Saturday, March 10, 2012

Review: Uncharted

I just this very moment finished playing Uncharted 3. I played all 3 games back to back. I even took a break from AC Brotherhood for this. It has been quite the ride. There are things that I absolutely love about this series. Some of those things I unfortunately came to loathe in the 3rd installment.

Uncharted is a beautiful series. The graphics are stunning, and the voice acting is superb. I really enjoyed the banter between Nate and Sully; they made me laugh more than any video game I've ever played before. Well, I should say I laughed with a game this time instead of at. I was totally there with him when Nate would say to himself, "No, No NO!" as something was coming at him, or make some wise-ass comment. He was swagger, he was cocky, he was flawed but not too much. It was great; I really enjoyed playing as him. I also didn't mind the cut-scenes in the games as much as some reviewers do. They were so well done that they seemed organic and not distracting at all. I also quite enjoyed the gun play, the dialogue, and the puzzle portions. I'm normally not a fan of randomly inserted puzzles, but these weren't too hard and again they added to the story. The use of a journal to assist with solving them certainly helped a lot. There was a change to the puzzle portion in Drake's Deception that I really loved though; it was having Sully assist with the puzzle-solving when Drake got stuck. That was neat and added some dimension to Sully's character.

The Naughty Dog team also did a great job with setting atmosphere. It's not easy to go from carefree adventurer feel to a spooky "Oh my God it feels like zombies are around the corner" feel in the same game, but they did it well. The music was kept to a nice minimum, relying on sound effects to convey the feeling they wanted. I dug that. I hate cheesy music in games.

So, if I'm waxing all poetic about these games, what exactly didn't I like? For starters I find it annoying that I can only carry one gun of each type at a time. I can get around that for the most part. It becomes super-annoying however when only one weapon can defeat a specific enemy. In the second installment, Among Thieves, you run into these guardian-like beings that for whatever reason can only be killed with a crossbow. Don't get me started on the ridiculousness of an enemy that is able to withstand direct hits with automatic weapons, but crumbles like cheap plaster when you use a crossbow. Whatever. You can only have some small number of crossbow bolts at a time though, so you don't want to waste those on regular old gun-killable enemies, but you can't carry a crossbow and an automatic rifle at the same time. So, you're left shooting at the human enemies with random handguns, carrying around a crossbow and guarding the ammo with your life so that you can defend yourself against the super-humans.

Among Thieves also introduced this weird shifted perspective thing that drove me bonkers. That was more distracting that any cut-scene and served no discernible purpose. Here come some spiders, or we're in the middle of an earthquake and have to run for our lives, but for some reason you have to maneuver Drake towards the camera, you can't shift perspective, and you can't see anything that's ahead of you. Makes jumping around for you life a little more complicated, huh? The thing is, I don't see any value add in this approach. It didn't make the game more exciting; it just annoyed the shit out of me. I had hoped that they would have dumped this model for the 3rd game, but alas, it came back with a vengeance. I believe there were even more of these sequences this time.

Related are the numerous escape sequences that have random floors, walls, ladders, whatever collapsing on Drake. It was an interesting twist when it happened the first couple of times, but it became incredibly overplayed. At one point in Drake's Deception I think I was running through a burning house, up a flight of stairs, and I thought, "Okay, the stairs are probably going to collapse as soon as Sully's clear and I'll have to do some crazy jumping or something." Sure enough...

My last dislike is actually not a game play thing at all but a character development complaint. Drake's that guy, you know? The one that always shows up in action movies: cocky, cheeky, sharp-tongued and sharp-witted, handsome, calm and cool, etc. The uber hero. Not perfect; he does goofy things, makes mistakes, but it's just enough so that you like him instead of loathe him. He's the popular rich kid who also volunteers with homeless children. In the 3rd installment they shed a little light on him though and tarnished his image Big Time. You get to meet young Drake, who is essentially a brat and not all that likable. It's bad, right, when I'm rooting for Marlowe's armed goons to get him? That's bad character development.  You should never feel compelled to root for the bad guys. Unless the "bad guys" are Agent 47, or James Earl Cash

Then you have these interactions with the adult Drake that start to paint him as a self-absorbed daredevil driven by a need to do something and willing to ignore all good advice and direction from his friends. I say something because we never exactly find out why Drake was so obsessed with Marlowe. He came into contact with her again because he set up a sting operation, but why? What was he trying to gain? After seeing some of the craziness that was her clique (and they also did a crappy job of tying that voodoo shenanigans up in the story) why was he hell-bent on following her despite the fact that everyone in his crew thought he was insane? What was he after? I totally lost track of what the purpose was. It seemed like he was rushing headlong into danger and dragging Sully along with him for...nothing in particular. He's always been id-controlled but this time around it seemed detrimental and selfish, and it took the fun out of playing his character.

Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed playing these games. They were fun and easily digestible. I finished them faster than I've finished any game before. Did I mention I'm a slow gamer? If a fourth comes out, will I play it? Heck yes. I may not be first in line for it, but I'll still play it. I just hope they give me the old, likable Drake back. And stop mucking around with my camera angles!

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