Definitely no fish out of water.
Placing in GOTY list: first, 2009|Watch a Cullen Plays LIVE live stream of Uncharted 2: Among Thieves right now here
Shambhala. God damn Shambhala.
Uncharted 2 up to that point was still an incredible game to look at with stunning views and vistas that, to this day, still match or, in some cases, even surpass those in the two games Naughty Dog put out after UC2: its sequel and The Last of Us. But Shambhala, seeing that for the first time in years, perked my eyes up again in bewilderment. I can see why Robyn picked it her moment of the generation.
I’ve dabbled in and out of Uncharted 2 since 2009, but this was the first full playthrough I had done of the game since I first finished it four years ago. Even now, it’s still one of the best graphical showcases of what PlayStation 3 could – and still can – do. It’s not just Shambhala that drives this home, though that is probably the best example however. Look at the mountains you see when climb to the top of the hotel in Tibet, the village in the Himalayas, the list goes on and on. It’s not just the scenery, but the way it uses lighting too. Uncharted 2 is a stunner, but you already knew that. We all did.
It’s a breathtaking game, but not just in sight, but also in play. The setpieces, notched up galore compared to Drake’s Fortune. From the small stuff like the jeep veering towards you in the centre of Tibet to the bigger stuff like the train and the collapsing hotel, the setpieces that goes on in the game are just incredibly done like no other game that came before it. The sheer scope of them is just outlandish at times but never any less impressive. The prologue at the start is just a taste of what’s to come in the ten or so hours the game goes on for.
Uncharted 2 didn’t need to massively change the gameplay dynamic from Drake’s Fortune – if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, after all – and thankfully, it maintained the same formula that made Drake’s Fortune fun to play. Both gunplay and platforming were still fun, but Naughty Dog also introduced a stealth system. For the most part, it worked, but there was one point at the start of the game in the museum level in Istanbul which primarily used stealth that saw me get caught about 15 or 16 times. I don’t quite know if that was to do with how I was playing the game or the game itself, but there’s only so many times you can hear Flynn say, ‘head for the fountain’ for the 16th time without having a mental breakdown. But I digress, that is more or less a nitpick at this point.
The main thing Uncharted 2 did right, however, more than any other game in 2009 – and perhaps even other games since its release – was how it handled storytelling. One example: Drake and Tenzin. The latter unable to speak English, the pair still manage to strike a relationship that is one of the game’s strongest partnerships that would later go on to foretell the foundation of the relationship between Joel and Ellie in The Last of Us (not at all surprising when you think back considering TLOU leads Bruce Straley and Neil Druckmann were game director and lead designer on UC2 respectively).
There’s also a cast that shows maturity and humour within the game’s main plot of stopping war criminal Larzovic whilst chasing the Chintimani Stone. If Drake’s Fortune didn’t convince you at the time, Nolan North fantastically cemented not only himself as gaming’s leading male voice, but also Drake’s wise-cracking personality with a terrific performance, whilst Emily Rose as Elena and newcomer Claudia Black as Chloe battle it out (not literally) in a love interest sub-plot that is actually interesting to see as the game goes on with the pair also giving terrific performances.
Uncharted 2 was an action spectacle like no other. A story with some brilliant wit but also maturity around it and a superb cast, all with incredible setpiece sequences and outstanding scenery surrounding it. It advanced storytelling in games to whole new heights that, until then, not been seen for a long time. It confirmed Naughty Dog as the flagship studio within Sony Computer Entertainment Worldwide Studios and if they weren’t already, they were now among gaming’s development elite.
After Uncharted 2 pushed the boundaries of what was possible within a AAA narrative-driven action game, the onus was now on Evan Wells and Christophe Balestra’s team to now deliver the next home run.
Or was that ‘teams’?
Highlight: The hotel in Tibet. It showed some of the best aspects of UC2 – the graphical prowlers, the tight action gameplay and a Drake one-liner to cap it off (“Hehheh, we…we were almost in that, haha”).
More Game of the Generation articles will be arriving throughout the day up until 9pm GMT with the Game of the Generation. Find the full list so far here, with special and honourable mentions going live on the list along with the GOTG at 9pm.