Uncharted 2 is often considered the best in an incredibly good series of games and currently has a Metacritic score of 96, making it one of the best games of all time. I didn’t play Uncharted 2 on release as I was hip deep in Gears of Wars at the time, so I’m sure you can imagine my excitement when I was able to pick up the remastered Uncharted trilogy at a bargain price on the PlayStation Network. Even more so because PlayStation Network and bargain are not phrases that typically co-exist.
I played through the first of the trilogy quickly and thought it was serviceable but not spectacular. Being that it’s the oldest of the Uncharted games and Naughty Dog’s first entry in the genre I was sure that the sequel would be much more polished. There was the universal praise for Uncharted 2 driving me forwards too. In hindsight I should have perhaps paid more attention to the flaws of the original as it would have softened the blow of disappointment to come.
Before I go on it’s important to note that I enjoyed Uncharted 2, quite a bit. It’s a very good game. Its virtues have been universally sung for years and it’s considered by some to be a near perfect game. I’m not going to talk at length about what makes this a good game, that’s been done. Rather what I want to talk about is what prevents it from being the great game it’s so often purported to be.
I have three major issues with Uncharted 2. Again, none of these make this a bad game by any stretch, every game has its failing. These failings need to be taken into account however, particularly when arguing that it is one of the best games of all time.
It’s predicable. Terribly predicable.
At its heart Uncharted 2 is an exploration game. I don’t mean exploration in the manner of finding different ways through the areas or to the objective but rather climbing, jumping and solving puzzles to move forward. The problem is that platforms collapse, ropes break and secret doors are revealed exactly where you expect them to be. Honestly, there was not a single time I was surprised by something breaking and Nathan Drake using his superhero powers to grab the tiniest of handholds at the last second, including the (epic) opening act of the game, climbing the wreaked train. You know the bits I’m talking about. That wooden bridge leading to the monastery deep into act three, can you honestly tell me you were surprised it collapsed? Really? REALLY?
The game switches between exploration and combat and you know exactly when it’s going to happen. Walking through an area with lots of rocks that could be cover? There are bad guys incoming. Just found the map/key/puzzle piece to send you off to the next location? Prepare to be swamped. Pinned down by snipers? Oh look, a sniper rifle someone left lying around. It’s formulaic like a romantic comedy. And what is with finding the secret door, making the impossible jump to an area unoccupied for decades if not centuries only to find a small army of nameless foes already there? Come on….
Drake is a mass murderer
This is one of the things that really lets the game, and in fact the series, down for me. Nathan Drake is not an adventurer that occasional runs into trouble, he’s a mass murderer. This is not hyperbole. Rambo IV, the Rambo movie with the highest kill count of the series, has a total 236 deaths, 83 of which are committed by Rambo himself. According to IGN, Drake kills 674 people in Uncharted 2. That’s over eight times more than Rambo in Rambo’s bloodiest movie!
It’s common for people to joke about this but it’s a far greater flaw than a throwaway line in a review. It completely breaks the immersive atmosphere the game constantly works so hard to create. And it’s not just the sheer numbers of people, as crazy as it is, it’s the vehicles as well. Not only does Drake manage to destroy 15-20 jeeps and trucks in a high speed chase, he also takes out an attack helicopter and a tank. Honestly, Drake would be in the next Expendables movie except he would make the rest of the cast seem like pacifists.
That’s not ok, not at all. If you are going to proclaim this game as one of the greatest of all time then you have to consider this kill count as a positive and I have never, not once, heard it described as such. Bizarrely, despite Nathan Drake’s willingness to kill, in the games climactic scene he refused to put a bullet in the murderous, torturous, horrific, do-anything–for-power warlord. It makes NO sense.
Drake is superhuman
Ok, people can have incredible upper body strength. Drake lifts, sure, I can accept that. The strength is his fingers though? That’s next level. Falling rapidly, an outcrop one inch deep and BAM. That grip STICKS. Not to mention when he falls from the train, hands slick with blood HAVING BEEN SHOT IN THE TORSO he still has the strength to grab a pipe to stop his fall with one blood covered hand.
Drakes gets shot by snipers, jumps incredible distances and can even take a direct hit from an RPG. He’s the Incredible Hulk. This would be fine if he were actually an Avenger, He-Man, a super mutant or Batman, but he’s not. Nathan Drake is very much portrayed as a normal man. By normal man, I mean normal Hollywood man – buff, smart, funny, adventurous, amazing with women, charming – but a man all the same. Every time he’s standing behind a wall that gets hit by a tank shell, jumps up without apparent injury and moves on it completely shatters the immersion on the game. Hell, he gets shot in the guts, climbs up a train hanging off a cliff and fights his way thought dozens of bad guys before collapsing in the snow. Apparently a couple of days sleep though and he’s good to go again. A good game can get away with that. One of the greatest games of all time? No. No it cannot.
Uncharted 2 is a good game. A very good game. Its many virtues have been sung countless times and the one that strikes me is the exceptional voice acting and animation. I like Nathan. And Chloe and Elena. The banter while wandering about, or in the middle of a gunfight, that is top notch and I am looking forward to going on the rest of Drake and his co-stars journeys. I absolutely recommend this game to anyone that enjoys adventure games.
That being said, with the above flaws, this game has no place in any serious discussion about the greatest game of all time.