***Very mild spoilers for Uncharted 2 to follow Ė no plot stuff***
This blog post
by Kauza got me thinking. He discussed the ďmediocreĒ shooting gameplay of Uncharted 2 sort of smudging the otherwise brilliant image of the overall package. He argued that the situational happenings (ala the train climb in the beginning) aren't as compelling as the game itself. I disagree.
The reason: I am a passive gamer. You probably are too and just don't know it.
Consider all the mechanics built into the combat in Uncharted 2:
You can slide into cover, stop and pop
You can hang on a ledge, pop out and shoot.
You can hang on a ledge, and pull enemies over cliffs.
You can drop a grenade on unsuspecting enemies.
You can sneak up behind enemies and perform silent takedowns.
You can melee attack, and counterattack.
You can run and gun.
You can blind-fire.
You can throw gas tanks into crowds to use as impromptu explosives.
You can use riot shields to slowly advance on foes, firing with your pistol.
You can snipe.
You can use RPGís.
You can mow down waves of foes with a Gatling gun or Stationary Turret.
Thatís all well and good, but I ignored most of these mechanics. On my first play-through, I just stuck to my ďwinĒ strategies from the first Uncharted: Take cover as far away from enemies as possible, lob grenades when necessary, stop, pop, rinse, repeat. I was probably ĺ of the way through the game before I even started using run and gun, or blind-fire.
I ignored several weapons too. Iím finding I still need the kill count trophies for weapons like the Wes-44, Desert-5, M32 Hammer, and the FAL. I just never cared to use these weapons, really. Sure, I used the grenade launcher when I had to beat the helicopter, but avoided it other times because it had such a limited ammo capacity. Same goes for the handguns I mentioned. I came into the game with a bias for the M4, 92FS 9mm, and the Moss-12 that carried over from the original; so I used these as often as possible and generally ignored the rest.
This is the behavior that needs to end, and what I believe contributes to the mediocrity that we experience in many games. I purposely avoided tools (in this case, weapons) that were built into the game because I had already chosen favorites. This myopic thinking doesnít just apply to Uncharted. Think of your favorite FPS. Letís assume Iíve never played that game before. Without ever having played it, I can still tell you what my two favorite weapons are: The Sniper Rifle, and whatever the one-shot kill weapon is called. Be it the torque bow in Gears, the Bolt Gun in Killzone 2, the Crossbow in Uncharted 2/Half Life 2/Bioshock/Killing Floor, whatever. I will always seek those weapons out, and ditch the rest.
I know Iím not the only person who does this. But why? Isnít it more fulfilling to explore all options in a game? Yes, it definitely is. The reason I often donít? Comfort.
Hereís the rub: if I have decided to play the game then I have a responsibility to my own fun. If I'm not having fun, is it Uncharted 2's fault? Perhaps, but it's more likely that I'm simply not challenging myself to explore all options laid before me.
So Iím going through Uncharted 2 again on hard, and this time Iím switching my character model every chapter break just for the hell of it, and Iím trying to swap weapons as often as possible by not picking up ammo for the weapons Iím currently using. Once the ammo runs out, grab something new. Iím also trying to use different tactics. Would Drake sit tight behind the same piece of cover and methodically, drudgingly pop out and shoot enemies one by one until the room was clear? No? Then why the hell am I doing it?
I like to think that before, I was ďpassivelyĒ playing Uncharted 2. Sticking to norms, comfort zones and weapons I was used to. This time around I consider my ďactiveĒ play-through. Long awaited thesis: there is no reason the ďmediocreĒ gunplay canít be just as cinematic as those scripted ďholy shitĒ moments, itís likely that I just wasnít doing MY job as the player of this badass game. Self inflicted mediocrity is no fault of Naughty Dogís.
I don't consider it a flaw that Uncharted 2 allows its players to be passive and stick to what they know; that's actually a selling point. I just find it to be contradictory to the idea of gaming in general.
*as a brief aside, I'd like to note that Uncharted 2 does have a bad tendency of forcing you into a gunfight when it deems one necessary. As lauded as these new stealth mechanics were, I had hoped they would have given you the option to more or less finish the game without resorting to tons of gunplay. This isnít really the case. On more than one occasion I would go to great lengths to avoid a gunfight, being careful and killing silently, only for the game to decide arbitrarily that a firefight needed to happen to keep the excitement up. In pour the enemies and suddenly all that sneaking around Iíd done was a waste of time. Sigh.
A perfect example of a game that gives you the tools, and lets you decide whether or not to use them is the Prince of Persia trilogy. Most notably the ďfreeformĒ combat offered in Warrior Within:
There are a ridiculous amount of moves in this game. Easily more combos than you can memorize. But I remember memorizing as many as I could so that each combat encounter would feel brand new. The passive gamer in me could have easily found one sick combo that worked 95% of the time on every enemy and spammed it to beat every level, but why? To beat the game? If thatís all I cared about, why play games to begin with?
Another example: Iíve trained up with Kilik in Soul Calibur(s) 2 and 4. I know a decent amount of his combos, and I try to throw as many of the ones I know into any given fight. However, despite how many hours Iíve spent training, I still lose to button mashers and spammers. Be that as it may, I donít mind losing because Iím actually playing the game, and not just mindlessly trying to win. I find absolutely no joy in a button mash/Spam victory. Button mashing is passive gaming. Itís like yelling ďBingoĒ after every number is called. Maybe at some point youíll actually have Bingo, but you clearly donít understand the game and youíre going to annoy the shit out of everybody. If youíve made the decision to play a game, at least respect the process enough to learn the rules.
You likely know someone who ALWAYS chooses Falco in Super Smash. Or they ALWAYS choose Ken in Street Fighter. Maybe you are this person. This is another passive gaming behavior; and frankly, itís just a waste of money. Would you pay full price to see a movie and only watch the first 15 minutes? Those 15 minutes may be your favorite part of the movie, but youíre still not getting the whole picture, or your moneyís worth.
When it comes to competitive multiplayer, Iím actually pretty good about being ďactiveĒ. In Super Smash I tend to suck in 4 player matches when I play as Fox. One on one, I can kick my fair share of ass with McCloud, but in a 4 person fight I seem to have more accidental or just plain stupid deaths. So if I know Iím going to play a 4 person brawl, I usually switch it up to Donkey Kong Ė a stronger, heavier character who I feel is more tailored to fights with more combatants. A passive gamer doesnít do this. They stick to the character theyíve trained the most with, and donít mix up their strategies to accommodate the game.
Same goes for Team Fortress 2. So often Iíll jump into a game and find that no one on either side is a Heavy, or Demoman, or Engineer etc... Instead of jumping into my comfort zone and choosing sniper, Iíll usually try to choose a class that my team could use more of at the moment. And it almost always pays off.
Short story long: you canít make a shitty game a masterpiece, but you can exercise what agency you have to avoid making your game as bland as white toast. Next time you pop in a game you consider mediocre, try surprising yourself with some Strawberry jam on that toast. And by Strawberry jam, I mean: Donít Use Falco. Or do. If you donít normally, I mean. Itís a broken metaphor, shut up.