Uncharted 2: A Hollywood blockbuster comes to your PS3

This is not so much a review or suggestion: it’s a commandment.  If you have a PS3 – play Uncharted 2: Among Thieves.  If you are thinking about getting a current generation system, Uncharted 2 is a helluva good reason to get a PS3.  If you have a buddy who has a PS3, borrow it so you can play Uncharted 2.  It’s a Hollywood blockbuster you interact with.  It really is that good.

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I haven’t felt this way about a game since the release of Resident Evil 4 on the Gamecube back in 2005.  Initially not interested in the system, I bought a Gamecube specifically to play RE4.  I loaned my Gamecube to others so they could play it.  It deservedly earned its place as one of the greatest games of all time.

But Uncharted 2 just might surpass it.  It has a near-perfect blend of action, exploration and puzzle-solving.  The production values are astonishingly high, and the dialogue and  voice-acting is as good as anything on any system or in any movie theater.  The characters are not cardboard cut-outs or gross stereotypes.  They look, act and talk like real people in extraodinary circumstances.

And the circumstances are extraordinary, let me tell you.  As treasure hunter Nathan Drake, the game starts with the player in media res, gut-shot, bleeding and painfully crawling his way out of a train car dangling from a Himalyan cliff.  The first half of the story is essentially a flashback that takes the player through a museum in Turkey, a military camp in Borneo, a war-ravaged city in Tibet, and train ride where you literally fight your way car by car as the train heads north into the mountains.   The ultimate goal is to reach Shambhala, also known as the legendary kingdom of Shangri-La, to find the Cintamani stone, a magical gem in Buddhist and Hindu traditions.

The art design in this game really shines, particularly as the adventure winds through snow-swept mountain shrines and mythical kingdoms.  The graphics and the amount of detail in the levels is staggering, forcing you to stop and look at all of the exquisite details between bouts of gunfire.  It’s not just the the swimming pool and full-stocked bar still atop a ruined hotel, it’s the burning cityscape sprawling below you and the temples glinting on the tiered rice paddies in the distance that will leave you agape.

The game provides a moderate challenge on the normal difficulty level; none of the puzzles are too difficult and the platforming stages are well marked with where you need to go.  As the endgame approaches, the combat gets fairly challenging as you face heavily armored troops, demon yeti, and purple-skinned natives long hidden at the roof of the world.  The cover mechanic can get a little sticky here and there, but those instances are rare and don’t ruin the stellar combat.

Combat allows you to take cover, spray suppression fire, hang from ledges, and climb just about any and everything around you.  It’s reminescent of combat from the Gears of War series, but lighter and with more freedom.  See a ledge on the side of building that would be great for sniping?  You can climb the light pole and jump to the ledge.  Want to hang behind a sign and shoot people as they run past?  You can do that, too.  The range of movement is freeing from both a single-player and multiplayer aspect, especially for those who have played a ton of first-person shooters.  No need to rocket jump to those cherished outposts anymore, just climb to them.

Every multiplayer mode being played in games today is available, deathmatch, co-op, capture the flag, king of the hill, etc.  Survival mode throws waves of enemies at you and a friend.  It’s as good as anything gamers have come to expect from the Call of Duty series or Halo.

Uncharted 2 really is the complete package.  Every piece of it shines – design, graphics, dialogue, story, voice acting, gunplay, even multiplayer.  It’s an awfully big step towards making games into interactive movies.  Get it, and if you can’t, I’ll loan you my copy.

Taking a beating on the PS3: Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 and Demon’s Souls

I’ve been playing video games for over 20 years.  Though the years, I’ve conquered games on 9 different consoles and a half dozen PC operating systems.

When I start a new game, I wrestle with my conscience at the level of difficulty screen. Normal or hard?  Will normal be too easy?  Will hard be too hard?  Do I want to enjoy the game or do I want to push myself?  I want things to be challenging, but I don’t want them to be ridiculous.

If it’s a first-person shooter, I usually go with the hard setting if it’s available from the initial start-up screen, because I have played them for 14 of the 20 years I’ve been playing games.  I pushed through both Call of Duty: World at War and Killzone 2 on the harder difficulty setting, though my blood pressure sky-rocketed from the time I pressed start until when the credits rolled.

Even if I don’t play a game on hard, I feel like I should, and the cranky codger stirs anytime I see or play a game that is a cakewalk.

I was playing Prince of Persia, which while beautiful is a ten hour stroll in the park, so I’m giddy at the release in recent weeks of two titles on the PS3 that cater specifically to the hardcore gamer – Ninja Gaiden Sigma 2 and Demon’s Souls.

Ninja Gaiden was the only game on the original NES I played and didn’t finish.  I didn’t finish it until I was in college and played it on Nesticle.  The XBOX’s Ninja Gaiden Black is one of the best games for that console, though it can be prohibitively hard for the casual gamer.  One of my gaming buddies stopped playing it where many other gamers did, at a boss midway through the game.

If you haven’t played any of the last or current generation Ninja Gaiden games, it has one of the finest fighting mechanics in any game.  You can grind it out with enemies or you can kill them with one swift combo, if you are good enough.  Yes, the camera can be a bitch, but such is the burden of most games with a third-person perspective.  Agreed, it is difficult, but Sigma 2 rebalanced the often ridiculous action from its 360 predecessor to make it more like fun and less like work.  In other words, you won’t get shot repeatedly from archers three miles away as you try to work through a level or face down yet ANOTHER horde of enemies after just dispatching two dozen baddies.

Where am I in Memphis?

I was reviewing some of the photos from my iPhone and decided I would put some of them on here to see if anyone can guess where they are.  Some are easy.  Others are fairly difficult if you haven’t left your respective neighborhoods and really explored the city and county.   There is so much more in this city than what is portrayed in newspapers and on television.  Memphis is much more than Mid-Town, Downtown, Germantown and crime-ridden neighborhoods, though you would never tell by looking at the coverage across most of the media in town.

Next week: more pics and this week’s answers.