Friday, September 17, 2010

The Uncharted Series Part 2

Uncharted 2: Among Thieves is where the series is saved as a whole, and it is on that game in particular that I will mostly focus on within this post.

Deconstruction of the Action Hero

It is in Uncharted 2 where my interest in the main character really began to take off and drive me to finish the game. At first appearance, Nathan Drake is the stereotypical action hero. He is handsome, skilled in combat and common sense, lucky with the ladies, always the center of attention. Along with his crusty old man of a sidekick, the player takes Drake on an epic adventure involving car chases, romantic trysts, and the defeat of the bad guy. But this description misses the most interesting thing about him, and the aspect of his character that makes the game different from the norm.

Nathan Drake is actually a normal guy. He is faced with the chaos of a big-budget action movie but, instead of reacting with suave confidence, Drake has barely any idea what is going on. Drake often feels over his head and seems one step away from panicking completely. After overcoming absurdly dangerous situations, Drake notes shakily how insane it is that he keeps managing to survive at all.

This is a major facet of his personality. Essentially, Drake is the average joe stuck in an action movie, when all he wants to do is get to his archaeogical goal with no fuss or confrontation at all. He is often very hesitant to get involved to begin with. And this creates realistic consequences in the game. When double-crossed and on the run from the police, he actually gets captured instead of getting away like you would expect. Instead of his companions being dominated by his personality, his companions often seem like the one calling the shots. This creates sympathy for him, but he is also competent enough to avoid complete pity by the player.

Drake is you, and Drake is me. He has no superpowers, he is only moderately athletic, and is often faced with situations beyond his power to prevent and beyond his ability to control. Drake is the everyman, and yet he also proves that even a normal person can affect major events in their own way. Thus it is that Drake is one of the more interesting characters of any action film or game, and a compelling reason to play the game and to experience his story.

Experiences with Among Thieves

Uncharted 2 is better than its original game in just about every circumstance (although the aforementioned mythic failure still exists). The gameplay is exponentially more fluid, more attention is paid to the rationality of the game's geography and combat sequences, and the game as a whole feels more epic. Unlike the endless rainforests and ruins of the first game, Uncharted 2 takes Drake across the globe; the player gets to visit and experience the jungle of Borneo, the Himalayan mountains, a war-torn Tibetan city, and the magnificence of Shambhala. The characters are more interesting and of a far greater variety. Villains are given more depth and relationships among the group are more complicated and true to life.

It is still difficult to understand why Drake and his friends go looking for treasures such as this and why we should care about the quest for Shambhala, though. But this is overshadowed by the strength of the game and appeal of the characters.

The new multiplayer also bears good mention, as it has consumed many hours of mine. The fluidity of the gameplay and stunning variety of visuals and setpieces lend themselves well to epic duels and fights for survival. Holding out against a steadily increasing onslaught of enemies in an old, mountainous Tibetan monastery is an impressive experience, particularly when one gets to do so online with one's friends. Similarly, competing against others to capture treasure and hold chokepoints against another team of foes is great fun in the midst of a jungle full of ruins and an icy mountain pass. The unlockable perks and items provide additional incentive and are thankfully not necessary at all toward holding one's own against established veterans (unlike other games I could mention).
The actors when not rendered

The Uncharted series so far is a mixed bag, but one that has grown substantially better with time. I still do not understand why the first game (Drake's Fortune) is considered among the PS3's best, as it was a chore to play and an endless process of wading toward the next cutscene through an endless sea of mercenaries and contrived scenery/jumping puzzles. I'm glad that they had the opportunity to polish that experience, though, and bring us to a far more appealing sequel.

Uncharted 2: Among Thieves, however, is a classic. I haven't quite even completed the game, but I can say that definitively. The characters are memorable, the action intense, the gameplay fluid and varied. The multiplayer has provided endless fun, and will continue to do so after I'm done with the main campaign.

My only hope is that Uncharted 3 will go more into depth with regard to why we should care about the end goal. I felt that, in both games, the archaeogical goals should be far more compelling. As someone interested in history I thought I would be automatically interested, but it failed to make me care that much until the second half of the game. If the third iteration is able to do this better and hold onto the accomplishments of the second, we might have ourselves a contender for best action-adventure game ever created. And wouldn't that be marvelous?


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