It is a happy coincidence that, at a time when storytelling in games is being scrutinised as never before, along comes an example to demonstrate the sheer table-thumping power of a rollicking good yarn, even if it’s one relayed in a manner that may not win it fans among those attempting to reinvent the way games are played. Uncharted 2 propels you through a procession of intricately staged episodes of drama peopled with characters that sizzle with zip and pith, and, in showing you how your reckless treasure-hunting ways adversely affect the lives of others, even asks you to question your morality. At no point, though, are you given the option to change those ways. This is no Infamous. It’s obviously not a firstperson action game, either, which leaves the player feeling much less like he is the hero than is the case in contemporary action classics such as Half-Life 2 and Call Of Duty: Modern Warfare, in which the characters you inhabit never utter a word. Conversely, Uncharted 2’s returning protagonist, Nathan Drake, tosses out a quip as readily as he draws a breath (even, repeatedly, when faced with a character who quite clearly understands not a single word coming out of our hero’s mouth). Despite never being short of a comeback, however, he remains likeable throughout the game’s duration, whether holding his resolve against what seem to be overwhelming odds, carefully picking his way through elaborate locations that belong to other civilisations, or even playing his part in a surprisingly tense love triangle.
Though two of the original Uncharted’s most obvious influences seemed to be Tomb Raider and Gears Of War, the focus on Drake, and his ability to pull you into his explosive world, is the result of a studio dedicated to emulating not other games but movies, and Naughty Dog’s ambitions have been more fully realised this time around. In truth, no film would dare to throw quite so many cliffhangers – sometimes of the literal variety – at its viewers for fear of seeming like some kind of parody, but this is a videogame and its pacing is remarkable, only rarely allowing you to shuffle back from the edge of your seat and recline. The opening chapters do not see the game at its very best, and one particularly prolonged firefight two-thirds of the way through begins to drag towards its conclusion, but otherwise this is a masterclass in capturing the player’s attention, slinging it into a sack, and poking it repeatedly, relentlessly, with a stick.
Which is not to say that there isn’t repetition. Despite its sophisticated presentation and the attention spent on creating believable relationships between human characters, Uncharted 2 involves a lot of killing, our first-playthrough tally of felled foes almost reaching the 1,000 mark. With the game running at a rate of about 90kph (kills per hour), it’s good to discover that its combat builds upon the original Uncharted’s robust, cover-heavy model. Only a handful of new weapons are introduced, but stealth takedowns, the use of riot shields and the ability to pick up gas canisters and fling them towards your enemies before lethally detonating them with gunfire bring a fresh helping of strategic options that serve to not only vary the action in the campaign mode but, significantly, give additional life to the all-new multiplayer components. Importantly, too, where the original game’s combat and vertical scenery navigation sections felt segregated, this time they feel enmeshed, and it is a genuine thrill to hang by one hand from a steel bar above a city street, while trying to use the pistol in the other to sequentially pop the heads of a troop of fast-approaching military goons.