So yeah this is late to the game, haha, but it's something I've been meaning to write down because I haven't seen it definitively written by anyone yet. Over the last three weeks Uncharted 2 has been coveted as Game of the Year 2009 by various blargs and maga-zines, and at first I staunchly rejected that notion. Uncharted 2 was pretty, its characters funny, its plot well worked out but nothing terrific (in fact, wait a minute...). The reason so many reviewers have been elevating it to GAME OF THE YEAR has overwhelmingly been the idea that it's "the most cinematic game ever", moreso than even Metal Gear Solid 4 or Modern Warfare 2.
Hold on a minute: we're basing a game's strength on it being like a movie? This seems rather backwards, as games are inherently and obviously not movies. As I've written about before in relation to my own attempt at making a game, movies are about an experience or a collection of experiences. A game is about the intention for experience, the building and happening of experience. Very generally speaking, a movie is passive. It happens. A movie is, literally, time moving forward from a start to a finish. Arguably, a game is as well, but you do a bit more than press play and sit back and enjoy. It's that literal active involvement which separates the two. You (the player) are the one moving through the story through the actions/eyes of a character. It's not a camera, it's an actual perspective.
I have said multiple times that games shouldn't even be compared to movies, in the same way that prose should not be compared to poetry. Apples and oranges, that bullshit. Sure they're all the fruit of our entertainment, but it's nonsense to think of them as equal. However, I will concede that the triumphs. cliche or artistic, of one medium should be the basis for the wholly artistic beginnings of another. The beginning of film as art began when filmmakers tried emulating painters. Likewise with photography. It was through that imitation that film and photography found their own methods and started to blossom as individuals in the realm of artistic endeavor.
With that model I can now see why Uncharted 2, while a very commercial and thoroughly uninteresting action game, is indeed a step in the right direction. I like to think of it as Step Two. Step One was the creation of games as a possible artistic medium at all, through tons of attempts at a real "art game" that defines games as artistic. We haven't reached that yet, I don't really think we've gotten close, but damn we've been trying because it's so easy to make games if you really want to. A lot easier than films were to make. Step Two, as Uncharted 2 exemplifies, is the stolid and unashamed re-representation of another medium. Uncharted 2, as I think Kotaku wrote about today, is really just an action movie. But it's also a great action movie. I think it's a terrible game. But that's not the point: the point is that games were able to take what our predominant media (movies) did and do it again. Carbon copy. Copy-and-paste.
When I think back to when I played it, I remember that I didn't even finish it myself. I stopped playing because I got bored with it. I watched someone else finish it at their apartment. And I felt as if I missed nothing. If it were really a game, and not just an action movie, I would have wanted to finish it myself, I would have wanted to experience it.
That's Step Three. The game that creates an experience that is (seemingly) unique to us, crafted for us as the singular player, the intentions of emotion that were laid out by a designer/director for us to interact with. It hasn't come yet, not really. But Uncharted 2 is a step in the right direction. We were able to completely re-appropriate the tropes that another media has so successfully claimed as their own, whether they are trivial or high-art.
So yeah, sure, fine, Uncharted 2 gets Game of the Year 2009 in my book, but only with the disclaimer that it wasn't actually a game at all. Conversely, I wanted to give Avatar (the movie, not the game) GOTY '09, since it tried so damn hard to be a game, even Cameron admitted that much, but it sucked even as a movie.