On Uncharted 3…

***NOTE: This was originally written for the video game blog on the SA Current website titled “people’s gamer”, I am reposting it here to keep it bundled with my other work. If you enjoy it, feel free to check out the rest of this site, or my work over on the Current. Enjoy!

The times when people look back over the years to utter something like, “Now that’s how it’s done!” are admittedly few and far between. In video game debates, they’re even fewer. But once in a while there comes a time — stars align, lightning in a bottle, Rick Perry says something intelligent, whichever you prefer — when everything just clicks. The Uncharted series has been nothing but outstanding since the original title debuted back in 2007, but the boys at Naughty Dog have done the near-impossible. Roger Ebert can take his anti-game diatribe and suck it, Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception is both a video game and cinematic masterpiece.

For those who haven’t had the pleasure of playing any of the Uncharted games yet, a quick summary: Nathan Drake, a descendant of the famous explorer Sir Francis Drake, is a wily, charming, yet somewhat lackadaisical thrill seeker and treasure hunter. All games of the franchise have revolved around some kind of plot regarding a lost city or unimaginable ancient wealth. Uncharted 3 is no different in that way, Naughty Dog obviously didn’t want to tread the same terrain again. This time, designers take a proven plot-line as a background to tell a much richer character-driven story about Drake and his mentor/partner Sully. While the earlier games revolved around Drake platforming and gunning his way to stop the bad guys just in the nick of time, Drake and Sully are in this together nearly the entire way, which adds a more compelling nature to the intensity. Not only is Drake getting himself into trouble, but he’s also putting Sully’s life in danger as well and, let’s face it, he ain’t exactly in the prime of life either.

To most, platforming can sometimes be a mixed-bag. Hell, anyone who’s ever played Mario or Mega Man knows about that, but the Uncharted series takes it a step further with some fantastic set pieces. Uncharted 3 just about goes for broke with Drake facing a capsizing ship one minute and falling out of a cargo plane at 20,000 feet the next. There are times when the platforming seems a tad bit out of place (particularly when Drake is climbing the side of buildings in the middle of the day,  in the middle of town, for example) but these are rare enough that they never feel repetitive. The true magic behind Uncharted 3 is how much the formula has been mixed up, in a good way. From one corner to another, Uncharted 3 keeps you guessing about what’s going to happen next. Just when you’re about to guess the next huge escape or next gunfight, Naughty Dog throws something out of left field and changes the sequence entirely.

The cinematic quality of Uncharted 3 is just as stellar, if not more so, than ever before. I’m not sure how Naughty Dog has learned to write such fleshed-out characters or such a tight and entertaining script, but I wish they could give seminars to other developers to show them how it’s done. From the beginning, one of the best features of the Uncharted series has been the characters because they stay so true to themselves. No matter how major or minor the person’s role, Naughty Dog clearly shows the highest attention to detail not just to the environment or the combat, but to the people we are supposed to connect with and feel for. We know Drake is a wise-cracking everyman without too much care in the world, but it’s in his friendship with Sully that we see an entirely new part of him emerge. It’s a wonderfully fresh detail given how many ladies Drake has saved in his day.

I could go on and on, but there’s really nothing I can say without rambling over the same point again and again. From start to end, Drake’s Deception is nothing but a thrill-ride of adventure and emotion brimming with tight gunplay and a wildly entertaining script and story. If there were ever a game to put on your Christmas list, this is it.

 

See you in the next level,

Gray

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One thought on “On Uncharted 3…

  1. Evan Barnett says:

    I actually have to disagree a bit; While Uncharted 3 was undoubtedly a beautiful game with fantastic voice acting, animation, and set pieces, I felt that both the narrative and game mechanics were a significant step backwards in relation to the second game.

    First, on the mechanics, I felt like Uncharted 3 did three major things wrong:
    1) they changed how enemies engage you; you wind up having snipers and machine gunners hitting you with near perfect precision from across the map, you’re slowly pressured by heavily armored shot gun enemies, and all of this is fine until they throw in the generic grunt enemies. These grunt enemies, instead of being harassment, charge you now, and make your cover useless. While this is perhaps interesting for mixing things up, these enemies can take a ton of damage, meaning you will waste a lot of time trying to take them out while finding new cover, all the while being pressured from range and up close. When two or three of these grunt enemies charge you, you often wind up with no where to go, making for a lot of frustrating combat scenarios. And the supernatural nonsense at the end; this part was infuriating: not only did the enemies already take a lot of punishment, but now they can take about triple the punishment. In addition, they get a teleport move that makes them even more problematic to the combat scenarios than the grunts, since they don’t even need time and distance to invalidate your cover. And when multiple Ghost Rider enemies (so dubbed because their head catches on fire) are present, you often get surprised by one or two that teleport behind you while you weren’t looking their way.
    2) platforming areas felt much less open, and much more confusing. In Uncharted 1 and 2, they had interesting areas to explore that felt like they had multiple paths through them, and mostly easily noticeable routes. In Uncharted 3, I felt that there was but one route I could use to progress, and I often spent a ton of time trying to find what I could or could not jump on.
    3) there were several sections (but especially that desert section) that felt annoying, and pointlessly drawn out. They had little real game play, little relevance to the plot, and just served as a vehicle to showcase the graphics and set pieces.

    As for the narrative, I felt it was as disappointing as the game mechanics: most of the characters could have used more screen time, including the main villain. I felt that Marlowe was poorly fleshed out, poorly dispatched, and her motives were bizarre and confusing (especially the part where she just waited 20 years to try to get the ring back). Sully and Drake got some good development, but it wound up feeling detached from the plot of the game because none of it really seemed to matter until the very end; Drake never turned around or thought twice until the ending cut scene, and Sully always followed him regardless of sort of not wanting to. Similarly, Elena’s departure was so poorly introduced and inadequately explained that it felt arbitrary and weird, especially since they did the exact same thing in the second game. I was glad to see Chloe return, but she and Cutter could have used a bit more resolution than just disappearing.

    Overall, while I think Uncharted 3 was a good game, I also think it was a massive disappointment compared to the first and second game. The narrative felt poorly developed and confusing, the game mechanics ranged from frustrating to downright infuriating, and the interesting bits of development often didn’t see any sort of reflection in the game until it was almost too late.

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