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Uncharted 2’s excellency is under the radar

 2007’s Uncharted was sort of a sleeper hit.  Sure, developer Naughty Dog had quite the pedigree—titles like the PlayStation classic Crash Bandicoot series and last generation’s Jak and Daxter games were all critically acclaimed bestsellers.  However, Uncharted landed without much of a splash.  Maybe it was the new, unproven franchise that turned gamers off or maybe it was the crowded 2007 holiday season (which featured games like Halo 3 and Call of Duty 4). Uncharted’s performance was certainly underwhelming, but the persistent Naughty Dog was smart to try again; Uncharted 2 is finally set to wow audiences as a videogame love letter to big-budget action movies, a fast-paced blockbuster of a game that’s one of the year’s best.
 Uncharted’s central character, Nathan Drake, is part wise-cracking rogue, evoking stars like Nathon Fillion and Harrison Ford, and part rough-and-tough action hero, jumping out of crumbling buildings with the grace of Jason Statham.  In the cut scenes, he’s an extremely likeable Everyman character a little in over his head in a Indiana Jones-esque adventure. During the actual game, it’s a different story—your Nathan Drake is a merciless, psychopathic mass-murderer who will break a neck like he’s been doing it since he was seven.  Don’t get me wrong, combat in Uncharted 2 is rewarding and fun (a vast-improvement over the last game’s bullet-sponge enemies and clumsy guns)—it’s just a little unsettling when lovable, smarmy Drake cracks wise after shooting 20 grown men point-blank in the face.
 But the wise-cracking is good enough to forgive some inconsistencies in character. Undoubtedly, Naughty Dog employs some of the best writers and voice actors in the industry.  The dialogue is funny and original (a Herculean feat for a videogame) and the characters are generally cliché-free, even if they do sometimes fall into vague stereotypes, like the womanizing, cigar-chomping old-timer who’s getting too old for this, well… stuff.  The plot is ripped right out of the National Treasure playbook, filled with enough supernatural mystery to keep the globe-trotting tale from being ponderous and plodding.  Uncharted 2 is exciting, suspenseful, and sad; even controller-free onlookers will be excited to see where the plot goes. 
  Which is everywhere.  If you were disappointed with the original Uncharted’s limited jungle ruin setting, then you’ll have a lot to be excited about as you explore Uncharted 2’s Tibetan villages, ice-capped mountains and war-torn Asian cities.  It all looks better than you’ve ever seen—old stone basins glisten after being drained, thick jungle greenery bends realistically as characters creep or run past, and old cityscapes stretch out in a seemingly endless skyline.  Each short chapter is more visually interesting as the last and just as impressive.
 It’s not all just running and gunning through the jungle; Uncharted 2 features the best Tomb Raider-style cliff-climbing in any game, yet.  Nate climbs through bombed-out buildings and overgrown ruins just as well as any Prince of Persia, and without the frustration of Laura Croft—the game does a great job of encouraging exploration while pushing the player forward.  You will rarely, if ever, find yourself wandering backwards and lost through the game’s massive wall-scaling playgrounds. 
 Of course, there are problems.  Early in the game, there’s an awkwardly forced stealth segment that will have you restarting a section or two repeatedly until you figure out exactly how the developers wanted you to move through the area—expect to throw your controller or at least curse loudly by the tenth time you find yourself caught and forced to start over.  Also, Uncharted also has a couple of misplaced “boss” battles.  Usually, climatic larger-than-life boss fights can be a nice change of pace at the end of a long level; Uncharted’s bosses are tedious bullet dumps– you’ll unload clips and explode grenades into the bad guy’s unflinching face while he marches on with a Terminator’s perseverance. 
 These small blemishes don’t take away much against Uncharted 2’s excellent single-player campaign; it’s the videogame equivalent of a page-turner.  Combined with the impressive amount of multiplayer modes (including a miniature co-op campaign, a “horde” mode, and a massive competitive mode), Uncharted 2 is an easily recommendable purchase with enough content to keep you content at least until Modern Warfare 2 comes out.

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