As the current console generation went on, games increasingly tried to be like interactive movies. The goal seemed to be to recreate the Hollywood experience but with you playing the starring role using a controller. While one could argue that Heavy Rain may have gotten the closest, no game captured the fun of the summer blockbuster while releasing a solid game quite like Naughty Dog.
Since today marks both the launch of the PlayStation 4 and our 7 For 7 series, I thought that it was only appropriate to kick off with the epic PlayStation 3 exclusive Uncharted 2: Among Thieves.
Naughty Dog is a developer that you can say has aged with its audience. They were among the early foreign developers on the PlayStation thanks to the advice of then Universal Interactive Studios boss Mark Cerny (who is the lead architect of the PlayStation 4). They started on the PlayStation with the critically acclaimed and E rated Crash Bandicoot series. Their PlayStation 2 years were spent on the new Jak and Daxter series that was also well received by critics and saw Naughty Dog move up to a Teen rating. The games were so popular that they became flagship franchises and the characters became mascots for the PlayStation.
For the PlayStation 3, Naughty Dog created the M-rated Uncharted franchise. The series starred Nathan Drake, a treasure hunter who is part Indiana Jones and part Lara Croft. Tagging along were Elena Fisher, a reporter and Drake’s love interest, and Victor “Goddamn” Sullivan, Drake’s cigar smoking mentor.
The first game, Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune, was praised for just about everything that it did. Critics loved the visuals, the score and the dialogue. Most of all, the characters and presentation of the game drew scads of acclaim with numerous critics and fans drawing comparisons between Uncharted and summer blockbuster movies, including the Indiana Jones series. With the release of Uncharted, Naughty Dog once again created a flagship franchise for Sony.
Uncharted 2 certainly didn’t wait before kicking things off with a trademark set piece. Drake waking up on a derailed train and climbing his way up it to safety was the trademark set piece of the game. Things never really let up from there with big gun battles and set pieces scattered throughout the game.
The gameplay itself saw a marked improvement from Drake’s Fortune as enemy variety increased and enemy AI was improved. That was balanced with improvements in moving into, between and out of cover. The scattered addition of mini-bosses also helped to improve the combat experience in UC2.
I could talk about the story but it’s largely inconsequential. The dialogue and the performances by the actors were just spectacular. While everyone remembers the graphics and the action movie-esque explosions, it’s really the characters that are the heart of the game. I’m not sure that any “serious” video game voice actor could have brought Nathan Drake to like in the same tounge-in-cheek way Nolan North does. Richard McGonagle’s voice absolutely makes Victor Sullivan the memorable character he is. And Emily Rose… Okay, I’m not sure that I could definitively say that no one else could do Elena as well as Emily but she still does an excellent job.If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
From a visual standpoint, Naughty Dog set the bar for console gaming with Uncharted 2. While the first Uncharted was a good-looking game, especially for a game that was released one year into the console’s life, it was absolutely blown out of the water by Uncharted 2. The textures were much more detailed and crisp than Uncharted. The character models were improved and looked fantastic. And the set pieces were bigger and more spectacular, including the aforementioned train sequence.
I would be remiss if I didn’t note some of the spectacular environments that were featured. Of particular note, the icy levels of Tibet, especially the ice cavern segment with Drake and Tenzin, were just stunning and I’m not sure anything on console has matched them (apart from maybe Journey). The fact Overall, Naughty Dog turned the visuals up to 11.
This was because, as a PlayStation exclusive developer, Naughty Dog was dedicated to maximizing the hardware of the PS3, something that multiplatform devs didn’t always have the time or know-how to do. For Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune, Naughty Dog was able to use around 30% of the power the PS3’s cell processor was capable of. Naughty Dog says that for Uncharted 2, they were able to use over 90% of the power on hand which made for a massive graphical upgrade over the previous game.
While the first Uncharted was critically acclaimed, it’s 89.67% GameRankings aggregated score was dwarfed by the 96.38% for Uncharted 2. In addition to the praise that Uncharted 2 was a game of the year favourite in 2009, many critics considered it one of the greatest games ever made at the time of release. Critics would often refer to Among Thieves as closer to a movie experience than any other game previously thanks to the story, the stunning visuals and crisp gameplay.
The long and short of it is that Uncharted 2: Among Thieves may not just be one of the best games of the current generation of video game consoles but one of the most influential games of all-time.
Sure, the Uncharted series was influenced by the likes of Indiana Jones and Tomb Raider but it also helped set the direction of games for the rest of this generation. Sure, cover-based third-person shooters as we currently know them were really introduced by the Xbox 360 exclusive Gears of War franchise but the genre was perfected by Uncharted.
That doesn’t include the platforming elements of the Uncharted series. Among Thieves improved on the already solid platforming in Drake’s Fortune. If you’ve played a game with a climbing platforming section, chances are that the gameplay will be almost identical to what you’d see in Uncharted with easily visible ledges to grab and reaching animation as you aim Drake for the next jump.
Most importantly, Uncharted 2 has arguably brought us the closest that gaming has ever been to being a movie that you can play. As video games get better at visuals and story and acting, the comparisons between movies and gaming increase. The general consensus is that the Uncharted franchise, and especially Uncharted 2, set the bar against which all other games were judged as interactive movies.
The long and short of it is that Uncharted 2: Among Thieves is simply the best game on the PlayStation 3.