The Uncharted franchise is one that I won’t ever lose sight of. While I didn’t jump on board the Drake train until just prior to the launch of Uncharted 2, I did make the journey across both titles consecutively...and loved every second of it. Equal parts Tomb Raider and Indiana Jones, Uncharted, as a series, offered a wonderful combination of 3rd person action-adventure gamplay, puzzling, and a summer blockbuster film presentation, and I just couldn’t get enough of it. As the end credits rolled on Uncharted 2, I knew instantly that I had just completed my Game of the Year for 2009, even with it facing such stiff competition as Batman: Arkham Asylum, Dragon Age: Origins, Torchlight, Borderlands, and Demon’s Souls. Not to mention other strong titles like Red Factions: Guerrilla, Assassin’s Creed II, and Lord of the Rings: Conquest! Ok, maybe I’m stretching things a bit with Conquest (read: A LOT!). The point being that there was no shortage of quality (and multi-platform) games in 2009, yet this PS3 exclusive managed to not only do everything right, but do it with a style and flair that kept me 100% engaged from beginning to end. With the announcement of Uncharted 3, I had little doubt that the game would be exceptional, just like its previous entry. Developer Naughty Dog already had the winning formula. They couldn’t mess it up, could they?
Uncharted 3 begins with our hero Nathan Drake and his compatriot, Victor Sullivan, in a English pub, set to trade a briefcase full of cash for Francis Drake’s ring, the same ring that Nate has been wearing around his neck since the very beginning. Talbot, the guy they are making the deal with, attempts a double cross, leaving Nate and Sully to fight their way out of the pub. This begins the tutorial, teaching us how to handle the newly implemented melee combat system. A feature the series has been sorely deficient in, the contextual combat adds a measure of Rocksteady’s Batman to the experience, giving Nate the ability to take his foes down with old fashioned fisticuffs, rather than guns-a-blazin. In practice, it is indeed a viable alternative, as there are many instances where hand-to-hand combat is by far the better option. Other times, Nate will need to pull silent takedowns, dragging a foe over the side of a railing or yanking him quietly over a box. In those instances, If he comes in noisy, he’s pretty much prepping his own coffin, as the onslaught of enemy forces will be massive, and brutal.
Once Drake and Sully have escaped the bar brawl, they end up outside in a back alley, where we see the first confrontation with Uncharted 3’s big bad, Katherine Marlowe. Looking like a nice, older English lady who would sooner ask you for a glass of tea before ordering your execution, Marlowe is nothing but, as under the kindly exterior is a ruthless power-monger who will stop at nothing to meet her end-goals. The dynamic duo both take a bullet to the chest, Marlowe (who was the one behind Talbot’s double-cross) walks off with the ring, and we are left thinking the $60 we just spent is over, with the franchise’s main protagonists laying dead in a heap of trash.
Of course, that just won’t do, and we soon find that Drake is one smart cookie. He anticipated this, so in an attempt to stay a step ahead of Marlowe, they arranged to have their death’s faked so as to discover her hideout and get the companion artifact to the ring, a piece that Marlowe has had in her possession for the last 20 years. This kicks off the rest of the game. A thrilling cat and mouse journey that will bring Nate and Sully back in touch with familiar faces, like Elena Fisher and Chloe Frazer, and take them everywhere from France to Yemen to Syria, and on to a hidden ancient (and cursed) city dating back to King Solomon’s times, as well as present several flashback sequences that will show us just how Drake and Sully became the adventuring team we know today.
"Naughty Dog has once again given PlayStation 3 owners a reason to fire up their console."
In all, it plays out very much like the summer popcorn flick we’ve come to expect from an Uncharted game. Huge set pieces, puzzling elements, loads of bad guys to face off against, treasure to find, so on and so forth. However, here is where one of my admittedly few complaints come in to play. Throughout the entire game, I couldn’t help but shake the feeling of “they tried too hard”. Now wait a minute, let me explain. Uncharted 2 did everything in a big way. From the story elements to the level design, it was all presented in such a way that you couldn’t help but carry a sense of awe, and a certain measure of tension as you made your way from one act to the next. It struck just the right balance, providing everything as big as possible without crossing the line of over-the-top cheese. Here, the same attempt was made, though everything felt forced. Story elements seemingly tossed in not because they naturally feel like they should be there, but as a means to artificially illicit a given response.
For example, <WARNING: POTENTIAL MINOR SPOILER> a major event occurs near the finale. This event was tremendously impactful, both in terms of effect on the franchise and on me, as the one experiencing it. However, this was followed by a terrible - let me emphasize: TERRIBLE - gameplay segment which led to the event in question being completely revoked, as if it never happened. Really? Come on now. Given how it played out, I honestly felt like they were insulting my intelligence, handling their narrative like a day time soap opera. If you plan to make something like that happen, at least have the courage to follow through. Instead, I felt almost betrayed, and all the impact that event had on me faded into a vat of irritation. The point I’m trying to make is it was completely unnecessary. To me, it was placed there not because it is the natural progression of the story, but simply to kick things up a notch, as a way to elevate itself beyond its predecessor, and actually, it would have worked, had they followed through.
The gameplay suffers from a similar issue, but due to the level design. One of Drake’s primary methods of travel is climbing. Be it building faces or cliff sides, he’s like an acrobatic monkey with how he can scale even the most prohibitive looking structure. Where in previous entries the various handholds were placed in such a fashion that they felt like that’s just a natural part of the environment, here they almost felt too convenient. Granted, given that for this outing, Drake and crew will spend most of their time exploring urban environments, rather than the lush jungles and dark caverns of games past, it can be a lot more difficult to imbue the same organic feeling. Nevertheless, all too often I found myself questioning how perfect each situation was. It isn’t a huge issue, but considering how much it stood out to me, along with tying in to the overall ‘trying too hard’ vibe I got, it is worth noting. To counter that, there were a few nifty segments that were equally hair-raising and fun. At one point, Drake will take to horseback, which I liked quite a bit, and pretty much all the “racing” sections were virtual roller coaster rides. Good times.
Now one thing I didn’t have a problem with that it seems others did was the rest of the mechanics. Nate did everything I needed him to do, for the most part; be it jumping from one ledge to the next, countering an attacker who’s trying to sucker punch me, or, yes, even blasting my foes with one of the numerous weapons that Drake has at his disposal. Every once in a great while, I would find some issues with Nate not responding to my command, but those instances were few and far between during my play through. While many felt that the targeting and general bullet battling was off, I personally had no issue with it, and actually had quite a bit of fun. Enemy AI was intelligent, with a keen eye to spot me with and enough smarts to flank me if I spent too much time huddled behind a broken column. Although, there was a few instances where the balancing was a bit off, with some situations seeing the challenge skyrocket, only to level back out again once past it. Poorly placed checkpoints didn’t help things none, often times starting me off in an area with a large force of over-powered foes and little in the way of decent weapons in the immediate vicinity to defend myself. Things got really ugly when the Fire Demons took the stage (don’t ask). Frustratingly difficult, especially in comparison to the rest of the game, they really had no business being here. Those creatures easily take the award for the worst addition to the franchise.
Adding to the campaign, which will run you roughly 8 to 10 hours, is the returning multiplayer and co-op modes. Although, things have been tweaked quite a bit, making the experience flow much better. All the basic modes, deathmatch and objective-based, are represented and all are great fun. The co-operative play is certainly the highlight, with revolving objectives that keep things interesting every minute. Both components allow players to accrue experience, which then can be used to continue for unlocking weapons and customizing aspects like taunts and player skins. You can tell Naughty Dog put a lot more focus on it this time around compared to Uncharted 2, which begs the question if the issues I had with the Campaign may not be related to that.
Another aspect that lives up to the Uncharted pedigree is the visual presentation. Gorgeous vistas, highly detailed debris from a crashed cargo plane, rolling water effects as Nate navigates a sea of floating barges within a dilapidated port, all of it just oozes the high production values. Fabulous animations compliment the dialog and enhances the overall immersion by leaps and bounds. The audio plays its role just as well, with a sweeping score and some of the best voice work we’ve seen this generation. Whether it’s the lighthearted banter between Nate and Sully or the malicious, cold-hearted commands of Marlowe, the scripting of each character and their individual performances are nothing short of fantastic.
The complaints I had about Uncharted 3 were just small blemishes in what is overall a beautiful picture. A fantastic adventure that not only delves deeper into Drake and Sully as characters, but is generally a lot of fun to play. It doesn’t quite reach the greatness of its predecessor, mostly due to it feeling forced, and not as natural or organically flowing as Uncharted 2. But don’t let that dissuade you. Uncharted 3 is still a fine adventure, and well worth the price of admission. A well-written story, a thrill-ride, summer tent-pole film presentation, and a much more fleshed out multiplayer experience all add up to one of the best games we’ve seen this year. Naughty Dog has once again given PlayStation 3 owners a reason to fire up their console.
Release date : 2011-11-01
Publisher : Sony Computer Entertainment
Developer : Naughty Dog
Gameplay : Action-Adventure
Here we are. The next generation of consoles is among us and it is finally time to start thinking about finally unplugging our beloved current-gen systems. Could there be a better swan song for one of these systems than taking a trip back to Rapture?
Let’s face it: buying digital games is significantly more convenient than buying from a retail store. You don’t have to put pants on to go outside, nor do you even have to go outside. You don’t have to drive to the store, nor do you have to wait in line at said store. On top of that, the price is generally the exact same, if not more for the physical version.
Let’s face it: staying in just your underwear, FTW.
Despite the overwhelming advantages of buying digital, I still can’t fully commit to it. While I understand I am more in the minority with each day that goes by, I truly believe I have a legitimate case about buying physical copies of games.
In some sort of cosmic twist, I have seen the future. No, I didn’t find out where/when/why I’ll die, nor did I even find out what I’ll have for breakfast tomorrow (I hope it’s pancakes). But I assure you, I have seen the future.
The future of video games that is. I recently got to test out Morpheus - uh, I mean PlayStation VR - Sony’s answer to the ever-growing interest in virtual reality. Although the headset is currently far from completion, it’s also far from shotty.
Whether it’s a rainy day, a sickness, or some other reason not to go outside and enjoy the beautiful summer air, video games are the perfect way to spend your time - that is, if you can find a game to play. In terms of releases, summer generally isn’t the most fruitful of seasons, and this year is no different. So what games could/should you be sinking your teeth into during the dog days?