri La and the mythical Cintamani Stone. Cue blood-shed, incredible scenes of exploration and of course, tricky puzzles.
But what makes Uncharted 2 so damn near perfect? Right off the bat, we’ll say the script and voice acting simply can’t be touched. And we’re not talking just games here. Most movies and TV scribes struggle to keep up with the quality here. That’s why it gets this...
You might not give a toss about the chemistry between the characters right now (don’t worry we’ll get to the guns and killing soon) but it's hard not to fall for it when you play the game.
The lines are tight and delivered so convincingly you get the sense that the voice actors are really enjoying themselves. It pulls you in and, honest to Jeebus, there are moments when we actually <shiver> ‘LOL’d’. Not to mention pause the game and fist-punch the air as we stumble across another impressive environment to swing, climb and blast our way through...
For all you graphic whores out there (you know who you are, Mr/Mrs High Definition) Uncharted 2 delivers quality visuals by the treasure trove full. From the unbelievably beautiful toucans perched in the jungle trees to the animation of Drake shielding his face with his hand when he gets too close to a roaring fire, it looks stunning.
The scale of just about everything in Uncharted 2 is admirable. Take the opening level for example. As has become fashionable, this is where developers slip in a tutorial - push button to open door and the like. Uncharted 2 teaches you the ropes as you climb a train carriage dangling off a god damn cliff. You can see for miles to as the stunning mountainous landscape spreads out across the screen. No pop-up, just awesome detail.
Above: A real purdy shot from the Borneo jungle level.
It’s comparable with God of War, Sony’s other powerhouse, in terms of opening up with a bang and continuous epic scale. And boy, it works a treat. Just like Kratos, Nathan Drake isn’t afraid to dish out some large portions of death cake either.
The punch of the weapons from the original game is even more satisfying in Uncharted 2. Among the handguns, shotguns and automatic weapons you also get to wield a tranquilizer gun, a pistol that fires shotgun shells and - we couldn’t believe this either - a minigun. Yes, just like Arnie’s in T2.
Above: Nathan wishes he'd worn a warmer jumper.
There’s more than enough fodder for you to mow down with these weapons but Drake has also learned some more unarmed skills to bring the pain. You can now perform takedowns that drag enemies behind cover, so you don’t get shot up. You can drag them off platforms or maybe even run up a box and plant boot under their chin. But Uncharted 2 is much more than mindless blood-shed.
One of our single greatest moments is far more sedate.
There's a bit in a Tibetan village where you first meet Tenzin - a non-English speaking Sherpa guide - and as you trudge through the tranquil village you pass a group of kids and two of the little 'uns proceed to hide behind a wall. If you walk up to them and hit Triangle, Drake puts his hands up to his head like moose antlers and goes 'Uggga Buggga Buggga' as they laugh at him. Lovely stuff.
There’s no button prompt to tell you to do this. And you could easily finish the game and never know about it (unless you just read about it now) but Uncharted 2 is full of subtle, incidental wonderment to enhance your overall experience.
Now this will sound wanky - and I’ve previously discussed this with a colleague who agrees - but Uncharted 2 *really* blurs the line between games and films. The rollercoaster actions will make you laugh, scare the crap out of you and make you sad. And this is more than you can say for most big budget movies.
Back to the gameplay then, take a look at some of the new stuff you’ll find in Uncharted 2...
360 rope swinging mechanics - You can now use Drake’s momentum to swing in any direction from a rope dangling from a ceiling. This is handy for grabbing hidden treasures.
Fluid climbing - You scale walls far more easily than in Drake’s Fortune. If a ledge is close enough to reach simply steer him across the surface and he’ll reach out and grab it.
Snow effects - Best. Snow. Ever. Even better than Lost Planet.
Create cover - Not only can you hide behind riot shields from time to time, but Drake is adept at turning over tables to create cover too. Handy when surrounded by goons.
Red-dot sight - Like in Modern Warfare, Uncharted 2 has an assault rifle - the FAL - that has a red dot sight to make headshots easier.
Monkey bars - Like an overhead ladder that you’d see on a kid's playground.
Twitter integration - Automatically let your friend’s know how far you are and how much you’ve earned in 140 characters or less.
Armoured goons - These juggernauts come in two varieties: shotgun wielding or minigun blasting. You're going to have to think on your feet when taking these boys one.
Notebook - Hit Select and Drake will delve into his notebook like in the original, but with a twist. Move left and right with the stick and not only will you see clues to puzzles, but an array of in-jokes, photos and even sketches of Sully's powerful moustache.
Plus lots, lots more. And the set-pieces? Just wow! We’d be giving away massive spoilers if we mentioned them but around every corner is a standout moment that you’ll be mightily impressed by. Here’s one to whet your appetite...
So finally, Sony get its long-awaited killer-app. And what a beauty it is. Uncharted 2 not only sets benchmarks for visuals (the lighting effects alone are stunning), story and sheer fun, but it also sets a worryingly high target for all that follow it to match. Simply put, Uncharted 2 is a reason to own a PS3.
Oh yes. Miss Croft has had her time in the sun and it’s time to get back to the drawing-board we think. Drake sprung from nowhere and beat Lara at her own game. It looks better. It plays better. And you just find yourself rooting for Nathan more than you ever did with the Tomb Raider’s heroine.
Yes, just. And before you Batman fans get your knickers in a twist, let us explain. AA's combat system is fantastic and the world they've created around the Dark Knight is well realised, but it is relentlessly dark and bleak. The variety of environments and the aformentioned story-telling in Uncharted 2 snatches the victory.
Gears of War 2
Yes. The games are almost poles apart. Gears is all about shooting and taking down massive bosses, Uncharted 2 isn’t. But in terms of scale and the satisfaction of gunning people down they are in the same ballpark, and Drake takes the win here.
Brilliant, brilliant, brilliant. It looks amazing, plays like a dream and the voice-acting/story-telling will hook you in right from the off. PS3 officially has its killer-app and a million tears are shed by 360 fanboys.