Describing Uncharted 2: Among Thieves as a "roller coaster ride" may seem like apt commentary, but only if it was your intention to conjure a deranged park that's exchanged amusement for sheer terror. The official Uncharted 2 roller coaster reaches miles into the horizon, its numerous knotted tracks casting a silhouette of snakes writhing in a late-afternoon wrestling match. Once you board the cart and hurtle across the first peak, the harness tightens and holds you captive for about ten hours, only offering a break when a piece of the track explodes and leaves you dangling from a deadly precipice.
So, really, it's much better as just a game.
Despite plundering the realm of film for its adventurous spirit, its hewn heroes and its desire to unearth suspense within spectacle, Uncharted 2 is not just like a movie. It's better than most big-screen fare in superficial ways -- a snappy script, clashing characters and sincere performances -- and in ways that show how the video game equivalent isn't just equal to Hollywood's medium. The hook in this game's script (and its scripted moments) is that the protagonist can be two people at once. There's Nathan Drake, the occasionally unscrupulous and frequently clumsy fortune hunter, and there's Player One, vicarious adventurer and -- if he's rubbish at the game -- experienced time traveler.
Of course, the best thing about Uncharted 2 isn't dying and reloading a checkpoint. It's almost falling, almost getting run over and almost being able to stop playing. Yes, it's all a linear, sometimes literal tunnel of fun that entirely ignores fancy emergent gameplay and the consequent "this cool thing happened to me" water-cooler stories. But by shoving the hero through meticulously assembled action sequences and spectacular near-death scenarios, developer Naughty Dog has guaranteed that this cool thing happened to all of us. We were all Nathan Drake and we were all almost killed by that train.
It's not hard to point out the various elements that make Uncharted 2 the best game of 2009, certainly not when it boasts unsurpassed graphics, robust multiplayer modes and a level of mobility and improvisation that's rarely seen in tank-man shooters. What's difficult is illustrating how well it crafts suspense as it plunges you down to the brink of defeat before rocketing you into the heights of yet another climax. Oh, hey ... have you ever been on a roller coaster?
1. Uncharted 2: Among Thieves
2. Assassin's Creed 2
3. Batman: Arkham Asylum
4. Dragon Age: Origins
6. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2
7. Shadow Complex
9. 'Splosion Man
10. Little King's Story
Previously: Top 10 of 2008, Top 10 of 2007