As I emerged breathless from the part where they teach you the controls, the thought that kept running through my head was, "How long can they keep this up?"
It isn't just the flawless shooting or the note-perfect segments that have you scaling walls and cliffs stories above the ground (though both are just as enjoyable as in the first game); Uncharted 2's specialness is in the way that I never felt like I was in a "level" but rather one incredible, tense, cinematic "Holy shit!" moment after another. (Sorry, I've already ruined the train-ing sequence, I'm not going to spoil any others; suffice to say, this game attains a level of visual and gameplay creativity you'll be lucky to see rivaled this year.)
There's an incredible style pulling everything together, creating a narrative thread that's just as strong as films from this same genre, and it's always backing up Naughty Dog's more mechanical design chops. Perfect example: Though new female companion Chloe looks incredible from a graphical standpoint (as does everything in Uncharted 2) what sells a memorable seduction scene is the way her fingers crawl up our protagonist's chest. It's pure style, and it's exactly the kind of panache that helps this game feel like something more, something special.
The quality of the storytelling, from visual fidelity to the writing, embarrasses other games. Seriously, it's almost depressing when you realize no other developers are putting this level of effort and heart into supporting gameplay with story. Of course, the narrative is helped in no small part by Nolan North
How long can they keep this up?
Considering just how many times I asked myself, "How long can they keep this up?" you can imagine my disappointment when the answer turned out to be, "About half of the game."
After a scorching first five or six hours, the game travels to the Himalayas and the action cools right along with the setting. The stunning set pieces of the first half are replaced by more conventional gun battles, and the engrossing character moments are supplanted by stilted, forced standoffs you've seen in every action movie.
Don't misunderstand, there are still some really enjoyable sequences in the second half of the game, but (save for one or two) they're all pedestrian by comparison to the first half. In fact, I don't think I would have had a single complaint, had I not just scaled the heights that Naughty Dog can achieve when bringing its A-game.
The experience is in no way spoiled, Uncharted 2 is still an absolute "must-buy" for even the most casual action fan. The plodding in the second half is enough to notch down the game from "genre re-defining milestone" to "insanely great action game," but honestly, how can you be disappointed by that?
... Okay, so it's a little disappointing. But just a little.