The argument over whether video games are art or not is pretty much over: they are. Anyone who disagrees at this point is mostly trying to be contrarian. That said, we are still refining our skills and vocabulary for critiquing games, and more rapidly than ever. This very blog uses an intersectional feminist/social justice framing when we look at video games, and even that is evolving. However, there is a fairly strong canon of social justice literature and discussion that we can draw from to observe media. Video games are difficult in that they are still a young medium, and one thing we are still working on is genre.
I’ll get straight to it: just under a week ago, Sony released a new gameplay video for Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End. It’s likely you’ve already seen it, but maybe you haven’t. In any case, it’s incredible. For the uninitiated, Naughty Dog’s Uncharted series follows the adventures and misadventures of one Nathan Drake, a treasure hunter armed with as much completely improbable upper body strength as he has truly unbelievable luck. Previous installments of the game have seen Drake chasing treasures in increasingly improbable situations all over the world, from the Rub-al-Khali desert to the fabled city of Shangri-La. I’m a big fan of the series, and I’ve written a couple of posts about it on this blog.
The first, second, and third games in the series, Drake’s Fortune, Among Thieves, and Drake’s Deception, respectively, have been lauded for their innovative combinations of platforming and combat gameplay, excellent voice acting, and engrossing story lines. Among Thieves, in particular, collected a number of Game of the Year awards. I’ve played through every one of the Uncharted games on every difficulty level at least twice. I’ve found the Strange Relic in every game, and picked up all the treasures. I’ve even taken a break or two from my usual heavy-breathing love of this series to critique its treatment of female characters. Watching the video from this past weekend’s Playstation Experience event in Las Vegas, what I was seeing felt fresh. The gameplay in Drake’s Deception really wasn’t that different from Among Thieves, but A Thief’s End feels exciting, just from the fifteen minutes of gameplay in the video.
Much of the video game news that I’ve been getting lately has been depressing. Don’t get me wrong, some it has been pretty neat, like the new playable character announcements for Ultra Street Fighter 4, or the first trailer for the new Angry Birds turn-based RPG. But if you’ve been paying attention, maybe you’ve heard that two of the most notable video-game developers in the industry are losing significant talent. Koji Igarashi (Iga), who has designed and produced more games in the Castlevania franchise alone than I care to mention, will depart from Konami after twenty-four years with the developer. Just under two weeks ago, noted game writer Amy Hennig left Naughty Dog, for whom she wrote and directed all four games in the Uncharted series.
[Here there be serious spoilers for the plots of Uncharted I, II, and III]
Before we go anywhere, some backstory: Uncharted is a series of third-person, action/adventure, platforming videogames. They trace the adventures of treasure hunter Nathan Drake and his mentor Victor “Sully” Sullivan, et alia, as they think and fight their way through dense jungles, Nazi bunkers, ancient temples and lost cities. The series is developed by Naughty Dog, the same studio responsible for The Last of Us and Crash Bandicoot.
The Uncharted series of games is one of my favorites of all time. I can’t think of a single series (with the possible exception of all the Pokémon games put together) that I’ve logged more time playing, especially including multiplayer. I played Uncharted II: Among Thieves first; it was, after all the much lauded, universal “Game of the Year” for 2009. I bought it at the suggestion of a friend and played through it in a single sitting, only getting up to use the bathroom. I was completely enraptured by the storytelling, the combat, and the game’s ability to perform exposition and character development in what just isn’t that long of a game.
Until I played The Last of Us, I was convinced that there was no game that I could enjoy more. I went back and played Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune, and blew off an exam when Uncharted III: Drake’s Deception came out in 2011. There’s a pair of jet ski scenes in Uncharted that are just obnoxious and are reminiscent of Crash Bandicoot, but with the exception of those excruciating minutes, there’s not a second of the Uncharted series that I don’t enjoy. Unfortunately, it seems that I can’t manage to keep my critical eye closed while enjoying a perfectly good video game. Continue reading