|Photo manip courtesy of my husband Dark Wanderer. Check out his sketch/photo manip/3d rendering gallery at Heromorph|
I'm a creature of habit. My husband is (thankfully) good at getting me to expand my territory and try new things. If not for him I would have long ago stayed in a pattern of holding. So, when I get hooked on a certain game series I tend to stay with it and not stray too far from my comfort zone. Being a gamer, however, means that you discover new games every month, every week, every day. You'll get more goodies to tinker with and despite your efforts to stay in one area and never get interested in anything else you will find something that interests you. You just can't help yourself. I had heard so much about the Uncharted series that by the time its fourth installment came out I was ready to burst from my hardened cocoon and give it a try. It was a decision that I am glad that I made. There were, however, things that kept ringing in the back of my head. Bells that kept going off. Treasure hunter, foreign land, historical artifacts and lore long forgotten, big scary creatures, guys with guns, dangling from cliffs...where have I seen this before...
You've already figured it out in your own head if you're any kind of gamer. You're not stupid. So let's not screw around and just get to the point. Laura and Nate. Which one did it better?
I'm going to break this piece down into the following areas: open-world, game control, puzzle-solving, character development, difficulty and replay value. And for the geeks that pick and pluck at every detail (and we all do because no one in the Nerdom can be happy with what they have) I'm going to focus on the game series as a whole rather than one piece in particular. That way we can avoid singling out any release we love and any that we really hate.
PlayStation One was a console ahead of its time. Looking back now the graphics are not in comparison to amazing leaps and bounds of the digital age and the avoidance of pixilation that we have sidestepped, but for its time there was nothing like it. They engineered audio, side quests, map gens and grids, story lines and battle systems that we had never seen before. And they were the predecessors of the open world format. Tomb Raider was one of leading games in giving us a taste of what such a plane of existence would look like someday in worlds such as Minecraft and Skyrim. It was not quite there, but it was as close as the console could come at the time. Pixelated and broken as we know it to be back then it broke us out of the linear world and gave us more to explore, with each new release in the series giving us more to look at and enjoy. Each sequel gave us more to check out and more inches of the world to crawl, swim, climb, or drag ourselves through. Uncharted is no different. Nathan Drake is the poster boy for a treasure hunter's parkour class as he leaps and tumbles across hills, ravines, chapel ledges and fortress towers. Half the time you can barely see where he is moving or where he needs to grab and jump until you push the control to the side as he is dangling precariously from a cliff and suddenly, he starts reaching for something. You strain your eyes and...oh! There is a teeny-weeny ledge wayyyyy over there! Who knew? In this particular area I don't feel that either game one-upped the other. They both grew the ability to explore the world in the game console format that they were engineered in and did so in a glorious and full way. It seemed to increase as each game went on and it kept you wondering which direction to turn in because you never knew if right or left was the way to go. I liked that.
Maybe I can blame it on the console. Maybe I can blame it on the programming. Maybe I can just be freaking frustrated overall and blame global warming. But when I make a character do a full-tilt run to a cliff's edge so that I can press "X" and have them make a flying jump across the cavern to grab the cliff on the other side, I expect the button pushing to freaking work. If I roll to dodge gunfire, I expect to roll against the wall, not THROUGH the wall and get stuck, then watch my character jiggle like they are having a seizure; the one benefit was that the bullets passed straight through the character in some supernatural Matrix way. In all honesty the later Resident Evil games have the best controls that I have seen (goodness, not the original RE. Please don't think I am insane,) so neither of these series win an award from me in terms of control capability except in one area; aim and fire ratio and recoil on weaponry. This award goes to the Uncharted series in regard to the accuracy of the weapons is astounding to me. That fact coupled with the accurate recoil (and loss of shot accuracy in response to the recoil after several rounds are popped off of any weapons set to full auto) makes for a realism that I feel adds to the game. General movement for most of the games in the Tomb Raider series is more jarring and sticky, much like the earlier Resident Evil games. Bear in mind, however, this has much to do with the times; similar creators, programming restrictions, and the exact same console, all lead to the same issues. Even with the advent of the PS3, however, you still run into glitches in how a character moves and interacts. Even general bugs in the system. Sad that there are still legitimate excused for this, but there you go. This fact alone makes it a reason that, every time Nate falls to his death instead of jumping like a good boy, I have to growl through gritted teeth to fight the rage quit urge of my teenage gaming years.
Anyone who has watched Indiana Jones knows enough about the fictional treasure hunter/archeologist to know that it is all about which button to push, what statue to move, and what to fire the gun (or in his case, crack the whip) at. Both Uncharted and Tomb Raider are shoot-em-up adventure games, but both of these adventurers are treasure hunters at heart. Each have different personalities and reasons for their life and love of the hunt, but this is what makes the button/statue/gun equation essential to this type of game format. As much as I love Drake, who to me is the perfect snarky mixture of Indian Jones and Dean Winchester, the Uncharted games themselves didn’t satisfy my puzzle solving appetite. Tomb Raider has always taken that award. Laura Croft is just as tough and tenacious as Drake (without the snark,) with her games just as full of danger and intrigue. Yet the earlier installments had more of the "get this to go here" elements that made it enjoyable. Objects that were split apart were placed in different parts of the semi-open world environments, forcing you to explore the vast areas and engage more enemies. You were put in positions of thinking as well as acting more often than in Uncharted and I loved that aspect of the game. It had more of the Indiana Jones flair for solving the riddles and following the trail of clues more than following the trail of bad guys.
The bad guys, however, happens to be why I love Uncharted. While Tomb Raider wins for puzzle solving, it lost it for me in weapons, weapons control, and overall baddies. You fought a dinosaur for goodness sakes. In the Uncharted games, however, it was more of a rough and tumble environment in every installment. While I was hoping for a game with no supernatural elements for a change, by Chapter 16 of Uncharted 1 we run into strange creatures that almost look like Resident Evil Lickers (it always happens.) That was the only thing that annoyed me and it was mostly a personal “Meh” because I had wanted a straight action game for a change. But I looked over it. The majority of the games are cut and dry fire-fights or melee combat, human-on-human. And the weapons. Oh, the weapons. Firstly, let me say that the sights and the recoil for the various weapons are just faboo. And the choices are phenomenal. They change the names, (I have no idea why,) but the options are still there. Examples: Smith & Wesson= WES, Desert Eagle= Desert, Beretta= 9MM, Russian Dragonuv Sniper Rifle= Dragon Sniper, etc. The true puzzle solving in Uncharted is, in my opinion, the battle strategy. How do you best stack the enemies, find cover, use your AI companion to draw fire, and pick which weapon to use at which time to take out which enemies and from what distance. Example: An open courtyard with two trained mercs with laser sights trained on you from high towers and five in the open courtyard, two with 9mm’s and three with 12 gauges. Your 9mm isn't gonna cut it. Do you take out the towers first with your sniper rifle, or the ground men? And if you go ground, do you waste a grenade for faster coverage or break out your AR and pepper the place?
That's some good puzzle solving.
Any good book makes you sympathize with the character. They make you understand their situation and want to see their situation resolved happily. This is also true in any game that has a strong plotline. For good or bad, you want your character well rounded so that you can either root for them or pray that they will die a quick death. Character development is necessary to game play to making you want to come back for more. When it comes to the characters and their personal lives, I have to split this at 80/20 in favor of Uncharted. The cut scenes of each game move the story along and drive the action, suspense, etc. They also, however, give you insight into Nathan Drake. As each game moves you see more of his personality. You see his snark, his wit, and his drive, but you also see his “chaotic good” nature in his way of concern for his friends, weakness for ladies he loves, want to break the rules if it means serving a greater purpose (or even just a very specific one,) his unwillingness to harm an innocent, and sincere hurt when betrayed. You get a well-rounded human as each game progresses and more layers are added to him with each cut scene and each game. Sadly, it wasn't until the PS3 release of the Tomb Raider prequel for Laura that you got even a glimpse of what she is like, before or after. We knew her as a rough and tumble, no-nonsense treasure hunter...but why? What made her tick? What lines wouldn't she cross and what would she do no matter what for someone who mattered? We never saw even a semblance of that until the PS3 release, which was in my opinion the absolute best game in the franchise. Graphics, gameplay, open world, character development....it had it all. Sad that the others can't hold up in its light, but that doesn't mean they are any less awesome to play. The others just missed the boat in terms of giving her the backstory that she deserved.
I like a game that puts me on the border of my rage-quit days. I want to be challenged. I want the game to be hard. An easy game can still be fun, but it just makes it more enjoyable when you have to think harder, struggle longer. Tomb Raider wins that award hands down. The controls were part of the reason for this difficulty, but a small part. It was the games complicated puzzle solving that drove you batty in very TR release. Halfway through solving the next leg of the race you were shot, or beaten up by a gorilla, or fell off a cliff… and it was awesome! I never loved the thrill of wanting to throw my controller more! The games had one setting; Annoy. Yet, they annoyed you in a great way that kept you saying to yourself, "Okay, I'll try one more time." I have only tried the Uncharted games on Normal setting, but sadly, even at Normal they are too much of a cake walk for me. I still love the games and I am by no means saying I'm such an expert game player that these games are too simple for me. I'm just saying that the way I play they weren't set in a style that made it difficult. I come from a long line of military personnel and I'm a martial artist, so I think like a fighter and a soldier and always have. Battle strategy isn't hard for me so the fights in Uncharted didn't take long to map out and navigate. The puzzles aren’t very, well, "puzzley," and the chapters seem short and concise. Not much to build on in terms of difficulty. I will try the games on Hard before rendering a final judgement, but at the moment this piece is going live I have to hand the Difficulty Award to the Tomb Raider series.
A game that is good enough to play over and over again is one worth its money. A series of games worth playing over and over is even better. Replay value is an essential component to a gamer because it means their money was well spent, they are playing something long-term that is great for grinding and strategy, and it keeps them engaged even after the one-hundredth time. I've pretty much given an equal split on who got what in my weigh-in of these two series, and in this I have to do the same. I have to say that for the bad baggage that both series carried into each subsequent game in their series they also carried heckagood amount of awesomeness. I would fire up the PlayStation for Tomb Raider or Uncharted any day, alternate back and forth between them at any time, and not get bored. They keep you engaged and keep you wanting to solve puzzles and shoot bad guys. You couldn't ask for more in a game if they can always keep you on your toes.
But....who is the better explorer? I put this piece to a close with this question answered by “Bat In The Sun” in their epic “Superpower Beat Down” live action fight: Laura Croft Vs Nathan Drake. Tell me if you agreed with the winner in the comments. Keep gaming, Nerds and Normals.
Christina Sizemore is trained in only four things: writing, fighting, paranormal investigating, and being a mom. At this point in her life she truly feels that she is not qualified to attempt to learn any new field. A twenty year martial artist, mother of three, and writer who is working on the publication of her first book titled “Finding Your Way: A Guide To Your Path In The Martial Arts,” she spends her days working out, writing, making fanvids, going to DragonCon, and playing board games/video games/out in the yard with her kids and husband who are just as geeky as she is. She is convinced that one day her skills will be of assistance in the Zombie Apocalypse and that while she is of no use in the kitchen, she can Buffy that zombie for ya or teach you the best way to get the blood stains out of your clothes (Psst…the secret is mixing Crown Cleaner and Shout. Just sayin’.)