I'm back with yet another piece I wrote for Continue-Play.com. This time its about a game that I consider to be my favorite of all time; Uncharted 2: Among Thieves. This is the game that dragged me out of casual gaming and into something much deeper. Its probably partially responsible for the creation of our podcast and this site that hosts it. Uncharted 2 marked the begging of a new generation of gaming and it was brought to us by a studio that has gone on to make The Last of Us. Which is a game that defines the PS3/360 generation.
(Note: this article once contained a link to my original piece written for Continue-Play.com. However, Continue-Play is no longer accessible. I have since added the piece in its entirety.)
For many gamers, Super Mario 64 is a touchstone; it represents the jump from the games of old, to an entirely new generation of gaming. For me, Uncharted 2 represents an entirely different leap forward - yet it’s one that’s been equally influential, both on me and on gaming as a whole.
When the PlayStation 3 and Wii released in November of 2006 I was, and had always been, a Nintendo fan. I picked up the Wii on launch day with the promise of the console being a ‘revolution’ in gaming. As it turns out the Wii was, in fact, a revolution – selling over 100 million units over its lifetime – but the ‘revolution’ wasn’t aimed at me; it was a console designed to bring in my mom and my grandparents. Despite having played the likes Super Mario Galaxy and Super Smash Brothers Brawl – some of my favorite games to this day – I was still left wanting after only a few months since the consoles launch. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was yearning for something more substantial.
Later that year on one fateful Sunday evening, one of my best friends came to visit. In he walked with his PS3, and the one game he had with him at the time: Uncharted 2: Among Thieves. I knew almost nothing about the series at this point, even with its predecessor, Drake’s Fortune having been out for two years. We plugged in the console and booted it up; unknowingly entering into a life-changing experience, and one of the most influential moments of my gaming life.
It started with an image of the Naughty Dog logo brushed with snow. Your character, Nathan Drake, wakes up on a train; he has bleed profusely, and is clearly in a lot of pain – but when he realizes that the train is hanging over a cliff, and that he is about to fall to his death, the adrenaline kicks in. He falls, all the same, grabbing the edge of the car and hanging on for dear life, revealing a stunning scene that is as beautiful as it is dangerous. Drake, apparently a survivor, proceeds to climb up and through the barely-intact train carriage, climbing into the last car, sprinting through it as it begins to fall, and hurling himself back onto solid ground. That was just the movement tutorial, and I was already hooked.
Needing to be up early the next morning, my friend soon packed up his PS3 and headed home; his visit only allowed me enough time to play up to the second story chapter but I knew I had to finish it. Credit card in hand, I took off for the nearest electronics store. Bearing in mind this is late on a Sunday, no stores were actually open – but I wasn’t about to give up so easily. I scoured the city for hours, looking for the mythical 24-hour Walmart that I prayed actually existed. If they do exist, they do not exist in my city.
Alas, I couldn’t find anywhere to buy the PS3 that so badly needed to have that night. Resigned to my fate, I set off home and set my alarm early enough that I could be at the store as it opened the next day. I couldn’t wait another minute to satisfy my longing for a real next-generation gaming experience. It was something that I had only had a taste of with Uncharted 2, but it was also what I realized had been missing since the first day I bought the Wii. I had found substance. I had found a game I could really sink my teeth into – and I liked it.
Visually, I had never seen anything like Uncharted 2. I was immersed in vibrant colors with a stylized realism that is still striking even today, in a world where we already have The Last of Us. But it wasn’t just the stunning graphics that pulled me in; it was also the masterful storytelling. Watching our hero drag himself through the snowy mountainside, cross-cut with the beginnings of a mystery worthy of Indiana Jones, instantly pulled me in. I cared about the story – I was a part of the world, and I wanted to help Nathan Drake on his search for Marco Polo’s lost treasure.
I was also struck by the intelligent, humorous and expertly-acted dialog. This was game written and constructed for me, or at the very least, someone like me. I’d finally found a game that could tell an intricate story with the gameplay and visuals to match. It was the perfect combination of a relatable main character, an interesting supporting cast, an engrossing world and a story that goes deeper than just saving a princess. Again.
Just as Super Mario 64 showed us what was possible for 3D games, Uncharted 2 shows us what’s possible for storytelling in videogames. Nothing embodies a game’s ability to tell an engaging story better than Uncharted 2: Among Thieves. Of course gameplay is always king; I could list dozens of games that try to tell an enthralling story, only to fall flat because of broken gameplay or poorly-constructed mechanics. This is why Uncharted 2 claims such a lofty position in my heart; it neatly tells the story it wants to tell, and it does it by putting you into a world with mechanics that are just as strong as every other aspect of the game. To me, ‘next-gen’ started with Uncharted 2. It doesn’t mean better graphics and bigger worlds; it means games can take their rightful place next to my movies, television and books as the next medium strong enough to provide truly great stories and experiences.