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Uncharted 2 and the burden of excellence

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The core mechanics of the game—what remains when all of the incredible visual qualities are stripped away—are far less compelling. In essence, the game mixes jumping and climbing with cover-based gun battles, very similarly to the way that the previous entry in the series did. Is there anything inherently wrong with this? No.

But the fact of the matter is that those levels in which you’re simply progressing from point A to point B, jumping over and shooting anything in your path, pale in comparison to those heavily scripted events like the one described above. Your average firefight against the game’s bullet-sponge enemies simply doesn’t elicit the same excitement.

But in my disappointment over the regular jumping and shooting, I realized something: there’s nothing bad about them. Plenty of other games, like Borderlands, have bullet-sponge enemies. Prince of Persia made nearly an entire game out of jumping, and I thought it was great. So what’s the problem here?

The excellence of parts of the game was making much of it feel quite a bit worse to me. It’s something, as the title suggests, that I started to think of as the burden of excellence. If you’re going to make some sections of your game so unforgettably awesome, you must also be prepared for how it will affect the rest of your game. Here, unfortunately, I feel that it’s a negative effect. Parts of the game that are simply good seem mediocre or even poor simply because our expectations are raised so high.

Of course, I don’t want to suggest that Uncharted 2 fucked up by being so damn awesome. I still consider it to be a fantastic game, and among the best this year. But it does show us the danger of putting so much into a certain part, section, or aspect of a game. In this case, impressing the player with visuals—whether they’re technical, artistic, or situational—takes precedence over the actual gameplay mechanics, and if you ask me, the game suffers somewhat because of it, even if the game doesn’t necessarily do anything “bad.” Good enough isn’t good enough when it’s paired with pure excellence.
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About Andrew Kauzone of us since 5:10 PM on 04.30.2009

I'm Kauza, which is pronounced like cause-uh. My real name's Andrew Kauz, if you'd rather go for that.

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