Can a Video Game be a B-Movie, and Does this Present any Problems?
HIGH Watching Uncharted the movie, I mean game, unfold.
LOW Actually playing the game.
WTF There is absolutely no need to figure out what to do on your own, eventually the game will tell you.
There is no denying the existence of games with sophisticated storylines, scripts, characters, etc (Mass Effect, BioShock, the Metal Gear series, certain early RPGs for example); no denying the existence of games that truly define themselves as games, but these are few and far between in comparison to the amount of schlock (not meant in a degrading way) that is released. Uncharted 2: Among Thieves is schlock without doubt, but it may be the best schlock ever.
While certain stories necessarily present themselves with the intent of moving their audiences, making you think of questioning ideologies, or of repelling you to the point that knowledge is somehow gained in the process, Uncharted 2 is mindless. Take National Treasure, The Mummy, and Indiana Jones and the bare bones plot full of cheeky emotion involving Drake, Elena, and Sully from the first installment, along with a new cast of friends and enemies, and Uncharted 2 is summed up quite succinctly. Cliché-ridden, character development akin to that of a Russ Meyer (dir. of Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, he was the king of big breasted women films in the 70s) movie, it's as if John Woo and Looney Tunes had a baby and named it Drake. Cajoled into a treasure hunt involving the rumored Cintimanni stone, double and triple crossing abounds. The big bad guy Lazarevic is after immortality, and something creepy at the end of the trail awaits. Predictability has never been so embraced (exaggeration but…). Nevertheless, something about Uncharted 2 grabs hold and won't let go. It swims in its own inanity, self-reflexive beyond belief, and voice-acted so well I couldn't help but keep listening, and considering how good it looks, I couldn't stop watching either.
Alas, we have what sounds like a B-movie (which is not to say that B-movies are not capable of evoking thoughtful insights) on our hands. Lines of dialogue delivered with such irony it's clear the cast is winking at us and a plot so global, not to mention desperately dependent upon classic Hollywood gender roles, the player's laughing at its desire to impress (if only Bruce Campbell, star of the Evil Dead series, could travel the world in search of lost treasure, providing one-liners as only he can) is inevitable. Well Drake ain't no Bruce, but he's good nonetheless; just serious enough that it's not a turn-off (like an afternoon Syfy channel movie), just self-deprecating enough to make it clear the game is aware of its limits. This isn't high art (as if high art is perfect), but it is certainly better than the average popcorn fare.
It provides thrills incessantly, verging on numbingly, but encapsulated in such a tightly knit, short spurt of a game that there's no time to lose feeling. It is basically all adrenaline. This may get tiring for some, and I'll admit at times a slower paced game would've been welcome. Fortunately the cut-scenes provide breathing room, and once again, the visuals are so crisp that even in all the commotion, my eyes found a way to appreciate the various sites. The diegetic sound is also fantastic, scenes breathe with life the way Michael Bay (The Island, Armaggedon, etc.) wishes his plastic images could. But all is not worthy of praise.
Regarding the game's mechanics, they aren't worth mentioning. If you've played a video game recently (this specifically being a third-person adventure/shooter), you will be fine. One problem I encountered more often that I would've liked is the cover system intruding when I just wanted to roll, or vice versa. Otherwise the game runs smoothly. Too smoothly. In fact so smoothly that the gamer almost isn't needed. When running into a situation I couldn't immediately get out of, and this only occurs because it's hard to decipher what can and cannot be climbed, a hint will pop up. Sometimes I like to explore an environment, attempt to climb everything just because. But this game seems not to favor the explorers (despite promoting the discovery of "hidden" treasures), and while the hints may be ignored, they show up with almost vehement regularity, as if the game just wants to finish, and doesn't really care whether or not the gamer does.
With Uncharted 2, I was not playing a game, I was watching a movie that happened to allow me to play very specific scenes. This could potentially draw comparison to the excellent Metal Gear games, but I would beg to differ. Metal Gear Solid pushes the envelope of game mechanics, difficulty level, freedom vs. predestination (both philosophically and gameplay-wise); Metal Gear Solid refers heavily to the medium that clearly influences it most directly, but firmly establishes itself as a video game (movies can break the fourth wall, but they can't make you unplug and re-plug the controller in order to continue progressing). Metal Gear Solid is not a 20 hour movie, it is a 20 hour video game that uses a multimedia approach to fulfill its goal. Uncharted 2 would succeed as a movie, albeit on the scale of a B-movie/Bruce Campbellish level. That may be a subjective statement, but considering nothing new is brought to the table save itself, it is undeniably clear where Uncharted's priorities lie.
Raw entertainment is not to be dismissed. Room should always be made for mindless fun, we can't always fill our plate with Kojima and BioWare (or the meticulously complex, unforgiving Demon's Souls, essentially the antithesis of Uncharted 2, another PS3 exclusive fittingly released a week before Uncharted 2 in the States). It is not even always a problem of sophistication, but of simple time management. Among Thieves is crystal clear with its intentions, it delivers in spades, is able to deliver in small dosages, and always with unmatched quality.
But the pressing problem/question remains: if video games only seek to mimic they're close relative (cinema), and succeed in doing so (both financially and critically), will there be room for games that wish to use the mold for more unique, differentiating purposes? I certainly hope so, because despite loving the swash-buckling ruckus of Pirates of the Carribean (or a David Jaffe game), I need to get my fill of Manhattan(s) (early Woody Allen, or a Team Ico game).
The problem is further complicated by the fact that in writing this review I used more references to films than video games! Video games have forged a path of their own, but with abundant territory left to discover, a game like Uncharted 2 (and many like it) feels a tad regressive. It is definitely not that Uncharted doesn't provide a good time, but if all Drake and Elena's adventure adds up to is the tried and true formulaic adventure of a classic Hollywood genre perfected years and years ago, I have to wonder why I even bother playing Uncharted. Those classic films are sitting on my shelf, might as well forget the game and watch those.
Disclosures: This game was obtained via retail store and reviewed on the PS3. Approximately 9 hours of play was devoted to single-player modes (completed 1 times) and 5 hours of play in multiplayer modes.
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