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Charted!

Last week I succumbed to the powerful marketing pressure being exerted upon me by Toys ‘R’ Us. Now, this might sound a bit strange coming from a 29-year-old dude. After all, “getting my Toys ‘R’ Us fix” hasn’t been part of my list of things to do since sometime in the mid 1980s. But, much as the toy retailer sold NES and Sega Master System games back in those days, today they stock Xbox, Playstation and Wii games, and last week they offered a buy-2-get-1-free sale on the whole lot of them.

I attempted to resist, but in the end, I failed. My failure resulted in three shiny new game boxes landing on my shelf: Halo 3: ODST, Brutal Legend, and the subject of today’s post: Uncharted 2: Among Thieves, a PS3 exclusive.

Let it be known right now that Uncharted 2 is, I believe, the best game the PS3 has to offer. Before last week, I would have told you that Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune — the first game in the series — held that title. This only proves that developer Naughty Dog has not only learned from the success of that original game, but they’ve taken it to the next level with the sequel. For those of you who (like me) grew up on Indiana Jones, and can only shake your head at George Lucas’ wayward wanderings since, trust me when I say that Nathan Drake is your new Indy.

Nathan Drake, star of the Uncharted series
Nathan Drake, star of the Uncharted series

The Uncharted series is a third-person action and adventure game hybrid. It mixes one part Tomb Raider (the exploration and climbing puzzles), one part Gears of War (the shooting and cover mechanic) and one part Indy-style cinematic awesomeness. The result is one of the most epic games ever made, a moniker that can be applied to both Uncharted games with no hesitation.

In the game, you play the role of Nathan Drake, an adventurous young descendant of Sir Francis Drake who trawls the globe looking for the answers to some of history’s greatest conundrums (as well as great personal fortune, which has so far eluded him). In Uncharted 2, Drake gets involved with a group of adventurer/pirates who think they’ve uncovered a clue to the location of the mythical kingdom of Shambhala, and at the same time, unlocked the mystery of Marco Polo’s lost fleet. But nothing in Drake’s world is ever as easy at it seems, and before long he’s chasing an entire army of seriously evil terrorists who also seek the city and its hidden treasures. It’s like a summer blockbuster, except with twice the scriptwriting prowess, five times the length and 100% more interactivity.

Visually, so far as I can tell, there has never been a more impressive looking video game. Ever. Naughty Dog claims to have taken the Playstation 3 to its limits with this game, and given the number of jaw-dropping moments wherein I simply couldn’t believe what I was seeing, I don’t have any trouble believing them. You can stand atop a skyscaper in Nepal and swear you’re looking at actual video footage of the landscape and mountainous terrain between you and horizon. The rain, water, snow and ice effects are all hyper-realistic, even affecting the characters in the appropriate ways — packed snow clings to their pant legs, wind buffets their hair, water soaks their clothing and makes it stick to their skin.

The gameplay is richly varied and never gets old. In between the climbing, jumping and exploring, and the shooting, ducking and fisticuffs, there are numerous set pieces where you outrun enemy vehicles, shoot at pursuing trucks with mortars, climb to safety from the wreckage of a derailed train and so on. You’re never quite sure what will happen from one moment to the next, and I simply lost count of the “HOLY SHIT!” moments. From start to finish, the game is an epic masterpiece. The “2” in the title could be short for “Twice as good as the first Uncharted“, and it would be no lie.

The personalities of the characters — not just Drake, but the supporting cast as well — comes through better than in nearly any other game you can name, with excellent scriptwriting, frequent banter and funny comments throughout. Drake, somehow, managed to be thinking the exact same things that were going through my own mind during many of the game’s sequences, and proceeded to blurt them out before I could. He even uses a lot of the same expressions that I do. It’s kind of weird.

The game’s musical score, too, is fit for a big-budget Hollywood movie. Composed by Greg Edmonson, who is also responsible for the unique Western-fusion music of the Firefly TV series, the score is brilliantly done, classy and evokes just the right emotions at exactly the appropriate times. In a display of marketing smarts, they’ve already made the soundtrack available on iTunes, so people (like me) who can’t get enough of the music can go get their fix.

While it’s great that the PS3 has another exclusive title that can draw fans to its base, I find it personally disappointing that this game isn’t on the Xbox platform for one reason alone: The multiplayer. Unlike the first Uncharted, the second game has full competitive and cooperative multiplayer, with bonuses and trophies for each, and I’ve love to get into a game with my friends. Unfortunately, nobody I know owns a PS3, and playing with strangers (especially cooperatively) is never as much fun.

Still, if you do have a PS3, you’re a fool if you don’t pick up Uncharted 2. In my opinion it’s the best game 2009 has seen so far. I rarely finish video games, but I finished this one in less than a week. And now I can’t stop thinking about going back and playing it again, this time at the highest difficulty (“Crushing”) to see how I fare.

Next week I’ll be back to review Forza 3, so I’ll likely be gushing all over something else. One thing Forza gives me that Uncharted won’t, admittedly, is months worth of replay value. Oh, and did you see the Forza 3 Car of the Day on the 14th? Hello again, old friend!

I haven’t gotten into either ODST or Brutal Legend yet, but if I find either of them particularly compelling, I’ll make a note of it here. I expect ODST to be the typical Halo affair: Highly polished, highly enjoyable, and good for one campaign playthrough ever. I don’t know what I expect from Brutal Legend, except to say I had no interest in the game at all until I played the demo, which was fantastic. But now I hear that the demo is only representative of maybe the first 1-2 hours of gameplay, so I dunno. We’ll see what happens.

2 thoughts on “Charted!

  1. Man, you totally got your Toys ‘R’ Us fix back in high school when you and “Bean Bandit” were checking out die-cast metal cars every other week.

    …And when we got those shitty Sailor Moon cards out of the vending machines.

    (Is this post even coherent? I can’t tell because I’m half-awake and had four hours of sleep.)

  2. I knew you were going to remind me about those Sailor Moon cards (and the espionage-like operation that ensued whenever we went in search of that kind of stuff), but I forgot all about the die-cast car searches.

    Despite the sleep deprivation, sounds like you had a hell of a time last night. Looking forward to reading the inevitable post about it. 🙂

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