Platform games have come a long way in the last couple of decades. Remember when this was all just 2D side-scrolling fields? Now there are huge 3D environments to explore, combat that involves more than jumping on enemies' heads and storylines that aren't just about rescuing princesses. In fact they're not even called platform games any more - it's all action this and adventure that.
But some things will never change. For as everyone knows, every game studio in the world has a copy of the Ten Commandments of Videogames pinned to the office wall. These are mainly directed at the makers of first-person shooters - Thou Shalt Honour the Colour Brown, Thou Shalt Not Introduce the Rocket Launcher Until the Sixth Level etc. But there is one commandment specifically meant for those developing platform games: Thou Shalt Include an Ice Level.
Naughty Dog is not about to disobey. The level they're showing off at gamescom is set in a giant cavern full of dangling icicles and snow-covered ledges. It feels like we've been here before - or rather, like someone we know rather well has. Lara Croft visited an ice cavern when she went to Nepal in Tomb Raider: Legend, and during her trip to Valhalla in Underworld. In fact, Lara's first ever adventure began with her approaching a set of carved stone doors set into the side of a snowy mountain, accompanied by a sherpa in a big hat.
So it would seem Naughty Dog isn't too bothered about all the comparisons made between the first Uncharted game and the Tomb Raider series. This suspicion is confirmed as the level demo gets underway, and we see Nathan Drake approaching a set of carved stone doors set into the side of a snowy mountain, accompanied by a sherpa in a big hat. But this sherpa has a name - Tenzin - and unlike Lara's pal, he doesn't meet a sticky end within the first five minutes. Plus, Nathan is wearing attire which looks suitable for exploring icy caves, rather than tiny shorts and a ridiculous poncho-snood hybrid.
As community manager Arne Meyer explains, Tenzin is there to help Nathan overcome obstacles which can only be dealt with by two people working together. For example, they each stand on opposite pressure pads to make a line of stone pillars descend into the floor, leaving the path ahead clear. But you don't get to control Tenzin - you're always playing as Nathan, and he's very much at the centre of the action. It's Nathan who shoots the rock to release the rope trapped under it, for instance, then wall-runs and swings across the giant crevasse.
For all he's a man of action however, Nathan won't be using his gun for any more than that while he's in the ice cavern. "This portion of the game is more about exploration and puzzling than combat," explains Meyer. As it turns out, no combat takes place during the entire demo. This is a little worrying as one of the biggest problems with the original Uncharted was the repetitive, stilted switching between exploration sections and gunfights. But there's nothing to be afraid of, according to Meyer.
"One of the criticisms of the first game was it was a bit narrow and linear," he says. "There's a lot of verticality to [the levels in Uncharted 2]. One of the hallmarks of this game is you can really climb and get new vantage points for combat set-ups, so the levels feel a lot wider."
Sounds like Naughty Dog's taken that criticism on board, then. "In the first game, there were very set times where you were doing the puzzling or the adventuring then entering combat," says Meyer. "We wanted to make it a bit more fluid. We wanted to make sure that would work well. So now you find yourself going between the exploration and the puzzling and the combat within spaces very seamlessly."
It's hard to tell how just how well that will work when we're only being shown the exploration and the puzzling. Still, those particular elements are certainly very impressive. The ice cavern itself is stunning, not just in terms of the huge scale but the amount of stuff crammed into it. Elaborate stone carvings line the walls, menacing statues stare down at you and giant Tibetan prayer wheels hang from the roof. There are grinding cogs to cling to and collapsing bridges to leap from and spinning blades to avoid being sliced into bits by. There are enough pillars, poles, ledges, levers, ropes, chains, switches and pressure pads to keep even Lara entertained for a good while.
Nathan might not quite have her grace and elegance, and he might look a lot mincier when trying to balance on a narrow beam, but he's definitely equipped with acrobatic skills. Meyer accidentally kills him more than once due to mistimed jumps, but on the whole the control system appears to work well. The animations are excellent, and Nathan moves fluidly and realistically around the levels. Meyer explains this is thanks to a new process they've introduced to the development cycle.
"Now we record our motion capture and our voices at the exact same time with the actors, so we're getting the same performances you see in the cinematics," he says. "It creates very natural, fluid cinematic moments."
But for all his fancy moves, Nathan isn't the biggest star of the demo - that accolade goes to the environment. It's beautifully lit, full of detail and packed with an enormous variety of stuff to run, jump, hang, swing and fall off. Meyer's not afraid to blow Naughty Dog's own trumpet when it comes to how pretty the game looks: "The graphical upgrades and updates have been tremendous," he says. "The way we've brought the narrative together with the story, both within the game and our cinematics, is a huge step forward from Uncharted: Drake's Fortune."
But how much has the gameplay changed? Not a great deal, by the looks of things. There's an awful lot of ledge-hanging and gap-jumping. It's familiar stuff, not just with regard to the first Uncharted but... "Isn't it very similar to the Tomb Raider games?" asks another, braver journalist in the audience.
"The genre and the universe we created has really been about the combo of action with combat, exploring and fiction," says Meyer, who sounds like he's heard that one before. "We're combining it in a way that has not been seen before." Has he played the Valhalla level in Underworld, by any chance? "No, I have not."
In any case, Valhalla never looked this good. And an action-adventure fan complaining about too much ledge-hanging and gap-jumping would be like an FPS lover bemoaning the emphasis on guns. To explore such a beautiful, variable environment should be a real treat for those who like their games all runny and jumpy. Plus, although the focus for this demo is on exploration, there's certainly more to Among Thieves than what we're being shown today - as you'll know if you've seen the dramatic E3 video where Nathan has a row with a helicopter.
As for you cynics, you and your "Oh no, not another ice cavern" - the thing is, ice caverns are fun. Besides, this is by no means the only location Nathan will get to explore. Other locations mentioned so far include a Tibetan museum and the swamplands of Borneo. If Naughty Dog really is following the Ten Commandments to the letter, we'll get a driving level and a mine cart race too. Even if we don't, it probably won't matter; Uncharted 2: Among Thieves is shaping up to be a stunning reminder of just how far the action-adventure genre has come.
Uncharted 2: Among Thieves is due out exclusively for PS3 later this year.