Game Breakdown: Uncharted 2 Among Thieves

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Two weekends ago I had the great fortune of completing one of the best games I have played to date on PS3. The original Drake’s Fortune was one of my favorite PS3 games and this sequel has done the original justice. In correct sequel fashion it has surpassed the original in many ways.

I cannot comment on this game without spoilers, however most of my commentary will be on design features and choices and the impact they had on me as a player.

Design

How would I sum up the design? Mobility, Guns, Fist fights all delivered with fluid storytelling. The main thing that grabs me about this game is the movie level caliber of how the game is presented. What keeps me playing is that the mechanics are mixed up enough and paced out correctly so that you are drawn through the story. By making me explore an area before having to fight my way out of they really make you invested in the spaces and reuse does not feel as forced as it does in other games. Rather than a cost savings mechanism it plays out much more as a story telling mechanism about getting invested in the space. It surprised me that these were some of my favorite sections of the game.
One of the things that is odd for me is that as I sit down to breakdown what is Uncharted 2 I am really stretched to find much of a difference in the core single player game and this may be Uncharted 2’s largest asset. They got the first game so right that adding in MP and refining the game with a new story with epic set pieces is more than enough to deliver a great game. When you have a great dish, just add more awesome and it works out! I used to describe that COD4 was a bunch of shooting punctuated with a few memorable moments (Nuke crawl, Air gunship, Sniper) that were the only things you really remember when reflecting on it (oh…and the post credit airplane hijack). Uncharted 2 makes me remember so much more that is actually part of the experience rather than major gameplay variety (Building Jump, Train sequence, Ice caves, Village, Shambala, Shambala collapse). These sequences were all very memorable and unique enough to stick with me after playing.

After that surface level evaluation I would like to dive into a few details.

  • Animation/Gameplay on moving objects – The only moving objects I remember in the first game were vines and the scripted jeep sequence. In Uncharted 2 many of the exploration and fighting environments have moving pieces. This adds to the drama as you climb on moving breaking parts of a train or when you have to do mobility on large gear objects. This subtle extension was used to great effect without being a slap in the face. I am sure this system is what enabled them to knock a building down with you in it 🙂
  • Character progression – You go through something like 5 variants of your outfit during the game as well as changes from the people around you. This really grounded each scene and environment and sold the different environments very well.
  • Environmental variety – Drakes Fortune nailed the wet jungle theme. Uncharted 2 is equally as good but its highlight is snow and ice and then it returns to jungle. Some of ice scenes looked like matte paintings! The world modeling team deserves as standing ovation for their work in this game. They must have a solid shader group as well as the lighting plays on the ice and snow beautifully
  • Lighting – Generally the lighting is awesome but they do suffer from SSAO halos around the characters at times. Overall I think the impact is worth it.

Scope
Of all things I was amazed with the scope and quality of this game are way ahead of any other product I have played.

  • 1:31 minutes of rendered cinemas
  • 10.5 hours to finish the regular campaign on Normal
  • Major unique moments with entire sets animated
  • Polished play experience through the entire game
  • MP
  • Video making support
  • Unlockable features

Review
If I was giving this game a review it would be a 9/10 and a highly recommended. Comparing it to Batman AA I would have to say that it is better by a fair amount but less innovative in its combat system. If you want a solid story experience and awe inspiring game moments put your money on Uncharted 2. If you are interested in experiencing new gameplay, Batman would be your better bet. In terms of production value I would guess that Batman was about 1/3rd the cost of Uncharted 2. Oh…and I haven’t even tried the MP in it.

Final Comments

To me Uncharted 2 is a great example of where AAA games are going. You will not be getting any dramatic new gameplay features, but what you do get is a VERY polished game that excels at what it does. From a guy who loves burgers and summer action movies I couldn’t ask for much more for my $60 investment. I thought I would have more to say about their design, but in the end I think it is a fairly standard formula executed at a level that I don’t think any other studio could achieve (they will in the future).

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