This week, Zero Punctuation reviews Uncharted 2: Among Thieves.
You know, at the time I wouldn't have picked Uncharted 1 as a sequel-y sort of property, although the 1 on the end should probably have tipped me off. It wasn't awful, but it had fewer original thoughts than the BBC program planning department. It had one ball from Gears of War in its mouth and another from Tomb Raider and was sucking for all its might. The plot was removed by Caesarian section from an Indiana Jones movie so sloppily that doctors were unable to save any of the relatable characters or coherent motivations, and it also took a lead from the Dan Brown school of puzzles, i.e. present the viewer some ancient riddle and then immediately solve it for them, because if they were smart they wouldn't be watching this piss. So I didn't expect to hear any more from this franchise, but I guess if you feed humanity flavourless wallpaper paste for decades then you shouldn't be surprised if that's all they want to eat now.
So part-time adventurer and full-time cockend Nathan Drake returns, still just as much the lovable flawed hero for today's cynical age. And when I say flawed I mean that very particular brand of Hollywood flawed; that is to say, not flawed at all. Like the supermodel who is considered ugly because she wears a baggy sweater, Drake is generically handsome beneath his strategically placed grime and inexplicably green designer stubble, supernaturally athletic despite his ceaseless grunts of exertion and retarded gibbon arm-flailing jumping technique, and constantly spouts appalling wit and panicky self-effacements in the hope that you don't notice that he is a remorseless career thief who kills more foreigners than malaria, although having rid the world of blacks, Asians and Latinos in the last game he has now moved on to non-American whites. In his continued efforts to essentially be Nicolas Cage in the movie National Treasure, he has now acquired his very own Sean Bean, who to his credit almost goes a whole hour before turning out to be the bad guy.
So what's new since Uncharted 1? Well, something between bugger and all. It's still about 45% killing innocent defenseless mercenaries, 45% climbing all over ancient masonry while grunting like a smoker doing press-ups in a meadow full of talkative pigs, and 10% inexplicably functional ancient puzzles which are usually solved by opening your journal and having it bold-facedly tell you the solution, so the only thing being tested is whether or not you still have eyeballs in your face. In true Indiana Jones tradition there's also a new woman for Drake to put his little explorer in, but then they bring the one from the first game back as if to say, "Hah! Bet you were hoping we'd be able to avoid rehashing at least one thing, right?" The new lady is British, so obviously doesn't have much of a chance of a long-term thing, because Drake has propagating the master race to think about.
Actually, there's a bit more of a stealth focus this time; you can trim down the enemy numbers by jumping onto unaware guards and rendering them unconscious through a combination of noogies and homoerotic terror, but this aspect is complicated by Drake's crippling addiction to walls. When he takes cover by a wall, he immediately forms an attraction stronger than that of a mother to a child. Such is his desire that more than once my attempts at going unnoticed were completely fucked over a bramble patch when I was forced to move a good few feet out of cover just to unstick myself from it; and things got even worse later on when Drake started grinding up bits of wall and snorting them loud enough to give away his position, but when that happens and you attempt melee combat it is kind of cool that you do so by madly tapping the square button. It's nice to see a control mechanic based around what most players are going to do anyway. Perhaps next they could introduce platforming sections that can only be solved by throwing your controller at the screen.
I guess the big selling point is that it looks very nice. Looking nice isn't as hard as it used to be with all those high-definition boobie-glisten renderers that are readily available, but Uncharted 2 does put a lot of effort into its scenery. This could be one of the reasons why they make us climb onto the tops of very high things all the bloody time, the other being to give us an opportunity to leap off into space and see if Nathan Drake can wisecrack his way out of a 50-story drop onto a bric-a-brac store, the smug flat-headed cunt. So it's a handsome-looking game, except for the fact that all the characters' eyes are creepy bug-like things that look like they should be peering out from beneath the overlong black fringes of scary Japanese girls. But you know what? If all you want is visuals then you can go to the fucking National Portrait Gallery! Just like in the first game, the detailed scenery means that often the only way to tell the difference between a climbable ledge and climbable ledge effect wallpaper is to furiously jump up and down in front of it like you're praying to the ledge gods with a ceremonial dance. Eventually the game will give you a hint indicating which of the several bumps on the walls you're supposed to start from, but it always seems to be a bit snarky about it. Fuck you, game, it's not my fault you can't be arsed to tidy up.
Let me just restate that Uncharted 2 is by no stretch of the word bad; it's all very balanced and compelling and cinematic and all the other words from the GameSpot review generator. Nathan Drake seemed to get beaten up a lot more than in the first game, which certainly improved the experience for me. Maybe by the end of the third game we'll be controlling a big pile of giblets and teeth; serves him right, the glib self-righteous tosser. But apart from that it doesn't add a single thing, not to its own series or to gaming as a whole. It's even got an unlockable zero-gravity mode. You see, it's so opposed to the concept of newness it feels it has to defy Sir Isaac New-ton. Blimey, that was tortured. Anyway, you'll probably enjoy it at the time but almost immediately forget about it once you're done; in fact I've already forgotten where this sentence was going. It's a popcorn game, that's what it is. It's a little flavourless ball you can scoff while you're waiting for something that matters. And if you put butter on it it smells a little bit like piss.
- Has an entire potato on his shoulder: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
- For the record, enemies laughing at you after you die has NEVER positively enhanced the gaming experience
- I just hate all smugness that is not my own