Home > Games, Reviews > Nathan Drake > Lara Croft

Nathan Drake > Lara Croft

UC2_Vector_Logo-4Cbk smallThere’s a lot that Nathan Drake, star of Uncharted 2: Among Thieves on Sony’s PlayStation 3, has in common with Lara Croft, star of the Tomb Raider series: both make a living from some combination of being an archaeologist, adventurer and historian; both mingle with colleagues who aren’t always the most honest of business partners; and both know how to handle themselves in a fight. We’ve yet to see pictures of Nathan Drake in a clingy top that accentuates his cleavage, so I think it’s safe to say that that’s where the similarities end.

Uncharted 2 is one of the most eagerly anticipated games for relase this year on Sony’s home console, and if you’ve played the first game (subtitled Drake’s Fortune), it’s easy to see why: with a seemless blend of athletic platforming, puzzles and combat with an immersive story involving a hunt for lost treasure and a lovably charming lead character, where can you go wrong? And that was just the first game. Picking up about a year afterwards, Uncharted 2 raises the bar in terms of the gameplay and provides an even more thrilling storyline.

screenshot_00300108_221401This time around, our hero Drake is on the trail of Marco Polo, after finding evidence that the adventurer might have discovered the fabled land of Shambhala, or Shangri-La. But all doesn’t run smoothly: our hero is “among thieves” after all, and despite help from Victor “Sully” Sullivan and potential love interest Chloe Frazer, Drake’s investigations are plagued by interference from former friend and colleague Harry Flynn, working with the dangerous Zoran Lazarevich.

While the first game followed a fixed chronological progression, Uncharted 2 isn’t afraid to play around with some flashbacks: the game begins in medias res with Drake on a train, already in possession of an artefact that he doesn’t discover until some time later in play, and it serves to set how important story is to this game, an aspect that is just as important as the graphics or gameplay. This game also increases the scope significantly: while most of the first game took place on an island, Drake’s adventures this time around take him all around the world, from icy tundras to the jungle and even war-torn cities.

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Level Concept Art

The level design of Uncharted was impressive, giving a real sense of location and Uncharted 2 provides more of the same: although most sections of the game follow a fairly linear path, there’s sufficient draw distance and layout that there’s never a sense of being on a “soundstage,” or indeed anywhere other than a jungle (or a palatial museum, or a city.) By moving around, the story is also allowed to grow somewhat naturally: as Nathan moves around various areas, he’ll come across some bad guys that aren’t even necessarily villains: they’re just in your way and you’re in theirs.

screenshot_07260108_005058Of course, if there’s a bad guy in your way, you’re going to want to take care of him, and the game’s combat system is the most significant improvement over the first game. There are a number of different combat options to help you through, whether you want to gun your way along, opt for hand-to-hand or play the stealthy approach (although you’ll have to use a mixture of the lot to cover most areas.) Stealth attacks require making optimum use of the environment and the platforming elements of the game: Drake can take cover behind a wall (or crate) and silently take down someone on the other side, the same as can be done when hanging from a ledge or just approaching an enemy from behind.

Hand-to-hand combat is simple to execute, but looks impressive on screen, as Drake trades blows (with the square button) or countering an enemy attack (with the context sensitive triangle.)

screenshot_07260108_001157Gun combat isn’t as simple as you might think, though: ammo is at a premium, and Drake can only take so much damage himself. While the first game made this easy, oftentimes providing a vantage point with lots of cover that couldn’t be broken by an enemy, and even gave a few seconds to collect ammo before another wave approached, Uncharted 2 is far less lenient: you’ll find few positions that can be secured with confidence, no matter how much cover you can duck behind, and you won’t have the freedom to find another gun/ammo without getting shot at. It makes the game much more interesting, but there’s also a frustrating side to it, as more than once I found myself getting used to the power and range of a particular weapon before I had to give it up due to a lack of ammo.

cityscape

Other aspects of the game, the platforming and puzzles, while well-realised and impressive, aren’t much to comment on: most of the puzzles require finding a particular sign or pressing switches in a particular order, a standard distraction that won’t provide much trouble to regular gamers. There’s no wall-running or feats of ultra-athleticism, but Drake has no problems jumping over the rooftops or clinging to loose bricks as a handhold. He even flails and shouts when he’s in danger of missing a jump, something that makes the game feel a lot more realistic.

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Concept Art For Nathan Drake

Nathan’s movements and the voice-acting really make him feel like more than just a video game character, and with his design and cheeky demeanour, provides a male antidote to Lara Croft’s ample charms. Yes, it’s hard not to fall in love with Nathan Drake. The fact that his voice, provided by Nolan North, is the same as lended to the prince in Ubisoft’s recent Prince Of Persia makes things a little bit same-ish, but it still works for the character, and he has some hilarious soundbites whether talking to “himself” or interacting with Chloe and Sully. Chloe, for her part, is portrayed in all her sultry charms by Claudia Black, better known for her role in Farscape (and we’ll begrudgingly admit she was in Stargate SG-1 as well.)

It’s not just the voices that lend an ultra-smooth realistic and cinematic feel to Uncharted 2, but the overall presentation, both during sequences of gameplay and cutscenes: in fact, there’s little difference between most of the cutscenes and the game itself, making use of the same models, lighting and camera angles. There are some sequences that play out as a mix of both, such as Drake making his way across a crumbling or collapsing environment, or running from vehicles and the game even opens with Nathan on a train, dangling off a cliff, a point at which I said “I hope I get to play through this.” And yes, yes I did.

The lack of a HUD (save for the occasional button cue or an ammo-meter when Drake’s using a gun) allows players to really enjoy all aspects of the game’s look and feel, and in case you’re worried how to keep an eye on Nathan’s health, the colour of the screen and hastening heartbeat should make it so you can’t really ignore.

PEGI 16 2DIn terms of bonus features, Uncharted 2 also includes a few different modes of play: trophy rewards can be spent on unlocking new skins for Drake and Chloe, filters (including a black-and-white and sepia modes) and one-shot kills can also be unlocked. But the game’s most important feature is under a menu called “multiplayer,” including a competitive deathmatch and a co-operative mode, separate to the main game but covering many of the campaign’s key moments. The game also features customisable twitter connectivity, meaning bragging rights can be spread around more than just your friends list.

Aside from the combat elements, there’s little that we can say Uncharted 2 offers by way of an improvement over the first game, but that’s stressing the fact that that’s not a bad thing, with Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune still providing one of the PlayStation 3’s best games even years after its release. Uncharted 2: Among Thieves is then the perfect follow-up, providing a near-perfect blend of action, adventure and intrigue across the story and the gameplay itself. If you own a PS3, the game is a must-have, and if you don’t, this is your reason to get one.

Zombie Rating: A+

Uncharted 2: Among Thieves is available now exclusive to Sony PlayStation 3.

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  1. Hedgie
    November 3, 2009 at 10:54 PM

    Agreed with everything you said, although lets be honest – Nathan Drake is such a smug, smarmy prick you just want to punch him in the throat.

    • Ken
      November 3, 2009 at 11:45 PM

      Ah, Nathan isn’t that smarmy: he’s just misunderstood.

      • Hedgie
        November 24, 2009 at 10:02 PM

        He’s pretty fucking smarmy.

  2. October 26, 2009 at 2:46 PM

    Great review. I didn’t realise there was such a term akin to “all media resolution”.

    …of course when I start using that phrase it’ll be totally original, and I’ll win awards to recognise my genius.

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