So I’ve owned a PS3 for a couple years now and I’ve finally made the time to play through both Uncharted and Uncharted 2. For those not in the know these games, by the folks at Naughty Dog, are the sort of like Indiana Jones set in current times with only slightly less charismatic lead, witty dialogue, huge set-pieces, and tons of gunplay. The first games sees Nathan Drake, a supposed descendant of Sir Francis Drake, seemingly pulling up the last remains of his ancestor alongside journalist Elena Fisher. Soon enough things go to hell and Drake and Elena find themselves on the trail of Francis Drake and an ancient treasure.
In terms of story, characters, and visuals Uncharted is an absolute 10. While dialogue occasionally falls flat by and large I found Uncharted a significant cut above most other games. Huge set pieces on a tropical island, in the midst of a Nazi bunker, or a U-boat somehow stranded in the jungle to complex underground complexes with stunning designs that are a joy to look at. Where the game falters is in the gameplay. Lengthy gun battles with mercenary hordes using a cover system felt out of place amidst the exploration and were further complicated by some serious bullet sponge. For the majority of the game I felt like I was enduring the gameplay to experience the story.
Uncharted 2 softens some of the problems with the first game. Enemies fall a bit easier, and the dialogue and story are polished to a mirror gleam that really enhances the preceding. The addition of stealth kills reduces some of the gameplay while adding a sort-of puzzle element to some encounters that only works about half the time but when it does is absolutely fantastic. The set-pieces, stunning in the first game, are ratcheted up to a breathtaking 11 in Uncharted 2. From the opening train scene, to the museum break-in, to the exploration of Shamabala, to the chase scenes Uncharted 2 action exceeds in ways that the first Uncharted only dreamed of. It still isn’t perfect and there was still a definite element of grind that crept up towards the end of the game and some significant camera issues during the final scene that made things a bit more difficult. I suspect it is partially me. I completed the majority of the game on normal but found myself veering towards Easy, and yes once I even dropped things down to Very Easy once, towards the end of the game. By and large it is an excellent experience that I had a blast playing.
My biggest problem in both Uncharted and Uncharted 2 is summarized nicely by the Onion AV club in their initial review of Uncharted: “Nathan Drake is a much better murderer than a fortune hunter.” Indeed, the game keeps track of your kills and in both games I’m pretty sure I was in the hundreds. That bothers me more than I expected. Uncharted 2 comments on the fact a little when the game’s villain, during the final battle, asks Drake “How many men did you kill just today?” This barely makes Drake pause and minutes later things are back to normal again; the mountain of bodies forgotten. My cursory glances at reviews and discussions of the game, particularly in terms of feature articles, finds little if anything talking about the trail of dead Drake leaves behind him. The University of Connecticut’s Daily Campus has brief column entitled Player Characters: Nathan Drake, mass murderer, bitmob’s Nathan Drake: Globetrotting Killer, the 4player podcast asking Is Nathan Drake a monster? and this Penny-arcade comic are about all I could find on the topic.
My favorite moments of both games aren’t the lengthy gun battles, of which there are many, but climbing puzzles and those all-too-brief moments when as Drake I could stop and just look around. The tranquilizer gun which makes its first appearance in Uncharted 2 during an introductory chapter is never to be seen again after that single chapter. Stopping to think too hard about the mercenary army I slaughtered brings me out of the experience. Does it ruin the game for me know? But Drake’s murderous, guns’a blazin’ actions stand in stark contrast to affable and charismatic personality. I don’t know if this is something that Naughty Dog plans to address in whatever future installments of Uncharted might be down the line but I certainly hope we’ll see more exploration and puzzles over the disturbing amount of gunplay and death that has marked both titles so far.