Stealth has never been a word associated with the Uncharted series. When I think about Nathan Drake’s adventures, I think more about spectacle and swashbuckling and stunning scenery. Yet Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End makes stealth combat just as viable, if not more so, than the typical running and gunning action of past games. It’s a surprising addition to the game, and it’s a surprisingly fun addition to the game, but it’s also, for me personally, kind of an unwelcome addition to the game.
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Tomb Raider Go is a mobile game that ignores all the blockbuster action of its console cousins in favor of clever puzzles. The Lara Croft in Tomb Raider Go is not a survivor or warrior, she’s… well… a tomb raider. It’s a wonderful alternative to the console game and received quite a bit of praise upon its release. Uncharted: Fortune Hunter is a similar game with a similar goal, but it hasn’t received anywhere near the amount of acclaim as Lara’s game. Part of this is likely due to its nature as a tie-in game with the recently released Uncharted 4, whereas Tomb Raider Go stood confidently as its own game. However, it’s also likely that Fortune Hunter has gotten less notice because the puzzles in it feel very different.
Tomb Raider Go is arguably the better designed puzzle game, but Fortune Hunter better captures the tone of Uncharted—a spirit of improvisation and adventure—that is missing from Lara’s game. It’s all about the puzzles.
The last time that I wrote about One Finger Death Punch, I wrote about it from a purely mechanical perspective—about how its deceptively simple premise hid a wealth of excellent design decisions that all work in perfect harmony with each other. I also talked about its mechanics, but from a philosophical point of view more than anything else.
Going back to the game in preparation for a Moving Pixels podcast, I’ve been reminded how excellent it still is, but also that that excellence stems from more than just mechanical harmony. There’s a purity of focus to the game. It’s the only action game that I’d think to describe as zen, but why? What makes this game from such a “disreputable developer” so much more immersive than every other action game ever made?
There’s a pretty strong critical consensus about how to best portray an action scene in an action movie. Presentation is the key to it all. It seems that action should be presented in a way that’s comprehensible. We should be able to follow how one shot leads into the next shot, how the characters move in relation to one another, how the environment impacts the action, etc. The action doesn’t necessarily have to be clear, blurring the screen and shaking the camera are perfectly acceptable, but only as long as they reinforce certain moments of action, rather than obscure them. In short, we should be able to tell what the heck is going on.
With the release of Dark Souls III, there’s been lots of talk about the series as a whole, its history and its impact, including how it’s frightening, how it’s funny, how it’s hard, how it’s not that hard, how it’s communal, how it’s isolationist, how its story is told, how its combat has evolved, how its design has evolved, how its popularity has evolved… lots of talk. But within all that, there’s one thing that I haven’t seen anyone touch on before: how oddly relaxing this type of game can be.