A Thousand Words: Uncharted 2

Note: this blog contains story spoilers for Uncharted 2.

One of the things we do well here at TheSixthAxis is engage with our community. We don’t just ‘post and run’ but actively take time to read and respond to as many of your valued comments as possible, and hopefully that shows and means something to some of you. Case in question: The Uncharted 2 review which went live yesterday, which appeared to cause as much heated discussion as our recent Forza 3 review, and for some of the same reasons.

Firstly, Peter and I are discussing the small ‘review box’ at the foot of each write-up. Whilst for us it’s perfectly clear that the overall score is meant to be more than the average of the game’s graphics, sound and gameplay (as all games should be) without implicitly saying this we can see how it can be confusing – what you’ve got to sometimes bear in mind is that reviews don’t need to cover every single aspect of the game.

In the case of the Uncharted 2 review, the overall score hovered around the 8.5 mark for a good few hours before another play through allowed the game to shine a little more.  I’ve already gone over my issues with the game – occasionally clunky controls, completely linear path through, a distinct lack of puzzles, frustrating difficulty curve raised only by enemies that absorb bullets – but what I couldn’t really do is discuss what most would consider spoilers.

One of the criticism repeatedly mentioned in the comments was that the review had an overall negative feeling and that the final 9/10 score was thus a little contradictory.  Reading back over the text I’m tempted to agree, but that’s probably only because the paragraphs that praised the game contained story spoilers and were cut.  What I mean is, despite the niggles I had with Uncharted 2 there were some outstanding sections that raised the bar.

Firstly, the re-introduction of Elana was brilliantly handled.  She immediately brought familiarity to the storyline and instantly kicked off a delicate (and powerful) love triangle.  I was expecting Naughty Dog to really push the envelope with the ‘choice’ scene at the end of the game (and I knew who I would have saved) so it’s a shame they decided not to (I don’t know if they ever considered it) because that could have split the ending two ways and created a real talking point.

Sully, too, was a nice addition, albeit an underused one – the wisecracking buddy relationship he and Drake had in the first game (and for whilst he was around in the second) was well played so it’s a pity he wasn’t used more in the sequel.   The rather English Flynn was a treat though, a bumbling nemesis for Drake but one who always seemed to have the upper hand, right until the closing scene with him.  Sadly, I thought Lazarević was a terrible bad guy and poor end boss.

The best trick Uncharted 2 plays, though, is exactly why the game scored so highly: the second time through it’s a totally different experience.  You have to bear in mind that reviews are purely personal opinion but for the most part I didn’t really click with the game’s platforming sections – as I said the lack of direction was unnecessary and the fact that you couldn’t ever take a wrong turn disappointing, but second time around it all just works.

The fifth chapter especially benefits from this: you know you’re supposed to climb the street signs (twice) and you know that the armoured vehicle doesn’t need to be destroyed – Chloe’s on her way and you just need to survive.  You also know that shotguns are useful against the riot shields and the route through the level, which seems much smaller on a re-run, is much more obvious.  I wish I’d first played the game on Very Easy, to be honest, and then gone through on Normal.

Of course, all this is in addition to the absolutely outstanding visuals, something I did try to cover in the review.  They really are the finest graphics ever to grace a games console, and Naughty Dog have shown some outstanding technical prowess with both this and the previous Uncharted game.  I couldn’t fault the graphics (a few clipping issues aside) but naturally this aspect of the text wasn’t really focused on in the comments for the review.

As with all AAA console exclusives, there’ll always be a hardcore fanbase that object to any criticism for a game like Uncharted 2, and whilst many of the online reviews seem to have glossed over some of the niggles, I wasn’t prepared to do that and wanted to get across how I felt about the game. It is a towering achievement and I’m sure Naughty Dog will go on to make a lot of money on this – but is it the best game on the PS3?  It’s close, but not for me, sorry.

What would have changed that?  More puzzles, for starters, and more use of the journal which was brilliantly done (and really funny) but underused, as if it was cut at the last minute.  Less enemies, too, Drake didn’t need to take out nearly a thousand enemies before the game was out – that’s ridiculous.  Make them smarter, but fewer in number and give them some character.  More enforced stealth sections, too – I loved the idea but for the most part the stealth moves aren’t needed.

I think the overall feeling is that Drake’s second adventure is a brilliantly exciting one when you’re in the flow, but a staccato stop, start one when you’re not, and that spoils the overall feeling a little.  Yes, certain sequences are stunning and I’ll be playing them over and over again, but some were dull and boring, repetitive even, and I’ll be opting out of those.  But will I be coming back to Uncharted 2 in twelve months time, or to show off the PS3?  Most certainly.

So, is Uncharted 2 worth 9/10?  Yes.  It’s a supremely produced game and one that Sony should be behind 100% in the run up to Christmas – a bundle is a must, for example, but I’d go further and produce Drake-branded console skins, or controllers.  It’s not a perfect game, though, and perhaps playing it through with one eye on the look out for negatives spoiled the experience for me – sometimes it’s better just to play a game rather than worrying about taking notes…