So Nate, Sully, and Sam are driving around. Sully asks Sam a question and Sam launches into a long story. I notice something to the side of the road and stop the jeep to step out and investigate. Sam says something like “Oh, so you don’t want to listen to my story.” Nate says “I do, but want to look at this first.” I spend several minutes looking around then climb back in the jeep, at which point Nate says, “What about that story you were telling, Sam?” Sam says, “What? Oh yeah…” and then proceeds to pick up where he left off. This is a simple mechanic, easy to program, but astonishing when you hear it.
This is what Naughty Dog does. They take gameplay that is formulaic and linear and highly scripted, then accumulate interactive detail on top, shoving as much as possible into the game until it feels like an organic, believable experience; like the environment and characters are actively responding to you. Even the gunplay, which is basically the same as it was in Uncharted 1 (and Mass Effect for that matter) – wave of enemies, then another wave of enemies, then proceed forward through pseudo-platforming/exploration until more enemies – is made to feel organic because of varied enemy responses and various environmental props. (Though the mobs can throw grenades with ridiculous distance and accuracy, which I understand is a mechanic meant to keep you from camping a sniper spot – but they give you a sniper rifle.)
I’m enjoying the game, and it’s highly immersive. But I’m biting off small chunks at a time, pausing for rest when my <groan, another wave of bad guys?> alarm goes off.