Just watch Nathan Drake. He is eerily human despite his digital origins, and an imperfect hero. In the cold, he breathes into his hands to keep them warm. After a jump, he stumbles before regaining his balance. He slips off the ledges he reaches for.
It is stunning to watch, and brilliant in execution. Here is a video game character without bulky armor, without any powers, and is fallible. Drake is comprised of more than witty comebacks and cheeky one-liners. That is what generates an emotional response, whether fear, joy, or sympathy as Drake searches for the lost treasure of Marco Polo.
In the opening scene of Uncharted 2, Drake sits in a seat, looks down, and realizes he is bleeding. The camera pans quickly to establish the character is sitting in a train dangling off a cliff. The dizzying, vertigo-inducing shot works to introduce the gameplay, with Drake now struggling to reach the next train car, one that is barely secured on the top of the mountain. It creaks, breaks apart, and nearly kills Drake multiple times.
What is nearly incomprehensible about Uncharted 2 is that it continues to increase its scale. Its varied locales do not simply exist for show. They add an element to the gameplay, increasing the thrills and the challenge, while further deepening Drake’s will to complete his mission.
The sheer number of memorable moments contained in Uncharted 2 outrank any of its competition, including a stunning battle against a helicopter aboard a train. Drake must outrun the chopper that begins blowing cars off the tracks, requiring a quick-thinking player to push forward, solving this platforming puzzle on the fly.
Uncharted 2 also allows for softer moments. After being rescued by a Tibetan man, Nathan walks through his small village to take in his surroundings. The player can choose to interact with some children, kicking a stray soccer ball to them or playing hide and seek.
When that village is assaulted later, being smashed under a tank, that soccer ball reappears. It is deflated and alone on a ledge. The children are lost.
That is something Uncharted 2 does so well. Crafting those small touches enables the player to either forget or ignore the general repetition. In fact, the game chooses to acknowledge its flaws, letting characters spout off their frustrations about the constant need for climbing, the length of the helicopter-assaulted train, or the number of enemies that seem to flow from nowhere.
Fantastically directed cinematics make it easy to overlook the plotting issue, a stock villain named Zoran Lazarevic who is only evil because he is Russian and scarred. Uncharted 2 loves intensity, and the epic level of the action in-game is only surpassed by the pre-rendered story pieces loaded with destruction.
Uncharted 2 does not change much from its predecessor. The smooth, satisfying gunplay is untouched, although enemies still take an enormous amount of damage before perishing at Drake's hand. Those mechanics also translate to multiplayer surprisingly well, although the scale of the single player story cannot be carried over, leaving the versus and co-op play somewhat flat.
Naughty Dog is a developer than began life with a shameless Mortal Kombat knock-off on the 3DO entitled Way of the Warrior back in 1994. Uncharted 2 is the evolution of a developer, now staffed with such enormous talent, they have created their masterpiece.
Their masterpiece is a video game that pushes the hardware, and helps you appreciate the little things. After recovering from a bullet wound, Drake tries to punch, but is held back by the pain. He shakes and stretches his arm in an animation that likely took extensive time to implement, but the effort shows. It’s fun to watch Nathan Drake.
Uncharted 2 is rated M (Mature) by the ESRB for Blood, Language, Suggestive Themes, Violence.