Thursday, August 20, 2009

Time For A Holiday?

Tomb Raider: Legend and Uncharted: Drake's Fortune are two very similar games, the latter arguably being inspired by the the former's franchise, and playing them in relative quick succession in the past month has yielded some interesting observations. Legend was a return to form after a few installments in a franchise that was becoming a little stale, while Uncharted was something new and different for developers Naughty Dog after focusing on the Jak series on the PlayStation 2; both are enjoyable games and well worth playing if they interest you.

It's interesting to view both games next to each other, to see what similarities they share, and to see what ends up being different. Take the design approach to their levels or chapters as an example: Tomb Raider breaks its levels into different places of the world, each playing a different part in the overall story while also showing off some impressive locations and puzzles; Uncharted's story on the other hand, continues immediately after the events of the previous chapter, making the experience feel more cohesive as it plays out in real time for main character Nathan Drake. This contrast affects the flow of both games in a relatively subtle way and in turn results in the player approaching their time with each game differently. With Tomb Raider the player may choose to do just one level in a session before moving on into a different game, whereas in Uncharted he or she might instead choose to do a few chapters in one sitting due to their shorter length and the "just one more level" mentality.

Semi-related to this is are the games' approach to their overall experience and what they are trying to convey. If games like Fallout 3 and Grand Theft Auto IV become secondary lifestyles for a while, due to their expansive locations ripe for exploration and side quests, then Tomb Raider and Uncharted sit on the opposite side of the spectrum and provide an experience that is almost like a holiday. Both games take you to exotic locations that are a sight to behold and while their narratives might involve finding ancient artifacts or whatever, the levels in themselves are a good insight into what it would be like to visit these places. Jungles, snowy mountains and underground caves and tombs are nothing new to videogames, sure, but unlike those open-world games they are not places we are likely to often visit, either and as such spending time in these vast, remote locations is an interesting contrast to the city life of GTA IV, or the empty and bleak remains of a fictional post-apocalyptic Washington D.C.

On a superficial level, Uncharted: Drake's Fortune is miles ahead of Tomb Raider: Legend; Graphics, sound and, in my opinion, story are all superior in Naughty Dog's underrated gem while the title also takes advantage of familiar mechanics from games like Gears of War to make the experience feel fresh and unique. Tomb Raider meanwhile feels a bit like a last generation game, which makes sense given the fact it is one. I played it on the Xbox 360 so it looked only slightly better than other versions, but a quick glance on Youtube shows that they also look quite nice. Being released at the end of the last generation meant that, as a game from that time Legend is quite impressive and still holds up nicely, but as an Xbox 360 title it's a little dated and just cannot compare to something like Uncharted. With all this said, it's nice to see that developers Crystal Dynamics took the time and effort to ensure Legend returned the series to its form, making Lara Croft relevant once more and putting the temporary anomaly of the sub-par games behind them.

The last thing I want to briefly discuss is their narratives and range of characters. For me, I found Uncharted's story to be more interesting. I was intrigued by what would happen to Nathan Drake and Elena Fisher, as well as compelled to see where their adventure would take me next. Legend on the other hand was a little dull but that's not necessarily a criticism of the game. Instead, I think it was dull because of my own experiences with the franchise -- The last game in the series I played was Tomb Raider 3 and as that was a long time ago, I've largely forgotten the story. Combine that with not seeing what happens in between that game and Legend, and the lack of information I had resulted in a lack of interest on my behalf for the events that took place. I had no connection with the characters, no knowledge of who they were or why they were associated with Lara and this disconnect affected my enjoyment of the game. Lara is fine, I know who she is, have a rough idea of her background and do have a small connection with her. I respect Lara as a character and would like to continue to see where her adventures take her in the future, but as far as Tomb Raider: Legend is concerned, the game became more about what location I'd be visiting next and what puzzles I would have to solve than it did her story and discovery of what she was looking for. It's interesting to consider, especially if you take the questions I pondered not too long ago about the conditions with which we play our games into account and I definitely feel that it played a part in my overall enjoyment of the game.

Those are just some of the interesting differences between Tomb Raider: Legend and Uncharted: Drake's Fortune that I observed. There were some more but they are mostly minor and don't warrant a mention here. I thoroughly enjoyed my time with both and recommend them if they seem to be something you would like to play. I have some more thoughts I'd like to share, particularly about Uncharted, in the near future so stay tuned for those.


Michelle said...

I loved Tomb Raider Legend, but I've never had the pleasure of playing Uncharted.

Legend was the last Tomb Raider game I really enjoyed, (Anniversary just filled me with nostalgia rather than praise).

I must say though that the way you've described Uncharted sounds very similar to how the original Tomb Raider treated levels ending.

You reached the "goal" to finish the level, you'd get a screen displaying your time, then it would load (bless it) and you'd usually carry on step for step where you were before. Awesome! :D

Steven O'Dell said...

Michelle -- As I briefly alluded to in the post, it's been ages since I last played anything Tomb Raider so my memory of the first three games is piss-poor, to be frank, and thus I'll have to take your word for it because I really can't remember. Kinda sad that I have forgotten most of it, actually, as it was a great series until it took its detour into mediocrity. Anyway as you know Legend shows your time and stats after each level so at least that remains consistent with the series, but by the sounds of it the levels and their transitions haven't been consistent and I'm not sure how I feel about that. There's definitely a disconnect to the story in Legend though, for me at least.

All I can say is if you own a PS3, or get the chance to in the future then Uncharted: Drake's Fortune comes fully recommended from me. It was thoroughly entertaining the entire way through.

Also, Anniversary is next, right after I mop up completion related activities in Legend so at least that will refresh my memory a little bit.

And (hey look, I started all my paragraphs with the letter A! -- random much? Yep...) as always (ooh, alliteration now too...), thanks for stopping by and commenting. :)