Video Game Awards 2017: The ‘Secret of Mana’ Award

Okay, this is the award category where I have to give a little bit of backstory. Secret of Mana, originally released in 1993 on the SNES, is one of my favorite RPGs. But I didn’t actually play it until 2012, via the Wii’s Virtual Console service.

This particular award is named after Secret of Mana because it gives the spotlight to a game I didn’t play during its original release, but caught up on in the previous calendar year (in this case, 2016), as kind of a “better late than never” kind of thing.

So without further ado, here is 2016’s Secret of Mana Award recipient.

 

Winner: The Uncharted Series

Yeah, I didn’t fully play the Uncharted games until early last year, when I bought the Nathan Drake Collection on the PS4. Though the games are flawed (particularly the first and third entries), they really are something great, and I regret not playing them during their original releases. In fact, I like them so much, that I would retroactively hail Uncharted 2 as my favorite game of 2009. Their fast-paced action, and replication of Indiana

Originally, I was going to give this award to Undertale, which was released in September 2015, but I didn’t play until January of 2016. But I feel that was a close enough window that it was inconsequential. Meanwhile, the original Uncharted trilogy was released in 2007, 2009 and 2011. So catching up on three great games a good number of years after their original release was too much to pass up. Plus, I named Undertale as my overall Game of the Year for 2015, so it wasn’t exactly shorthanded.

Anyway, Uncharted is great. I understand its power now.

Uncharted 2: Among Thieves Review

*Review based on the remastered PS4 version as part of Uncharted: The Nathan Drake Collection*

Uncharted 2

Uncharted 2: Among Thieves is not only seen as the turning point for the Uncharted series, and a benchmark for developer Naughty Dog, but also as a modern classic. Released on the Playstation 3 in 2009, Uncharted 2 reaped critical acclaim and is often cited as one of the best video games of all time. Its reputation isn’t undeserved. Uncharted 2 took all of the good points of its predecessor, and cranked them to their limits.

Much like its predecessor, Uncharted 2 aims to capture the feeling of an Indiana Jones style adventure film into the world of video games, and it could be argued it accomplishes this feat better than any game that came before it. Maybe even after it.

Nathan Drake is on a quest to find the mythical city of Shambala and the legendary Cintimani Stone hidden there. He is joined by Chloe Frazer, a more rough-edged, coquettish contrast to “good girl” Elena Fisher from the first game. Though Elena ends up playing an active role in this adventure, Chloe knocks her down to the tritagonist role.

As you might expect, a psychotic villain is also in pursuit of Shambala and the Cintimani Stone, in the form of Lazarević, and his band of Serbian mercenaries. He’s a pretty cookie-cutter, brutish villain, but he does what he needs to for the game’s simple plot.

In terms of gameplay, Uncharted 2 remains similar to its predecessor, albeit with considerable more polish. The game still combines third-person shooting with platforming, but it handles both of its gameplay halves better than the original.

Whereas the first game often had Nathan Drake involved in gunfights that would go on for a bit too long, Uncharted 2 more gracefully spreads out the action. The gunfights are still present, of course, but they are trimmed down, and made even more exciting and varied due to the game’s greater set pieces and staging.

Meanwhile, the platforming has been made more polished. In the first game, the majority of platforming consisted mainly of jumping from one ledge to another while hanging off cliffs. Though such mechanics remain, they are given greater variety with better presented platforming challenges. And the ledge-hanging segments have been made more fluid, since Drake can now move across ledges using the control stick, and only needs to jump between them when necessary.

Nathan Drake can still use two guns at a time, a pistol and a larger weapon. But the stealth mechanics and melee combat, as well as puzzles, are better utilized this time around, making things consistently fresh.

Uncharted 2Better still are the aforementioned set pieces. Many adventure films involve action scenes that involve the characters jumping from one speeding car to another while battling villains in each vehicle, and that very scenario is beautifully recreated here. We even get an extended sequence aboard the roof of a train, a must for any self-respecting adventurer.

It’s in moments like these where Uncharted 2 shines brightest. The Uncharted series wants nothing more than to be ranked alongside the adventures of Dr. Jones, and the game is wise to use a greater variety of action set pieces than its predecessor, and only ever reusing one of them (for narrative purposes). There are few games that capture such feelings of exhilaration so consistently.

Uncharted 2Uncharted 2 even ups the ante in aesthetics. The game looks great, with a wider range of environments to explore, with the most beautiful being snowcapped mountains and icy caverns. The music is similarly epic, and would feel right at home in a Hollywood blockbuster (albeit Uncharted 2’s score is more atmospheric and less generic than most big Hollywood pieces these days).

The game does have some issues, however. Some may find that the plot is sticking a little too close to the adventure film rulebook, with most of its twists and turns being predictable from a mile away. And once again, the villain is a bit underwhelming. Perhaps the game’s biggest narrative misstep is the demotion of Victor Sullivan. The show-stealing buddy of Nathan Drake has a greatly reduced role this time around, aiding Drake in some early segments in the game before declaring himself to be “too old for this stuff.” It’s an oddly unceremonious way to write-off a fan favorite character.

It should also be pointed out that there are some chapters within the game that drag on for a bit. While most of the game is exciting and fun, a small handful of chapters overstay their welcome. This is especially true later in the game, when the chapters start becoming lengthier, with some of them simply feeling stretched out, instead of justifying their additional timeframes.

These are ultimately small complaints though, since Uncharted 2: Among Thieves remains a highlight in Naughty Dog’s library, and one of the most fondly remembered exclusives on any Playstation console.

If the original Uncharted was the Indiana Jones game we all dreamed of, then Uncharted 2 is perhaps the Indiana Jones game we never dreamed we’d actually see. Let’s be glad we did.

 

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