Nolan North for the longest time annoyed the hell out of me, this suddenly feels like a confessional, if Nathan Fillon is the ‘Geek God of TV’ then Nolan North is the gamers nerdgasm producer. A quick look at his IMDB page shows how many games this silver voiced actor has been in; a lot of them crap to be perfectly honest but some absolute gems in there. My issue with Nolan was originally around his take of some quite iconic characters, the likes of Deadpool, Penguin and Superman/Superboy (you can find my DC Universe: Young Justice love here). All of which were perfectly acceptable takes in theory, actually no, that’s rubbish, Nolan North’s version of Penguin was on the verge of sounding like Dick Van Dyke in Mary Poppins. It was an American actor’s idea of a British accent, which has been formed based on Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and the voice Harry Shearer uses in The Simpsons to portray a Brit, and it’s just the worst.
The problem is Nolan North saturated the market with his own voice, in a short period of time his dulcet tones were used in many games and cartoons and more often than not he kept his normal voice, something which in principle is fine, it’s a nice voice, but over time you need characters to be distinguishable between one game and another. If I blind folded you and asked you to discern which of two pieces of audio was Nathan Drake from Unchartered and which was William Grey from Dark Void you would have a hard time, admittedly because no one played Dark Void. For those curious Dark Void was essentially ‘The Rocketeer’ but kind of lame.
All this brings me round to last week when I finally put down the controller on one of my long running pile of shame games, this game was Unchartered 2. When the credits were rolling I sat back and decided something I never wanted to admit; this is my coming out party, I’m stepping out of the closet and am scared but proud to say “I liked Nolan North in something”. There I said it, do with me what you will internet, I can take your hate crimes and paint splashed on my driveway. Ok, so it’s not the big confession I make it out to be, everyone else loves Nolan North, all I’m really admitting is that I’m narrow minded and as the title implies, late to the party. But I’m late for another reason, namely that I absolutely loved Uncharted 2, a game that I can’t remember why I stopped playing, for some reason 18 months ago I just put down the PS3 controller and started something out and now I feel like a numpty for doing so.
The point at which I put down the controller wasn’t a particularly tough section, for the curious it was a basic platforming puzzle in the mountains, one I walked through on returning. The only reason I can assume I stopped playing was that my gamer mind, like a magpie, saw something shiny and flapped my wings over to that without a care in the world. This is our problem as gamers, we’re ok having a pile of shame, the journalists build up their hype train early for an upcoming release so we try to knock out as many games as possible before the next holy grail arrives at our home. But we don’t finish games, we play enough to scrape by and have an opinion on Twitter or Facebook, to make ourselves feel valid and can contribute in our latest sucking up to those in the industry “Oh Mr Schafer I have an opinion on Psychonauts, LOVE ME”.
I had played Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune when I first bought my PS3, Little Big Planet and Uncharted were the only games I wanted, and apart from some niggles I absolutely loved them. The niggles that plague the Uncharted series, or the two I have played, are mostly based around the combat. I have been raised on games, and in my experience a headshot means someone dies, but not in Drake’s world. The game basically follows a logic that is hard to fault, the enemies have the same amount of health as Drake it seems, it’ll take the same amount of bullets to kill them as it would you, but this isn’t what we’re used to, normally enemies are cannon fodder waiting to go on a crash diet by blood loss and brain matter evacuation. The only other fault I’ve had with my two Uncharted experiences is the endings of the games. Each time you are led down this path of exploration and historical misbehaving but then in the final two levels of each game something happens, the writers realise that they have painted themselves into a corner and there’s only one way out “Magic Monsters”. It’s just a leap to far for me to believe the Nazi’s had monsters and that there is a city hidden in Nepal where blue men eat sap to become invincible, except when you need to kill them.
What the games have done right however is their simplicity. The shooting, platforming and to an extent the script are all simple enough to be able to return to after 18 months, sure I don’t remember the character names but I remember the locales around the world I’ve been to, and generally left as smouldering rubble. The gun play, enemy health aside, is great fun and as satisfying as any first person shooter. Platforming often suffers from something people damned Enslaved for, the idea that it’s linear and your basically pressing in directions and tapping jump, but it still draws you in by having ledges fall away and Nate slipping slightly. Normally in games it’s clear where bad scenery is as it’s coloured slightly differently or it seems to build to a cut-scene, Uncharted however does itself a favor by just keeping the flow going, you get your falling animation and reaction all in real-time and this keeps immersion up. And that really is the top reason to play this game, immersion. You feel like you are doing what Nate is, you’ll scream “shit” in time with Nate as you run along a collapsing building, you’ll love all the right characters and question the loyalty of the more dubious companions.
At times Nate comes across as a know it all and the puzzles do have a horrible habit of bringing the pace of the game to a grinding halt as you slowly rotate levers or lift puzzle pieces around. For me the draw of the game, and the reason I want to play the third now, is because it’s not standard. The series is known for it’s over the top set pieces, but through all of that Nathan Drake feels like a man’s man, he’s as real as is possible and yes, i admit, that is partially because of Nolan North’s voice. The games aren’t afraid to use colour, something that when the series started and even now, most developers avoid, choosing instead to paint their world with greys and browns thinking it makes it gritty. Instead Uncharted cranks the contrast up showing you honestly beautiful locations whilst filling your body with enough lead to turn your legs into pencils.
Overall I regret walking away from this game for so long. Not only was I missing out on joining in on friends conversations about Drake’s world but I also deprived myself of a sweary and violent game, one that at the same time is a friendly action game with set pieces that would make Michael Bay flip out of his overpriced chair and into a catatonic state.
I’m sorry Nolan North, please forgive me.