Uncharted 2

October 7th 2012

I completed Uncharted 2 yesterday, after playing it over a period of around 3 months. I never really got totally into the game and by the end of it I really was just playing it to finish the game, rather than out of some sense of great enjoyment of it. In fact, you could pretty much cut and copy my Uncharted 1 review, amend a couple of points (the game is a bit longer, a bit more cinematic and a bit more exciting on occasions) and you'd have a fairly accurate review. This makes giving a verdict very easy - if you enjoyed the first uncharted (i did), you'll enjoy Uncharted 2, just dont expect anything terribly ground breaking or different. So yes, i did enjoy the game, but dont have many terribly interesting things to say about it, though there were a couple of points I did want to make on the general design of the game...

 

1. Uncharted 1 + More sexualisation + more cinematic action

Basically, Uncharted2 is the same game as the first, identical game mechanics (combat and climbing) with the same type of puzzles (visual, with use of your log book) and big bombastic action sequences. The 2 new additions as far as I can tell are the increased references to sex and the more regular interspersing of semi playable cinematic action seqeunces. On the former, i dont have any problem with the more frequent references to sex and the sexyness of characters - in fact it gives the game a real human streak to it that maintains a lighthearted angle on a quite melodramatic story. For the most part it works well and also adds depth to Drakes character, though i did have one gripe. Basically, instead of the 1 girl Drake is trying to impress in the 1st game, there is a second 'femme fatale' type character who drifts in and out of the game as an associate and part time antagonist. This left me with the underlying feeling that it'd have been less obvious that they wanted this character in to provide eye candy had they not had quite so many references to her shapely figure, but as every time she is on screen, it feels like we're getting a gratitious arse shot or some sort of quip about her figure, it left me a feeling this aspect of the game was contrived.

Regarding the cinematic action sequences, I always had fun with them. These typically take the shape of the camera zooming out to show you the panaromic view of the often spectacular area your running across /blowing up and they really maintain the flow of the game. Yes there are standard typical video sequences, but there is enough variety in them and they are generally quite short. When you combine these with the ingame action sequences, the games fun and agressive pacing is always maintained.

2. The game is good... but more of the same means less of the fun

This will be a short point - but UC2 is basically a carbon copy of the first and playing the 2 of them back to back ultimately left me unsatisfied by the end of UC2. When i say they are basically the same, i mean this quite literally. The plot structure is identical (some bad guy, some one worse than him, possible double cross, globe trotting for some semi mythical treasure and then a twist that mixes up the plot and enemies you fight towards the end of the game) to the first game and despite one or two genius moments (the opening sequence takes place about 2/3rds of the way through the plot for example), the whole game feels very much like the designers thought "we did this really well the first time, lets do the same again!"

While I've no problem with the old "if it aint broke..." adage, i must admit that i was left feeling slightly empty by the games plot and characters. Its not that they were bad, more that they were predictable, like much of the game. As i have said above the sequel retains so much of the first games approach that by half way through the game it felt more like I was playing an expansion to the first rather than a new game itself.

This creates one big problem - and i mentioned this in the review of the first game. Where the first game was more than the sum of its parts (none of the shooting / climbing / puzzling is particularly exceptional), the sequel actually feels like less, mainly because the sense of unpredictability is long gone after an 12 hour 1st game and 6 hours of the second.

Basically, you could say that familiarity was breeding contempt.

3. one big saving grace...

So while the game does not so much build on the success's of the first as it does replicate them. However, I loved the voice acting and characterisation. The game madea mistake in retaining so much of the first games structure that it feels like a copy, but what really sets uncharted out as fun game to play is the fact that all the main characters in the game (not just drake) get significant time on screen to develop their characters and have their own unique personality. Drake is wisecracking, but a very human hero, the two love interests are pretty amusing (one the bad girl traitor, the other a good reporter), the english chap who double crosses drake early on, Sully and even Lazarovich all get enough time to feel like a good supporting cast rather than just plot devices. Combine the above with generally first rate voice acting and you have a game that on occassions feels more like a movie with a great sense of fun anda genuine comitment to giving all of its characters face time. Its refreshing to see what could have been a brainless actin game actually take time to create at least semi believable characters.

So yeah, I liked UC2, enjoyed the sense of fun and generally lighthearted plot and was happy enough to finish it. Thats said, the game left me with no great inspiration to buy UC3 and I'll move onto a slightly different type of game next. UC2 is a good game, but it is just too like the first game for me to really have loved it. For me, great sequels take the rules of the first game / film and develop them in new and interesting ways. Sure, you can have the same core game play mechanics, but you need to bring variety in and UC2 just didn't mix things up enough.

Worth the £5 i paid for it on amazon, but a solid 7/10 game for me - rent dont buy!

D

Uncharted

June 11th 2012

Uncharted was a game I had heard a fair bit about, but never actually played. Well, rather, I had heard a fair bit about its sequels, two of which are on the PS3, another on the Vita. I picked it up, 2nd hand, and I must say that it was a great experience. However, before I go onto the main likes / dislikes of the game, its probaly worth mentioning one of the main reasons I enjoyed it so much.

Put simply, it is very rare that I play a game, start to finish, and am left with the feeling that the designers knew exactly what game they wanted to make, how they wanted it to play and, importantly, a real sense of fun throughout. Yep - Uncharted, start to finish was consistent in the rules of play, encouraged you to have fun and gave you enough variety in its action, climbing and characters for me to feel really involved in it, start to finish. Compare this with Mass Effect 3, which I recently finished and commentated that the main reason ME3 fell apart at the end was not the slightly poor communciation of its plot, but rather the fact that it reduced the last 2 hrs of the game to something that was ultimately less than the sum of its parts.

Uncharted was a MUCH simpler game, but was also much better for it. Rather than go through my likes and dislikes about the game, I am going to comment on a few big stand out thoughts on the game, mainly around the design and gameplay as opposed to the story (you'll see why).

 

1. It really is more than the sum of its parts... because of pacing.

At face value, Uncharted is a blockbuster game with all style no substance. Yes, the core gameplay is actually quite flimsy - the climbing sections are no where near as challenge as the shaddow of the collossus, the action not a patch on gears of war and the story extremely light, even for an action game. However, what you get is a game that retains its sense of fun start to finish and, through limiting how much time you spend doing any one thing, enhances your enjoyment. THe pacing is excellent - you quickly learn the basics of cover, using your weapons (both fists and guns) and the game pretty much opens up and allows you to discover the best ways to taking out large numbers of faceless enemies.

Yes, the enemies are faceless, the action not as deep or rewarding as I may have hoped, but it retains a sense of genuinely encouraging you to have fun in the environment. On ocassions this is simply by tossing more enemies at you and forcing you to work out a strategy to defeat them. Then you die. And, yep, some of the enemies remain in the same positions when you respawn, but how they attack you often varies. It is all very well done - you cant just learn basic patterns, you have to at least think and react on your feet. In the action sections, this is crucial, because you will die alot. Its not that the game is particulary hard (it does have very forgiving save points), more that your health is so crappy that a one or two mis timed movements can end in your death, particularly towards the end of the game. This however does not distract from the action - the game respawns you immediately and reloads your ammo - rather it does heighten the intensity at which you progress through the game.

And this, for me, is the main reason I loved Uncharted - at no point during its 8 hr play through did I feel as if i was "rinse and repeating" the action or puzzles - you generally spent no more than 20 mins in anyone area and this generated enough variety to make it always feel as if you are progressing.

 

2. The action is good, the climbing satisfying and the puzzles a good distraction...

I dont really think that Uncharted had one core gameplay element that stood out. The action, on its own, was good, the climbing good and the puzzles pretty limited. But, enough of the time I felt as if I was doing something different and with a different challenge attached to it that I was happy to proceed. Sure, you can play through the action pretty brainlessly, but you can also think carefully about your weapons, use cover and melee attacks to make your way through an area and, if you really want, sneak up on enemies and take them out silently. It was a classic case of a game that was a bit of a jack of all trades, master of none, but that was fine.

A quick note on the climbing - i really liked it. Mainly because i felt like i was playing a game that thought "yeah - we liked shaddow of the collossus - lets take the climbing out of it and see what happens in an action game". It really wortks - the climbing is simpler, integrates a light puzzle element, but does make enough use of the setting and puzzle elements to make it all worth while. Also, the animations are great - Drake looks superb flinging himself from pillar to post.

 

3. It goes to show, story is not everything...

The story was pretty lightwieght. It had bad guys i barely remember the names of, sidekicks who dont do much except move the plot on and the Francis Drake connection a little underused. That said, there was enough there to pique my interest and once the game got going (it took only 20mins for me to get really into it), the story was delivered with a similar amount of fun and lightness that befitted the game.There was no gravel voiced moddy dialogue here - Drake is an everyman (dressed in jeans and a tee shirt) with quips and actions that are totally in sync with the rest of the game. Indeed, it was one of the rare occassions where the relatively lightweight story actually helps the game - unburdened by a lack of pack story (say like Red Dead), minimal exposition is required and it had none of the fanboys that, say Final Fantasy or Metal Gear would have (meaning that it is not required to "tick certain boxes to appease them"). This means that you get a game, like its hero, is very much its own man.

Normally, i need a good story to keep me interested. Here, like in Vanquish, you have a game that puts fun at the front of the agenda and sticks to it firmly throughout the game. Refreshing, entertaining and while a little lightweight, certainly consistent with what it tries to achieve.

 

4. I think I've made my point, but there is one more thing...

I've spoken about the fun and the consistency of the game design, but there was one last thing that was particularly great about this game, being its last hour and a half. The game has a genius change of pace that ensures that the end of the game is not just interesting, but also has a different challenge. I'll not say much as it will spoil it, but there is a nice change in pacing that certainly develops the games plot and gameplay.

 

All in all, Uncharted is a great game. Yes, its story could have been better developed and the action is a bit lightweight, but you know what, I had a blast palying through it. The high production values certainly help (the voice acting is very good) ensure the game never slips too far into parody and while the name "Indiana Jones" was on my lips more than once, there was enough in this game in its own right to make me stand up and notice it.

Finally, credit to Naughty Dog - they managed to make a game with light plot, action that is not as great as its peers, simple puzzles and some straightforward platforming sections and turn it into a really enjoyable experience. If you occassionally enjoy films like Transformers. The Transporter and Indianna Jones you will certainly enjoy the comitment to fun and entertainment that Uncharted has.

A really good game.

DD