2009 Game Of The Year Finalist Debate: Uncharted 2

I think Uncharted 2 was the best game of 2009. By a country mile. Why? Because Uncharted 2 was also 2009's best action movie.

See, for me, the main appeal of the first game was never, well, the "game". Sure, the platforming's version of "auto-pilot" was fun, and enjoying a spot of Gears of War in a tropical setting was a pleasant change, but what made me really love Uncharted were its lovable characters, its smart, funny dialogue and the fact it could put a Nazi submarine on the top of a waterfall and get away with it.

In other words, I loved it as an action movie, albeit one where you were controlling most of the actual action.

Uncharted 2 took all of that and gave us more. And the more was better. Sure, again, the "game" part was fun (amazing, even), but what makes Uncharted 2 my game of the year, and not just a great game, is that it was a better "movie". There is not a single video game in history that has such professional voice acting, such chemistry between its stars and such confident, capable senses of both drama and humour running throughout.

You may think I'm crazy to base my GOTY pick on a game's "trimmings", as many people believe story and characters to be, but my most memorable moments from the game came not from things I did, but rather things I simply saw.

Real, genuine, heart-warming humour. Intrigue. Betrayal. Fragility. The characters in Uncharted 2 weren't just avatars, they were characters.

Take Chloe. Straddling Drake on a hotel room bed makes you realise how few games are able to deal with sexuality in a sensible, mature manner. Sticking with the character of Chloe as an example, her departure at the end of the game (and Drake and Elena's closing banter) also proves Uncharted 2 could handle something even rarer than sex in a game: love.

So call me names for prizing Uncharted 2's "cinematic" aspects over anything else released this year, but I look at it this way: most games are just 1's and 0's. A twitch here, a test of reflexes there. It's the context a game is wrapped in that really gives it meaning, and no game of 2009 came wrapped in a better package than Uncharted 2.

Fahey's Reply

Eloquently stated, Mr. Plunkett, but in explaining your reasoning behind naming Uncharted 2 your Game of the Year, you also identify the reason I feel the game falls short of that coveted title. Can a game's story, voice acting and characterisations take away from the game as a whole?

Uncharted 2 is an amazing cinematic experience, with a story and characters that brought to my mind the childlike thrill and wonder I felt when my mother took me to see Raiders of the Lost Ark in theatres back in 1981. It's a story that could easily stand toe-to-toe with any action movie, with a cast that displays more humanity than most live-action Hollywood blockbusters can rarely pull off.

My problem lies in the fact that I found the story so compelling that I dreaded actually playing the game. While there were moments when the story and gameplay were interwoven to excellent effect, there were plenty of other times where I simply wanted to get the shooting over with so I could get back to progressing the plot.

In short, I wanted this game to be a movie.

I'm not saying that the gameplay itself wasn't solid. I just felt that it got in the way of an amazing story, instead of being equally entertaining. What Naughty Dog has accomplished with Uncharted 2 is nothing short of spectacular, but it is something short of grabbing my vote for Game of the Year.

Crecente's Reply:

Looking back over the past few years worth of games, I realised that the titles I enjoyed most were the ones that delivered an engaging story.

BioShock's gameplay, it's willingness to tackle a subject as complex as Objectivism and it's layered environments, were all great reasons to love the game. But it was its story that pulled me in. That moment when you reflect on who you are in the game, how you fit into the story, that revelation still gives me chills.

I loved the original Modern Warfare for the same reason. It pushed the genre forward, but it was the narrative, the way in which the story unfolded, the mortality of the main characters, that gripped me from beginning to end.

What Uncharted 2 does so well isn't just give us characters we care about and a story that intrigues and entertains. It manages to trick us into forgetting that you really don't have any control over what is happening.

Uncharted 2 isn't any more interactive a story than Indiana Jones or Star Wars, no matter what you do the story continues down the path created by its writers and reaches its inevitable, unchanging end. But the ride is so engrossing, peppered with funny asides, carefully planned camera work and graphics that highlight rather than disrupt your engagement with the characters and their story.

What makes this my game of the year is that it grips me from the second Drake awakens in a dangling train and doesn't let go until that final, heart-tugging finale.

Totilo's Reply:

Luke, I was hoping we could agree that, as good as Uncharted 2 is, it's no Art Style: Box Life. Still, I'm with you regarding the likeable characters and the thrill-ride of a playable plot. The game deserves commendation also for its expert use of a playable quiet moments.

I'm biased, however, toward games that feel as strong at their end as they do at their beginning. Uncharted 2's puzzles were less ingenious near the end and its combat more conventional. This wasn't because what was new became routine but because I think Naughty Dog put some of its best moments - helicopter vs. collapsing building, shootout while dangling from a street sign - in the first two thirds of the game.

I would recommend Uncharted 2 to anyone, but its diminished spark near the end keeps it from reaching the summit of my favourite of '09.

Owen's Reply:

Uncharted 2 is the best story of any game in 2009, if not ever, and it is an exceptional action movie in its own right. The rub is that you, the star, have to be willing to take direction.

Unfortunately, I prize immersion and I do believe it is achievable in the third-person action/adventure genre. Uncharted 2 most times felt like I was driving someone else's car, with them riding shotgun. The trial-and-error process of completing a difficult level is different when I feel like I own the decisions and participate in being this character, or at least when I have multiple means of resolving the scene, one of them always just dumb luck. Nathan Drake is top-to-bottom his own man. So Fahey's remark about the story being so good that he "dreaded" playing it speaks for me, too, because with the mounting challenges inevitably one thought I couldn't shake was, "OK, how am I going to screw up this production."

In a game this linear, with a character not my own, while I wanted to see the story through, I felt forced to arrive at it in the "proper" fashion. That makes it less of a game to me. And Crecente's remark - that Uncharted 2 "isn't any more interactive a story than Indiana Jones or Star Wars" - also works against it, if its strongest quality is the story.

Ashcraft's Response

Video games, at their core, are about immersion. But simply saying that because Uncharted 2, to a degree, runs on rails or follows a linear trajectory, the game is somehow less immersive than a title with multiple endings or customisation, isn't fair.

Uncharted 2 immerses the players through gameplay, but also through story, the characters and mood - you know, the feeling you get playing the game, the smirk on your face. Yes, Uncharted 2 is a cinematic experience. Yes, it has a rip-roaring yarn. But to view these as minuses is an affront to story-telling in games and an oversimplification of what immersion means. Books, plays, music, movies, and, of course, video games have the ability to draw people in. Video games have the ability to draw people in further by putting the controller in the player's hand and having him or her make the decision.

Uncharted 2 is the complete package. As a video game, Uncharted 2 draws players in. As a story, it draws them in. And in 2009, it drew this player in, grabbed hold and didn't let go. Thus, the game is my choice for Game of the Year.

McWhertor's Reply

I cannot argue that Uncharted 2's "trimmings", as you described them, Luke, are the most impressive of the year. The game is a technical and artistic marvel, delivering stunning visuals that surpass any game I've ever played and treating the player to a compelling, genuinely funny and beautifully acted story. (Well, I cannot attest to the final quarter of the story, as I'm still scaling "Mountaineering.")

And that is how I spent much of my time in Uncharted 2: Among Thieves, reacting to Naughty Dog's technical accomplishments, amazed that it was more elegantly performed, better crafted and much prettier than "last year's model".

It was the rest of the experience that left me wanting. Much of Uncharted feels like going through motions to trigger the next gun fight, the next tier of a platforming puzzle, the next deception, the next cinematic.

As a video game doing a impersonation of an action movie, it is unrivalled. All the trimmings are there. But the entrée, the experience that I crave from a game, wasn't substantive enough for me. At least not enough to call it my game of the year.

Luke's Final Victory

You're so right, Mike. At least on one point. The entire game is one long, predictable procession, each open area clearly a firefight, each empty arena clearly a platforming section. It's probably the one area the game failed to really improve upon its predecessor.

But at the end of the day, that didn't matter to me. No game is perfect, and if the only bad thing I have to say about Uncharted 2 is that it telegraphs its intentions through its level design, then it's doing very well indeed.

As for the game lacking something more "substantive" for you, that's understandable. It's not a meaty game. It lacked the depth of many of the year's other big titles. But in selecting my game of the year, I wasn't choosing a title based on its depth, its experimental gameplay or how "video gamey" it was.

I chose the game that, at the risk of sounding like a Nintendo executive, had me smiling the most. Not that which taxed me, or tested me, or pushed me to my limits. Just the one I had the most fun with. And because it played out like the best of action movies - one with thrills, humour and genuine character - no game was more fun for me in 2009 than Uncharted 2.


    I agree 110%. great review!

    Justin's reply: (mostly to Owen)

    Linearity is such a misunderstood idea when it comes to gaming... a free roaming world, in a lot of ways, makes the game more "linear". Being able to go anywhere doesn't change the structure of the levels... it only limits it's setting, and that makes objectives monotonous.

    Look at, say, Far Cry 2 for [the worst possible] example... go here, kill him, blow this up, repeat... and that's the whole game from start to finish. A game like Uncharted one minute has you hanging off the end of a crashed train on a cliff on a frozen mountain, the next sneaking into a Turkish museum at night... all with in game dialogue and beautifully done cut scenes spliced in between. You couldn't do that with a generic user created character, in a consistent map. IMO devs have a lot more freedom, and get a lot more creative when they can take the player anywhere, at any point, and do essentially something completely different every time... anyone with me?

    Also, pretty much Uncharted 2 is my game of the year as well, for the same reasons as everyone else. Although it has become a kind of gaming taboo (much like scoring outside the 6 to 9 range when reviewing) to like a game for it's graphics... but the presentation, animation and art style did it for me as much as the story and the gameplay... you have to acknowledge it was aesthetically/technically beautiful on top of everything else it does well.

    Nazi submarine on the top of a waterfall? (isn't this from the first uncharted? forgive me I dont own the 2nd game!) ...

    for world-wide tastes I think maybe it is too americanized (but then .. what isn't?)

    I love naughtydog they rock! .. I wish they had of kept Jak & Daxter guys pumping out!! .. for me .. something was lost with nathan drake, I am not sure!

    Uncharted 2 is game of the year for me too... I played the whole game through in about 3 sittings (with my anti-videogame brother sitting next to me watching the whole time) and loved every second of it. The clincher for me is that i have a group of friends who are what you would call 360 fanboys. All of them played the game non stop until it was finished and raved about it afterwards. Actually, everyone i have spoken to seems to have played it through in only a couple of sittings and loved it. Its just that good...

    GOTY: Uncharted 2

    Not one of you mentioned the multiplayer.

    Or the extra moves added since the first game, that actually do alter the way a battle can play out depending on the players strategy.

    Why can't we just accept that there are linear games and non-linear games. Each is different and some prefer one over the other but the beast of both can be amazing.

    It's like arguing that any fiction book can't be book of the year.

    BTW. Batman = GOTY for me!

    Uncharted doesn't NEED to be non-linear. If it was such a big hassle would pretty much all the critics criticized it for that and game it bad scores?

    Uncharted has a path and you follow that - there is nothing wrong with that in a game. It has its goals and it achieves them very well. More so than a non-linear game that is only making its game so open-world to please all these gamers but the game turns out crap. See, Far Cry 2. Thats MY opinion.

    If Uncharted was open-world or much more linear, it would or could spoil the way the game plays out. It does play like a movie, as such that you cannot alter the storyline or if a character lives or dies etc... It's kind of like, you control the main character for thing long but either way this is going to happen. You are controlling a some-what movie.

    Besides the crazy zombie type people towards the end - Uncharted 2 is an amazing game whether you want to admit it or not.

    Like most good action movies: fast, fun, violent and somewhat forgettable.

    Only a handful of games have emotionally took hold of me as much as I've found them fun to play, due to devs paying attention to story and characters as much as gameplay mechanics- and those are the games you always remember and always go back to.

    Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, Metal Gear Solid 1 and 4, and Uncharted 2. I've got honourable mentions, but these games do it best.

    Notice no David Wildgoose opinion..... He thought it was so so and got owned on the public opinion of GOTY poll of kotaku readers (a few pages back).... Sorry Dave lol..... but 48 percent of kotaku readers disagree with you there. U2 rocks hard.

      This debate is amongst the US editors. I've already had my say on the Games of 2009.

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