In the world of software project management there's something called the iron triangle. The three sides of the triangle represent the three constraints of development: scope, time, and resources. The thought is that you can't change one of those items without impacting the other two. For instance, if you increase the scope of a project (the amount of stuff in the project) you're going to impact the amount of time it takes and the number of resources it will take to get the project done. It's a very nice metaphor but it does lack one attribute, quality. Some say that the iron triangle should really be a square, rectangle, or rhombus but there are those (like myself) who say that quality is part of your scope...that it's actually one of the requirements of developing something to spec. In any case the project managers at Naughty Dog owe the software development world a case study as Uncharted 2 is easily one of the highest pieces of quality software I've ever seen.
Uncharted was one of the best exclusives to come out for the PS3. While it did have a little bit of awkwardness towards the end of the game it was a good blend of shooting, platforming, and puzzle solving. Of course this is like saying that the Camaro is my favorite Chevrolet given the lack of high quality PS3 exclusives but the game had an undeniable charm that somehow slipped under the radar of the gaming world. Thankfully the game did well enough to enable the folks at Naughty Dog to give gamers with the opportunity to don the half tucked shirt of Nathan Drake again as Uncharted 2 is near gaming perfection.
Like the original game, Uncharted 2 doesn't break a lot of new ground in terms of gameplay but rather refines it and polishes it to perfection. Instead of coming up with it's own signature gameplay mechanic the folks at Naughty Dog have focused on perfecting existing mechanics with an emphasis on story telling and execution. Sure the graphics are amazing, the controls are precise and the soundtrack is trailblazing but what sets Uncharted 2 apart is the fact that it's one of the best written games I've ever played. Taking that a step further, the game may have some of the best writing I've seen in any entertainment medium over the last year. The game is a little predictable in parts but there are still enough twists to keep it entertaining.
The game doesn't take itself too seriously and with plenty of humor built in to relive tension and keep things light. It does come close to self awareness on a few occasions it thankfully avoids crossing the threshold into self awareness. It also manages to work in a nice romantic triangle, presenting Drake with his own Betty and Veronica to choose from. The game elegantly works these items in without beating you over the head with it.
What's fantastic about the game is how Naughty Dog tells the story. The game starts with Drake awaking bloody and bruised on a train that teetering on the edge of the cliff. From there the game flashes back to explain how Drake got into this predicament before taking you through the rest the game. During the rest of the game you'll play through tropical forest, frozen tundras, and cities (both modern and ancient).
The game does lift most it's plot structure from the first game as once again Drake is chasing down a mysterious artifact to keep it out of the hands of a madmen. This time around the historical figure of note is Marco Polo (replacing Sir Francis Drake) and the object of concern is the Cintamani stone (instead of El Dorado). While the framework is familiar the difference is the addition of a few mature plot points to the story. There are still some of the pulp elements and sense of humor from the first game but Naughty Dog has added some mature overtones to the game which makes it a little darker than the first game. They don't go all Empire Strikes Back on the player but it's a nice progression of the franchise.
The puzzles are a bit of a mixed bag. Like the first game you have to use Nathan's journal to decipher them but unlike the first game you don't really know when those pages are added to the journal. They do require some interpretation on your part but they aren't exactly at the Professor Layton level of difficulty. The game also has what I called shooting puzzles where Nathan had to take out large quantities of bad guys in short order. This requires a lot of trial and error (i.e. you die a lot) and could be a little frustrating at times.Like its predecessor, Uncharted 2 is painfully linear and while that's not a bad thing it might have been nice to have some branching in the game. There is one short section towards the middle of the game where you get the opportunity to explore a village on your own but even that has a fairly straight A to B feel to it. This isn't necessarily a bad thing as it allows Naughty Dog to craft a perfect experience but it's something that some gamers may feel constrained by.
The controls in Uncharted 2 have been tightened significantly since the first game. Gone are the SIXAXIS controls for throwing grenades and walking across spans which felt tacked on in the first game (you can use the SIXAXIS controls to throw grenades if you're a glutton for punishment but it's not required any more). The rest of the controls are what you would expect in terms of aiming, shooting, and climbing around the environment. The cover system has been tweaked a bit as well but there were more than a few times where Nathan grabbed the wrong wall. It's still a solid system but there were times when I couldn't get the game to do what I wanted. Something I didn't learn until nearly the end of the game was that for most of the climbing sections of the game you didn't need to constantly press the jumping button as Drake will intuitively move in the right direction using just the thumbstick to move around.
I did have a few areas where I got stuck and couldn't figure out where to go next. This situations were usually the result of me not seeing a climbable area or realizing that Drake could make a jump. The game does have a help feature to help get you through these areas although it's a bit more helpful than I would like. You can turn it off if you're so inclined though and I'd recommend it if you want to figure everything out yourself.
The first Uncharted set the high bar for graphics in a game with lush jungles and fantastic water and clothing effects. Uncharted 2 raises that bar with snowy hinterlands and dense city scapes to the mix. The level of detail is amazing as the worn torn city levels feel like you're watching news footage and trudging through snow never looked this good. Uncharted 2 is also one of the few games to trigger my fear of heights in some of the levels. The primary example an icy cavern you discover about two thirds of the way through the game. You're forced to slowly work your way down a fifty to sixty foot area by jumping from one mechanical area to the next which caused me all kinds of problems. I'm normally immune to this kind of thing in a game but for whatever reason Uncharted 2 actually got to me.
The audio in the game is likewise perfect. The game retains the excellent score from the first game and I will admit to lingering on the title screen for a few minutes just to listen to the fantastic orchestral score. Voice work is also exemplary which isn't that surprising given how good it was in the first game. The characters just feel so much better because of the quality of the voice work and the addition of Claudia Black to the mix as Chloe doesn't disrupt the chemistry of the existing actors.
New to the series is a full load of multiplayer modes. The game comes with the standard deathmatch modes as well as a few co-operative modes in case you want to make friends instead of killing them. As you play through the multiplayer modes you'll earn cash which you can spend on boosters, skins, and taunts. Money is also earned playing through the single player side as well so playing the single player side of the game is a good warm-up to the multiplayer portion of the game. I played through a few online matches after spending more time with the multiplayer beta than I care to admit and I had a lot of fun with it. I do hope we get some more of the co-op modes but there's hours and hours of entertainment for when you've finished the single player side of the game.
It's hard to find imperfections in Uncharted 2 as the level of polish is near perfect. I did hit one clipping error and had the game lock up on me once but the overall experience that Naughty Dog has put together is the best out there on any platform. It would be easy to knock the game for not really doing anything innovative but instead of innovating on the gameplay side the developers have innovated on the quality and polish side of the house and the end result is pure gaming bliss. If you have a PS3 this title needs to be in your library. Period.
Conclusion: A must have for any Playstation 3 owner and the game has raised the bar for every other game developer out there. While it lacks in innovating any new gameplay the game does innovate on the quality and polish side of things.