By Marty Mulrooney
Many British PS3 gamers will face something of a dilemma this coming Friday (16th October 2009). This is because two major releases are occurring on the same day: Uncharted 2: Among Thieves by Naughty Dog and Brutal Legend by Double Fine Productions. So if you only have money for one game this Friday, which should it be? Alternative Magazine Online will attempt to present balanced arguments for both games deserving a purchase, so that players can then make the most informed decision possible.
Uncharted 2: Among Thieves
Story: It may prove controversial, but one of the weaker aspects of the original Uncharted (for me) was the story. I just found that it kind of lost some steam towards the end and went a bit silly. Then again, later playthroughs proved much kinder. To be fair, the production values were never less than incredible, and the story IS very good as a backdrop. It may not be the most incredible narrative in the world, but as a mechanic for some great set pieces and fun locations, it got the job done.
From the wealth of trailers released for Uncharted 2: Among Thieves, it looks like Naughty Dog are going to deliver a much more cinematic experience. I still doubt the story will be winning any Oscars, but it does look a step up from last time, with some emotional impact to go alongside the action and adventure. I also think moving the action away from the single jungle location of the first, to various locals in the sequel, will keep things feeling really fresh as well.
Characters: Nathan Drake is a GREAT character. I may have complained about the story of the first game a little, but without Nate, I doubt I would have rated the game so highly. Nolan North can take a lot of credit here; the veteran voice actor IS Drake, and I really think his performance is so infused with enjoyment that it is simply infectious for the player. Reporter Elena Fisher and fellow treasure hunter Sully rounded off a great trio of core characters in the original, so I am excited about their return here. The introduction of new femme fatale lead Chloe Frazer is a great idea, and I really look forward to much in-dept character work this time around.
Gameplay: The original Uncharted had great controls, marred only by some dodgy Sixaxis controls for grenade throwing, and the unresponsive controls for the jetski section (again, personal opinion, but I really did hate them!) The sequel has tightened things up really well (judging from the online beta). Everything feels much more responsive, and I am confident that the enemy AI will be just as clever as last time around. There are some new stealth elements that I am not really sure about, but they seem optional and variety in gameplay can only be a good thing. Drake can also now shoot when hanging from ledges, giving the gameplay a more vertical element that should spice things up nicely!
Graphics: The reviews for Among Thieves are already flooding in, and there is one thing they all agree on: the graphics are stunning. The first game was incredible for an early title on the Playstation 3, and it looks like Naughty Dog have learnt a few tricks since then. The graphics are going to blow us all away.
Sound: The soundtrack is going to be all original orchestral music like last time around, and again if the online beta is any indication, it will sound suitably epic and very powerful! This game really is getting the full Hollywood treatment, and this translates across convincingly via the voice work. As well as Nolan North working his special brand of magic, the supporting cast all sound great; there are no duds here at all, and it is all being taken as seriously as any feature film.
Online: The first game had no online element and was still fantastic. The sequel didn’t have to offer online play, but it does, and perhaps most surprisingly, it works really well! Deathmatchs, team-based games, co-op missions… there is plenty here to keep fans entertained long after the main game is over! Naughty Dog even let players sample this part of Uncharted 2 weeks before release via the PSN; they knew full well it would entice a purchase of the full package on release day!
Track Record: Naughty Dog are a reliable studio: they have always put out really great products for Sony, giving us Crash Bandicoot as a mascot, and now Nathan Drake. Everyone knows that if anyone can utilise the power of the PS3, it is this studio. I really think they will deliver.
Value for money: With treasures to collect, trophies to earn, a single player campaign upping the ante in every possible way over the first game and a fully featured multiplayer mode, Uncharted 2 should have players gaming for a while yet!
Story: Born from the incredible mind of Tim Schafer, Brutal Legend tells the story of rock roadie Eddie Riggs, who gets sucked into a fantasy world of Heavy Metal. Using only a battle axe, a flaming hot rod and his guitar, Eddie must help the humans defeat the supernatural overlords beating them down, and fulfil his destiny! Double Fine has many people (including Tim Schafer of course) from the LucasArts glory days of adventure gaming, so the humour should be spot on.
Characters: Eddies Riggs is the main character in Brutal Legend, voiced by singer/ actor/ comedian Jack Black. Now, some people may not like Jack Black, but I personally find him quite funny and he seems a nice guy as well. He is also into video games so it is good to know the role is more than a mere paycheck to him. There are going to be a lot of other voice actors in the game as well, ranging from the hilarious Tim Curry to legend Ozzy Osbourne. We don’t even know what other metal legends are going to cameo, but I am sure the characters will all be wacky, well voiced and very funny.
Gameplay: I originally thought Brutal Legend was going to be a simple hack and slasher. (Not that there is anything wrong with that!) I now know that there is going to be a lot more involved, from driving sections through the open world environment, missions and side-mission, and even RTS (real-time strategy) elements were you lead some headbangers (literally!) into combat against various enemy nasties, giving orders from above as you sprout demon wings. This could go either way: it could offer great variety, or prove too unfocused in the long term. I am a bit disappointed that there is no jump button too!
Graphics: Let’s just get this out of the way; Brutal Legend, a multi-platform game, is never going to have the same visuals as Uncharted 2. Still, the visuals look surprisingly strong from the demo and trailers, and whatever is lacking technically is more than made up for with the sheer artistry on display; this is one very well designed world, borrowing from various classic heavy metal album covers. Let us not forget as well that Brutal Legend won’t be as on-the-rails as Uncharted 2; open world games always have slightly less graphical prowess than more linear games.
Sound: The soundtrack is going to feature over 100 heavy metal songs from 75 different bands. Heavy Metal fans should get a real buzz out of this, and even gamers who know less about this style of music should be fully aware of it all by the end! I think it is great that Double Fine managed to get the rights sorted for all of these songs; it should be the perfect accompaniment to the heavy metal inspired gameplay, and is surely better than some generic rock music that nobody would be able to sing along to!
Online: Like Uncharted 2, I am really (pleasantly) surprised that Brutal Legend has such a deep multiplayer aspect! It should feature full “battle of the bands” style gameplay with other people online. I am also pretty sure you can use your axe still online as well so that should prove very interesting indeed! The strength of the RTS aspect of the single player game will ultimately make or break the online multiplayer.
Track Record: I am slightly bias here… I love the old LucasArts games (I have a Manny Calavera tattoo, check it out here.) Anything with Tim Schafer’s name on it, I’m already sold. He is one of the greatest game designers of all time in my eyes. Whilst his games may not be huge financial successes, he usually succeeds really well with the critics and gamers themselves. I am sure this game will prove no different, although I really do hope it manages to make a good profit; originality in video games should be rewarded, and Tim and his studio deserve some mainstream success.
Value for money: Brutal Legend should prove itself to be of a similar length in single player mode when compared to Uncharted 2. The multiplayer is still a tough one to call until I get my hands on the final game though; Uncharted 2 was very clever putting out a free online beta. Then again, Brutal Legend has over 100 licenced songs on its side, so who knows?
In conclusion… this is a really tough one to judge. I don’t want to just cop out and call it a draw, so here is how I see it. If you want to buy something tried and tested, polished to a fine shine, get Uncharted 2. Hell, every PS3 gamer should be getting this exclusive anyway. It is already one of the highest rated games of all time on metacritic and I think it will deliver for 99% of people.
Brutal Legend is more of a risk, but then again it is also something fresh and new as an IP. If you havent played Uncharted 1, you should play that before Uncharted 2 anyway. You could pick up Brutal Legend in the meantime, wait until Uncharted 2 goes down in price, then buy both Uncharted games, play your heart out and get back in the loop! (Where have you been anyway?!)
Brutal Legend also has a fantastic soundtrack on its side. For heavy metal fans, this purchase should be a no brainer. I do implore anyone who values originality and misses the greats of old (such as Grim Fandango) to pick this up when they can. We need to show the publishers that we do value creativity in the video game industry.
I know Uncharted 2 will sell in the bucket load, so I have no worries for its health in comparison. I am also sure it will deserve every penny it makes, erasing any doubts people may have had about the Playstation 3 as a dedicated next-gen gaming console.
Okay, so here is the real cop out: I will be buying both! (Uncharted 2 is sitting on my desk already, and Brutal Legend should pop through the letterbox tomorrow.) How about you?
Let us know what YOU think in the comments section! (Reviews for both games are forthcoming.) And yes, I realise the images at the top are the American front covers, the British ones were not available at the time of publishing so please forgive me!