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Uncharted 2: Among Thieves (PlayStation 3) artwork

Uncharted 2: Among Thieves (PlayStation 3) review

"Originally, “interactive movies” described games like Dragon’s Lair: literal movies where you pressed a button at the right time to keep watching the movie. In the late 90s, the concept of an “interactive movie” morphed into a hybrid consisting of segregated “movie” and “game” parts. You play for a minute, watch a really long cutscene, continue playing, long cutscene, etc. The story unfolds in the “movie” parts and all of the coolest scenes require no input from the player. The status quo has re..."

Originally, “interactive movies” described games like Dragon’s Lair: literal movies where you pressed a button at the right time to keep watching the movie. In the late 90s, the concept of an “interactive movie” morphed into a hybrid consisting of segregated “movie” and “game” parts. You play for a minute, watch a really long cutscene, continue playing, long cutscene, etc. The story unfolds in the “movie” parts and all of the coolest scenes require no input from the player. The status quo has remain unchanged for the last decade; either a game stops in its tracks to tell its story, or it drops the story to keep the gameplay moving. Even games using scripted events have to rely on magically-locked doors and invisible walls to keep the player from breaking the game. The choice between plot and gameplay is an accepted part of game design.

Uncharted 2 looks to change all of that. The lid has been blown off the action-adventure genre. This is the closest any game has come to replicating a Hollywood blockbuster in game form. It could easily be mistaken for a movie, yet it keeps the player in control far more often than other movie-games. There is one part where a helicopter chases you through a war-torn city. You have to take refuge on an upper floor of a damaged building. The chopper finds you and blows the wall open with a rocket. The building’s supports are destroyed and the floor comes crashing down, with furniture and debris tumbling out the gaping hole at the front. To escape certain death, you jump through the window of an adjacent building. In any other game, this would be a cutscene. In Uncharted 2, it’s just another level. This game made me go “whoa” more times in the first ten minutes than most games do in ten hours.

Uncharted 2 can only be called an action-adventure, because it’s not quite a platformer, or a puzzle game, or a shooter. The plot drives the gameplay; nothing feels thrown in or padded out. Every part of the game’s storyline ties in with the game’s setpieces in a way that breaks down the usual “genre identity” of video games. At no point did I think I was playing a particular type of game; I felt I was playing as Nathan Drake and the gameplay would consist of whatever he had to do to achieve his goals. If he has to mow down a bunch of bad guys in a Gears of War-style shootout, that’s what he’ll do. If he has to shimmy, climb, and jump between giant gears to cross a chasm, he’ll do that. If he has to carry a dying man to safety in a warzone, he’ll do that, and the player will do it too. Uncharted 2 has matured beyond typical game design; no longer am I asking myself “How will I beat this part within the confines of the gameplay mechanics?” but simply “How will I beat this part?” It’s a game that eschews “systems” and brings everything down to its user-friendliest level. For once, it feels not like you’re playing as a video game character, but as a movie character who happens to be in a video game.

It’s still not quite a true “movie game”, but Uncharted 2 is a big step in the right direction. There are still cutscenes for exposition, but they’re brief and the presentation is so slick you won’t care. The same assets are used in and out of gameplay; everything about the game’s look is absolutely stunning. There is a spectacular train-ride sequence where you have to make your way from the caboose to the front car as the train travels through the Nepalese countryside. The attention to detail in this scene is staggering; you can stare at the background as long as you want, but you won’t see a single bit of repeated scenery. Every single bit of foliage, every rock, every lake, every hill is unique. When Drake walks through a sherpa village later on, you can look into houses and see every bit of furniture, every rug, every bowl intricately constructed. You could easily miss all of this stuff if you didn’t stop to look. When Bioshock was released, I thought the water scene at the beginning when you realized that wasn’t a cutscene was mind-blowing: Uncharted 2 has one of these moments about every twenty minutes.

After completing the generous single-player campaign, there are a slew of multiplayer modes waiting for you. On its own, the single-player is a 10/10; multiplayer is fun, but it’s not a Halo killer or anything. It’s Gears of War with jumping. If that sounds good to you, go for it. Like most modern games, there’s a perk system and recording feature there too. It’s entertaining, looks great (no visual downgrade at all) and runs without a bit of lag; nevertheless, it’s obvious about ten times more work was put into the main game. Particularly annoying is that hardly anyone has a headset, so most games are silent. The PS4 definitely needs a headset packed in. The online play is totally functional, but it’s no Modern Warfare 2. The point: you’re not playing this for the multiplayer. You’re playing it for the ridiculously good campaign.

This game is unreal. I have not been more impressed by a game since Half-Life 2. There are so, so many things about Uncharted 2 that are done absolutely right: the voice acting is spot-on, the animations are more lifelike than anything else I’ve seen on a console, the musical score is one of the best of 2009, the dialogue is razor-sharp with several laugh-out-loud moments, the pacing is a perfect balance of action and puzzles—and the list goes on. I cannot praise this game enough. It is hands-down the best game I have played this year and one of the best games you’ll play, period. I can recommend it to anyone who likes video games: it is the sort of game that has universal appeal because its gameplay has something for everybody. Uncharted 2 is a jack of all trades, but in this case, it also does each individual part better than 99% of the games out of there. It is a landmark for the game industry and you need to own it.

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Community review by phediuk (December 29, 2009)

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