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Uncharted 2 Day#1: “What Could Possibly Go Wrong?”

Day 1 with Uncharted 2. It’s the Game of the Year, so I have high expectations. So far it has been a very interesting experience. I’m already seeing what they mean by cinematic gameplay — it’s trying very hard to be visceral and exciting at the expense of broader agency. It certainly works at some levels quite well, but there were also moments of frustration. Let’s see how it goes. Spoilers within.

So this is my first Uncharted game. I was curious about it regardless — I know Richard and he’s like the nicest person in the game industry (and that’s saying a lot in an industry full of nice people.) I also have to play the Game of the Year. I’ve  heard mostly positive things anecdotally, with a couple of “don’t believe the hype” kind of reviews. Game of the Year  is usually a pretty good indicator, so I’m generally optimistic. Here goes.

We start by updating, as usual for PS3 game, and it takes forever (as usual). The title screen imagery is very Temple of Doom — weird but a nice illustration. I choose normal difficulty as always and get started.  We get a Marco Polo quote about he didn’t tell all of his stories for fear of not being believed. We start on the main character, Drake. He’s a quite good looking model — a wee bit uncanny, but overall a very nice model.  He’s bleeding a lot and he exposits  on it.  Drake is on some kind of train.  Things start flying past him suddenly and I realize the train Drake is on is going off a cliff. The  character ends up falling out of the train and hanging on a rail on the end of the train. Okay, now that’s a beginning. Adrenaline duly racing.

I get control and it’s a Shadow of the Colossus like climb up the train. It’s a lot of learning the ropes of climbing. It’s got a interesting style of play. There’s very little camera control; you look where they want you to look. There are lots of cutpiece parts of the climb (things falling, rails breaking), which are all clearly pre-scripted, although they still do spook me. I climb through several bits until I  get out of train just as it falls away.

I cut to a CS in tropical tiki bar where Drake is having a drink. His friend Flynn comes by. Flynn has a job for Drake.  The client wants us to get an object.  Drake doesn’t want to go on the job. Then Chloe, a third conspirator, shows up. She’s  in on the job and talks about some exhibit related to Marco Polo. That’s where the object we’re after is, an oil lamp. Drake reads some old Italian note from Marco Polo, and the note deals with the missing ships from Polo’s return trip. The lamp contains a clue to the missing ships, and knowing that, Drake is on board. We end the scene with a “what could possibly go wrong” line and a quick toast.

We cut back to the destroyed train and I have control again. I’m wandering around the wreck of the train that hasn’t fallen over the edge yet. Along the way, I learn to shoot and have to pop some random bad guy. I also  get my first treasure which seems to be some kind of hidden achievement system that I’m not going to chase. There’s more climbing — it’s fun, but  it’s interesting how I’m regularly making jumps that I wasn’t trying to make totally by accident. I think it’s a product of the locked camera. Anyway, I get into another train car and make a crazy jump to another one. As I walk around this last train, there’s a CS of another train hitting my train, and it knocks me out.

Cut to CS of me in a hotel room. Chloe comes in. Flynn is gone somehow, not very clear what’s up with him. She’s on top of Drake now.  The group was separated somehow, but they’re still going after the treasure. She wants her and Drake to disappear together once all three thieves split the treasure amongst themselves, but she doesn’t want Flynn to know that we have this plan. My spidey sense of narrative is tingling, sensing betrayals in the future. The scene ends with Drake and Chloe  making out, and pan to window.

I’m again back in control on the train. I climb around some more, and then the floor gives out on me. These cut pieces are kind of weird — they are very effective at shocking me, although I don’t totally like the fact that they seem to be traps that I can’t avoid. I get to the top of the cliff as the train falls away. I’m in snow. There’s a CS of me walking and finding a crazy Asian-looking knife. I crawl behind bunker and stare at the knife until I flashback to my third CS of the session.

This is CS of the three conspirators 4 months earlier.  The three are rafting over to the exhibit where the lamp is being displayed. They arrive at a sewer drain, and cut to the characters cutting through the grill. They go into the sewers.  Flynn leads on and the banter is ok — not great but totally passable. Chloe going to cut the power while Flynn and Drake go in to get the lamp. Flynn jumps in over a ledge and Drake follows after a goodbye for Chloe.

I get control at the bottom and have to follow Flynn. It’s all Prince of Persia running and jumping with triangle serving as the generic action button. We have to go up through a hole on the roof of tunnel — he boosts me and I climb up. Up there, we find a steam pipe we can’t climb until I turn the heat off. I search for a second and find the level that does it.  I have to tap triangle — not a clear icon for this action on screen by the way — to do it. I continue running, and I die once on a drop because I missed a control tip. I die once again from a bad jump right after that. I continue on and learn about cover — it’s pretty simple to do, so it’s clearly a core mechanic here.

I find a door into the building proper, but it’s alarmed. The challenge here is to follow the cable exiting the alarm to deactivate it. This takes me a while because of some shadowing that obscures the cable in a corner. The game gives me hint even though I’m on the right track. I finally find the alarm after a little struggle and triangle to deactivate it. There’s CS of us going in door, and on the other side, I learn a stealth takedown (square button) to take down a guard. When I do it, the animation makes it clear I only knock him out.  Good – I don’t really want to murder innocent guards. In the next scene, I have to run and stealth take down some guards. After that, I have to deactivate another alarm and lift up gate to enter a new area.

Inside, we get to a fountain and have to take down some guards to move to another location. I’m not clear where I am anymore, but the level is linear enough that I just go where the flow pushes me. There are a couple of guards around the fountain, and then a couple of guards that exit a doorway when I approach the path I have to take. I do a couple of nice stealth take downs my first time past the fountain, but Flynn’s AI fucks up and stands out in the open when the guards come in and they capture me for game over.  WTF? That sets off a series of deaths around the fountain. The controls are a bit finicky, so it’s not really clear when I can take down a guard down . Can I do it  from inside the fountain?  Where do I have to stand to take a guard down from a balcony? I annoyingly die again and again as I make guesses as to the control specifics until I finally get past it.

There’s a new CS as Drake and Flynn enter the new space where Flynn gives me tranq guns. We use them to knock out a couple of guards, and there’s a neat set piece where I have to take out a guard who enters a room while I’m clinging to a wall. It takes some exploration, but we get on the roof. There’s more climbing and running, and more automatic actions I don’t predict or expect to do. There are also more cut pieces; a good example is that a piece of roof gives way for no reason when I catch it at the end of a long jump. Does that add to the experience if I know that was going to happen no matter how well I did the jump? Not sure yet. I’m now scaling the outside of the big tower in a very Prince of Persia kind of moment. There’s more climbing and I die again once from a missed control. I get up higher on the tower and facing more climbing puzzles ahead, I decide to call it a night.

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