The best action movie you’ve ever played.
Getting older is all about personal reflection. What has my life amounted to? Who am I, really? What have I become? And where did I leave those keys? Regrets pile up faster than arterial plaque, and the hairline recedes along with the willingness to put up with opening-night crowds at the theater to see the latest bombastic popcorn flick.
[image1]Lucky for the older gamers among us, Uncharted 2: Among Thieves just might herald the end of days for the big Hollywood blockbuster. It has more heart, character, plot, and non-stop action than any summer action movie I’ve seen in the last ten years. If there were an Academy Awards for the gaming industry, there’s no doubt that Uncharted 2 would sweep every category.
Nathan Drake’s also grown older since we last saw him. His boyish charm is now buried beneath a crusty layer of old man’s cynicism. He hasn’t quite gone the emo route of Condemned’s Ethan Thomas and started growing his hair long and popping pills and booze, but he has acquired the more furrowed brow of rascally prototypes Han Solo and Malcolm Reynolds. Nathan’s still got plenty of doofy one-liners to spare, but he’s also someone you believe would have no problem snapping a guy’s neck. As much as Among Thieves is a rousing adventure tale, it’s also the story of Nathan’s redemption.
It’s impossible to talk about Uncharted 2 without alluding to the movies. By now, it’s become de rigueur to compare good games to good films. Usually that comparison has something to do with a game’s cinematic cut-scenes or voice acting, but in the case of Uncharted 2 it’s something much deeper. For its entire history, cinema has been predicated on creating drama from movement. Naughty Dog has tapped into that sense of movement, and made one hell of a thrill ride from beginning to end.
Uncharted 2 never slows down for a second, but it also is so brilliantly paced that you’ll never feel like you’re being overloaded with action. In the first game, the majority of the action was all in the gunplay. Most of the game was a series of hallways and arenas for well-staged gun battles. Uncharted 2 mixes that formula up. You’ll shift from platforming and traversal, to melee, to gunplay, to stealth, to puzzle solving seamlessly—often overlapping multiple play styles simultaneously. Chapters are relatively short, so the scenery and plot exposition keeps moving at a steady clip.
[image2]The title’s major action setpieces are stunning mixtures of strong writing, engaging gameplay, and brilliant technology. Naughty Dog’s tech allows for jaw-dropping combinations of things in motion—for example, a fight in a falling building in the center of a Tibetan city and a shootout as you leap from moving vehicle to moving vehicle racing through the Himalayan mountains. Naughty Dog is performing at the top of their game, and they’ve set the bar almost impossibly high for how action is orchestrated in a video game. I imagine that it’ll be years before another studio can even begin to approximate some of the sequences they’ve cooked up for Uncharted 2.
If that weren’t enough, the visuals will keep you aching to see what’s around every bend. Each new area brings amazingly intricate texture work, objects, and art design. Everywhere you go, you’ll see hundreds of unique markers of the people, culture, and history native to that location. Rich audio accents compliment the visuals, not only making the loud sections boom, but also filling the quiet sections with deep aural details. Everything that can make a sound does: pipes, waterfalls, electrical wires, loose pottery, animals, distant gunfire. It’s an endlessly detailed world. While you won’t see many residents themselves, you’ll still feel their unmistakable presence through everything you see and hear.
Voice acting and motion capture are—like so much else about this game—industry leading. The cinematic sequences and the in-game banter make you care about these characters, even the less savory ones. The characters in the first Uncharted were fun caricatures of action movie stereotypes. While the characters in Uncharted 2 don’t break those familiar types apart, they do flesh them out. With the exception of an underdeveloped late-game addition to the cast—an old European man living in a remote Tibetan village—every character elicits an emotional response.
[image3]The controls feel familiar to those who’ve played the first game, but the introduction of a much more versatile control scheme allows for combining traversal, stealth, and gunplay. Some of the same floatiness applies to the traversal sequences—making it sometimes feel a bit arbitrary how far you can leap—but it never interferes with the title’s forward momentum. Even though the game is completely linear in structure, the ability to mix up your approach to combat makes it feel much more open. While an early section devoted solely to stealth shows the inability of the mechanic to stand up on its own, stealth gameplay works great in the rest of the game as one tool among many.
The multiplayer suite included in Uncharted 2 is equally impressive. None of these modes is a throwaway or simple last-minute addition. The multiplayer games aren’t revolutionary in any way, but since they retain the combination of traversal and gunplay, it does feel like a relatively new experience. Competitive multiplayer hits all the right notes—deathmatch, capture the flag, zone capture, and so on—and cooperative multiplayer includes all the latest and greatest in this newer style of online play—with both a co-op objective mode and its own version of Horde mode. It’s nothing groundbreaking, but it’s as good as the best in the business.
Among Thieves is all about constant movement. And even movement on top of movement. It grabbed me from the beginning and didn’t let go for twelve hours. Once I finished, all I could think about was playing it again. More than a defining game for the PS3, Uncharted 2 is a defining game of this console generation. It shows that games have outgrown the tired comparisons to film and that we’re witnessing the maturing of the medium. Yes, Naughty Dog has dropped a glorious deuce.