One of the most important aspects of a good movie is good pacing. As video games become more and more cinematic, pacing is becoming more and more important. The games that are the most addictive to play are games that sometimes take a break from the action, let you relax a little, and then throw you back into the story. That is good pacing, and right now, too few games can say they have this.
I did not always think about the importance in pacing in games; it wasn’t until Uncharted 2: Among Thieves that I recognized the merits of a well-paced game. One moment in Uncharted 2 stands out as one of my favorite moments in gaming. It doesn’t involve harrowing platforming, action-packed gun fights, or even exploding buildings. About three-quarters of the way through the game, after one of the longest action sequences in the game (I could go on for hours about that train sequence), Drake reaches a remote Tibetan village, high in the mountains. What follows is perhaps the greatest level I’ve ever played where almost nothing happens. The entire level consists of Drake walking through the town, trying to talk with the people, interacting with animals and objects, and admiring the view.
During this level, Drake cannot jump, cannot punch, cannot run, and cannot shoot. The only thing the player can do is walk around the pet the yaks, while admiring the beautiful view. This was a fantastic level, as it calmed me down after the difficult, prolonged, and action-packed sequence that preceded it. From a storytelling standpoint, this level worked perfectly. It made me take a deep breath, get my bearings, and adjust to the new environment, just as Drake was doing on the screen in front of me. After this level, I was even more excited to continue the action, and was ready to get thrown back into the story.
After this level, Drake soon gets back into the action, and doesn’t stop until the very end of the game. For such an action-packed game, the rare moment of rest and contemplation was the most important part. In my opinion, Uncharted 2: Among Thieves has some of the best storytelling in any action game. Of course, the actual story is a little tired and derivative, but the pacing makes it infinitely more fun to experience.
This example makes it quite clear that pacing is important to a cinematic video game, especially an action game like Uncharted that requires constant fighting, running, and explosions to sate the audience. While some may view that peaceful walk through the Tibetan town as boring, I found it a refreshing change of pace. Hopefully the gaming industry can take a look at the pacing in their games, and give it a refreshing change of pace.