Territory Unknown

Well, they've done it. Uncharted 2: Among Thieves finally bridges the gap between an action movie and a video game. Oh, and it's a damn good video game too.
Author: Sam Bishop
Published: October 10, 2009
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There have been folks proclaiming the crossover potential for games to become interactive entertainment since the advent of full motion video and the CD-ROM -- and likely well before that. I've long stayed away from drawing any real comparison and when I do, it's been more about the particulars of a game ("this sequence was pulled right out of a Michael Bay flick" or "the sound here would be at home in any Hollywood movie"). Uncharted 2 is the first game where I feel I can finally see video games bumping up against the threshold of an interactive movie.

There are so many sequences -- and not all of them cutscenes -- where the game ceases to be a bunch of polygonal characters running around in boxed environments and graduates into something more, something that you could just as easily watch passively as you could directly control and still have just as much fun doing either. Without question, this is due to Uncharted 2's presentation. Developer Naughty Dog has managed to meld great voice performances reading a fantastically written script all displayed in an engine that must be fueled by the souls of the damned, such is its visual prowess. There have been games that engaged players before with witty banter or some jaw-dropping visuals, but never before have the three -- script, performance and stage -- come together in a way that works so effortlessly. For the first time in ages, I finally stopped trying to judge every last pixel of a game and just... went with it.

Then I did it again, on Hard difficulty. Then again, on Crushing.

I'd finished the whole of Uncharted 2's single-player story before I ever played a second of the multiplayer. I wrung every last little drop out of the tale of Marco Polo's lost treasure, witnessed double-crosses I saw coming, triple-crosses I'd guessed and a twist that resulted in one of the most infuriating boss fights I've played in ages. Thrice. Such is the power of the narrative that Naughty Dog has crafted, of the set pieces and firefights they've constructed, of the cinematics that never, not once, got old. I started out skipping them my second time through and by about the halfway point, I just couldn't resist watching again.

Most of the reasoning behind going through a Crushing run stemmed from the way it changed the original Uncharted. The first game on Crushing was, I felt, where the real game showed itself; enemies would flank you more, try to flush you out of cover, move around to help throw off your shot. These things might show up occasionally on the other difficulties, but it wasn't until the AI was cranked up to be less predictable that you really got a sense of where Naughty Dog was going. Sure, it meant you took more damage, but that was part of learning to use cover and conserve ammo, and it completely changed how I felt about the game.

Uncharted 2, on the other hand, starts with those AI mods already in place, and all going up in difficulty really does is makes the enemies hit harder. I noticed no appreciable difference in behaviors (and in fact it seemed like everything degenerated into just "rush", "hang back" and "snipe" enemy types; the flanking was minimal and grenades were used to flush me out with ever so slightly increasing frequency).

I'd say this was a bummer if it weren't for the fact that I enjoyed the game so damn much, but it bears mentioning because aside from that, I honestly didn't have many complaints. The only other major one was that the game was really at its most merciless when the normally open and multi-tiered arenas were scrapped for corridor-based sections. Removed of the ability to move to different cover, the shotgun enemies were instant death if they got close enough.
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