Top Ten: Uncharted Moments
Next week marks the release of Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception, the PlayStation 3 exclusive sequel to 2009's fabulous Uncharted 2: Among Thieves. The two titles to date are packed full with wonderful moments it seemed churlish not to pull together ten of the best. Of course, being such a spectacular source there're far more than ten top moments and it's likely the ones below will not all be agreeable. Let us know in the comments what we should have chosen...
A Rock And A Hard Place:
Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune was a good game. One of the first PlayStation 3 exclusives it arrived with bombast and showed off the graphical prowess the cell processor was capable of. It played like a Tomb Raider title but was pitched as a cinematic experience akin to the Indiana Jones movies. Then Uncharted 2: Among Thieves was released upon an unsuspecting public. The sheer brilliance of the game wowed all and sundry. It was such a step-up from the first game. Everything came together to deliver a nigh-on perfect experience – the gameplay, the graphics, the acting, the characters and the story – to deliver the greatest interactive movie the world has ever seen. You knew this was something extra special from the very start. Oozing confidence, Naughty Dog was at the top of its game here. Opening with a dazed, confused and bloodied Nathan Drake waking in an apparently wrecked train cabin, we quickly learn he’s hanging off a cliff and needs to get out – now. This wasn't the start of the story though. Taking their cue from cinematic luminaries such as Quentin Tarantino and Christopher Nolan, Nate's second adventure began in the middle. A non-chronological narrative? To make that work takes immense skill in any medium.
So began the most wonderfully told, brilliantly acted piece of cinema filled with imaginative action set-pieces anyone in Hollywood would have been proud of. And the best part? We could all be in it.
Chloe & Drake's Flirting:
Each of the Uncharted games to date have focussed on the relationships and interactions. Throughout both of Nathan Drake's treasure hunts what goes on between the main players during the on-screen action and their pasts is all on show for us to get to know them, enjoy the highs and chuckle at the put-downs. However, some of the best moments come between man and woman; Drake and Elena or Chloe. With every good story you need some romance. Whilst both of these couplings provide much entertainment, Nate and Chloe is that little bit more edgy, adult and flirtatious. Indeed, the ongoing flirting between the two (and action in an early cut-scene) lead to some very humorous moments and dialogue in-between shoot-outs. The most laugh out loud example is that of our hero's comment as Chloe climbs up a ladder. He grabs a look at her fine derriere and points out to her “it's a shame you have to sit on something that pretty”. Even playing the game for the umpteenth time this engagement doesn't fail to deliver a belly full of chuckles.
Uncharted games have always pushed the PlayStation 3 as much as possible. Uncharted 2: Among Thieves is still one of – if not the finest looking title on the system. Throughout each game the graphics are always stunning, but towards the end of Nate’s second adventure he moves through an area which turns from lovely weather to rain and then after passing through a doorway a torrential downpour combined with thunder. At night. It is stunning. It stops you in your tracks just to take in the water effects combined with the lighting mixed with the atmosphere created by the addition of a wonderful soundtrack. Then you realise the flooding that is a result of this storm is a living, breathing non-playable character. It affects you and all around you. If you dispatch an enemy he'll get carried away by the water notifying others. No level in any game before or since has quite made my jaw-drop (thanks to its technical aspects) in the same way.
Uncharted: Drake's Fortune Water Effects:
Uncharted was for a long time promoted as the PlayStation 3’s poster boy back when the catalogue was light and the Xbox 360 had taken a massive lead in the next-gen wars. A lot of focus was put on the visual output as it truly seemed to be tapping into the considerable grunt we'd been told for so long was available in this box of delights by Sony. Early on you, as Drake, need to move through water as you begin the adventure. Nate is wearing a white shirt (bringing to life the half-tuck) which gets wet and dries with unnerving realism. Uncharted very quickly proved itself to be exactly what the young console needed - a triple A platform exclusive which did something no other home console could.
For the first two-thirds of the wisecracking star’s fortune hunt, Uncharted was based wholly in reality with you up against evil bad guys with guns and bombs, but nothing more. Then suddenly it shows its hand – zombie-like creatures with super-strength appear. Uncharted really was using Indiana Jones as its template. A different challenge, with more skill and patience required to defeat or escape the new enemy, and at a time when the quest itself was ramping up such that adrenaline was running high and the tension was immense. A lot of gamers – this one included – found the move initially irritating. Totally unexpected it didn’t fit with things. Until you reflected on what had gone before in your journey from start to finish. All was clear and it did sit well with the overall proposition. The change brought with it an increase in difficulty too – never a bad thing. Come Uncharted 2: Among Thieves you knew to expect a supernatural aspect to the game and this lack of surprise made the change that much easier to bear.
A whole level on a moving train. From the top, to the side, to inside the carriage. Various objectives and challenges, attacks by men and helicopters, tanks and bombs. All the while affected by the simulated speeding and winding journey. Across forty miles of track(!) and three discrete sets. Wow. Technically immense, perfectly paced and a balls-out statement from the makers. This stands out as the single most impressive set-piece in Drake’s second treasure hunt. Quite a claim to fame given the rest littered throughout.
Where Am I?:
It takes steely cojones to just pause all the action and relax for a whole level somewhere between the middle and end of your action blockbuster gaming experience. But Naughty Dog did it. Drake wakes up in a Tibetan village unable to communicate with the person by his side, yet encouraged to follow him from where he is to where ultimately he reconnects with Elena. A wonderfully touristy walk through the village past yaks, mountain vistas and footballing kids. Like a great film, the beats of Uncharted 2: Among Thieves were managed throughout to wring the greatest and most varied emotions from joy to awe to shock and love. The calm before the storm, then, but well placed as it allowed players the world over to take that big breath they’d need to make their way to the end.
Parachuting Into People's Consciousness:
The moment Nathan Drake came of age as the action hero to follow in the present day. It’s all about the cinema. Beating them at their own game and making it interactive. To do that you need a good story, fun adventures and a shining star (plus supporting characters). With the parachute jump out of a crashing plane in Uncharted: Drake's Fortune the world got its latest action hero. The way Nolan North plays Drake, the interchanges between Nate, Elena and his chatter to himself, from the plane all the way to the ground (onetwothreefourfive!)...it was all fabulously entertaining. Jumping out of planes is always a good thing to get the blood flowing too, and the fact Nate clearly has no idea what to do but he persuades Elena he does, well, a superstar is born.
Humour is a massive part of the Uncharted series. It fits well with the whole thing Nathan Drake has going on. In the middle of a warzone, whilst fighting his way up a building in order to look across the city for a needle in a haystack, Drake sees a swimming pool and if so inclined (completely the player’s choice), would jump in. Then he wants to Play Marco...Polo! Chloe can’t quite believe it but he won’t relent, and there you have it – a fun little diversion which wasn’t forced and will have been missed by a few on their play through but a very enjoyable very small moment in a very big game.
Dodgy Foundations In Desperate Times:
One final set-piece. When you first get to this point in the game it's highly likely you won't know what's going on. If you are able to draw a swift and accurate conclusion you still may not be able to make it out. The whole building has collapsed. With you in it. Yes, thanks to a helicopter looking to draw you out for the kill the building you're standing in - on a fairly high-up floor - is falling down. Get out. Or get squashed. This whole sequence plays out like a horror movie when the main character is surprised and every viewer jumps. When the building goes you pass through a bundle of emotions. Wonderment, confusion, fear and so on towards the moment the adrenaline kicks in and you run to find the best way out of there before it's too late.