Despite last year’s exact same prophecy crashing and burning, the oracles are at it again, proclaiming that this year will be the PlayStation 3′s. Not that I know any more than they, but I suspect otherwise given the PS3′s steep price point in our current economic climate. What I’ll concede is that Sony have once again amassed an immense arsenal of great-looking games to launch their assault on 2009 with. One of these armaments is Uncharted 2: Among Thieves, the sequel to one of the PS3′s highest-rated exclusive titles. This month’s edition of British magazine gamesTM included a meaty preview for it, showing off screenshots displaying the staggering detail of the harsh scenery that will be found in one of the series’ new destinations, the devastated war-torn country of Nepal. Looking at these images gave me little to doubt that Uncharted 2 will be a big plus for the PS3 this year. However, what got me thinking was a seemingly innocuous tail to a paragraph focusing on the game’s returning protagonist:
If everything comes together just right, Nathan Drake could very well be heading into the upper echelons of videogame character fame
It’s an interesting concept. He is certainly one of the series’ major assets. His clumsily awkward negotiation of Uncharted‘s pitfalls and obstacles, and his nervous disposition towards the daunting scenarios it offered, made him “a likeable, everyday hero who didn’t conform to the machismo the genre usually opts for”, in the words of gamesTM.
When I think of video game characters that I’d consider to be the most famous, the icons of the medium, they are very distinct and unique creations. They’re ones that have a larger-than-life quality that I wouldn’t associate with an everyday character like Nathan Drake. Actually, 1UP compiled a “Top 10 Videogame Characters” list some while back that contains most of gaming’s eminent faces, such as Mario, Link, Sonic the Hedgehog and Master Chief. For the most part, these characters are instantly recognisable. One common feature they have is that they are identifiable just from their silhouettes, a quality often cited as being an important part of effective character design. Even Lara Croft and Solid Snake have distinguishing visual features, such as her ponytail and hip holster guns, or his trailing bandana. Drake, silhouette or otherwise, looks like someone you might pass in the street without thinking twice.
So, can an ordinary hero like Drake become a gaming icon? Well, there is a precedent. He may don a badass Hazard Suit, but underneath its amber coating beats the regular heart of one Dr. Gordon Freeman, Half-Life‘s notorious bespectacled hero. In fact, it’s Gordon’s geeky and underwhelming appearance that gives him an edge over other cliché action heroes, similar to how Drake’s unconvincing approach makes him stand out from the crowd. Gordon may not have the mainstream appeal of a Mario or a Sonic, but players identify with him because of his ordinariness.
However, Uncharted 2 is clearly being targeted at the mainstream, a fact underlined by the series’ cinematic undertones manifesting themselves in the game’s first trailer. Simply put, it was more akin to a movie teaser than a video game’s debut showing. Naughty Dog say they have a character who’s already more popular than rival Lara Croft, the first lady of adventure games. Of course that’s complete bull; Underworld may have done poorly but Croft remains one of the world’s most recognisable faces, let alone gaming’s. However, if there was a time to steal Lara’s crown away from her, it’s now. Explorer-type adventure films like National Treasure are very much back in fashion. The successful return of Indiana Jones to the cinema, a hugely popular character who Drake is clearly based upon, will help cement the broad appeal that Uncharted 2 and the Drake character has. Add in rumblings of a much-maligned ‘female-friendly’ makeover for the seemingly exhausted Croft and things are looking pretty sweet for Mr. Drake.
Aside from the game’s quality, of course, the one variable in all of this is the publicised emergence of Nathan’s shadier, darker side in Uncharted 2. As Michael Abbott pointed out, revealing his grittier characteristics may well give his personality an intriguing depth, but not all characters need to venture into the dark side. I wonder whether, from a marketing standpoint, it might have been better to stick with more of the same. Either way, it will be fascinating to find out. It’s exciting to think that we could be watching the emergence of a gaming icon, and it would be fantastic for the video game industry if Nathan Drake can break into the mainstream. If he does, you heard it here first. Unless you read gamesTM beforehand, that is.
PS: A post on gameplay coming up, honest. It’s kinda hard to talk about Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved 2‘s narrative (but now I’m tempted to try).