posted by delb2k
The term “video game” is comprised of an active and passive discipline merged together to create a unified whole. For the most part, the emphasis has been on the game aspect and the interactivity that it can bring to the entertainment spectrum. Recently, the various attempts to insert cinematic disciplines have led to more titles seeking to provide a viewpoint that is as much framed in terms of an interactive film as a gameplay experience. Arguably, the Uncharted series is at the forefront of these recent phenomena in its attempts to place the player in situations that are as much akin to blockbuster films as they are to the standard platforming constraints of running, jumping and climbing.
This review mainly concentrates on the single player storyline and the experience felt through playing that. Multiplayer and co-operative modes exist and build upon the foundations previously laid down. If you’re reading this and are a fan of those, feel free to add a further mark onto the score below.
The third title in this series sees developer Naughty Dog attempt its grandest set pieces yet. Nathan Drake jumps, rolls, falls and grips onto some of the most diverse locations that have ever been seen in the series thus far. The artists’ ability to create truly mesmerizing locations have been well married to the level designers’ execution of varied and interesting platforming sequences that sees players venturing through French chateaus and sandy desert towns to create a world that is a joy to traverse. The feeling of panic and exhilaration as a once-sure footing gives way to leave the hero swinging perilously has never felt greater when experienced alongside a sense of scale that is greater than anything previously attempted in the series. At times, the camera zooms out to display sights that eclipse the famous rooftop scene in the second outing while the player maintains full control of the character on screen. The game makes playable sequences that other titles would execute as a cut-scene; the problem is that this is not always successful.
Failing a jump or taking a wrong turn during certain sequences changes the playable experience from an adrenaline rush to an irritating chore that has to be repeated multiple times, a factor that is at times exacerbated by inconsistent camera placement, resulting in confusion on behalf of the player. The impact felt when the initial event takes place is reduced upon each subsequent attempt and whereas a film has editing to mask over the mistakes, a black reloading screen breaks the immersion to the player. At these points, it can be painfully obvious that there are ways the game demands to be played — any deviation results in instant failure. However, these sequences are at least short, and generally checkpointed well enough so as to not invoke too much frustration.
They are also infrequent, with the bulk of the game’s time now taken up with a pacing that is deliberately slower than that of its predecessor. It is a welcome change to the previously overtly testosterone-filled incarnations for more time to be given over to try and weave an unfortunately faltering sense of character progression into the story. What it does do is provide a satisfying sense of progress through the adventure; it allows more experimentation with verticality and environmental traversal than has been done previously through extending those sequences while reducing the combat arenas, or at times cleverly combining the two.
Those combat arenas are where the game creaks the most, however. This release sees a stronger reliance on a melee mechanic influenced by Rocksteady’s Batman releases, but with less hand holding. The basic left, right, left remains as before with counters now initiated with a press of the triangle button. Specific foes have been developed purely as punching bags to crop up at specific moments of the adventure primarily due to this new initiative. This has been combined with a wave system of long, middle and short range enemies, the latter two of which will make a bee line for the player in almost every circumstance; this often leads to scenarios where the only option left is to engage in a fist fight with one person while a heavily armoured shotgun-wielding bad guy or a sniper pumping rounds into you with a long-range RPG is just a few seconds away.
These arenas are when the game feels like a game, and worse, feels like a completely different adventure to the one being played not a few minutes earlier. The suspension of disbelief is lifted and the upshot is more often than not a slog through a section the player wishes was never there. Things improve when the game allows for the slow sneak and silent dispatch but that is rarely something that is maintained for too long a time before the armies are called in.
And then they finish and the next platforming section is started, the next puzzle introduced for the brain to sweat over and everything returns to gloriousness again. Each brain teaser is a highlight and genuinely interesting to solve. Maybe realising that some are not fans of such taxing work, the solution will be offered to the player in time, leading to less frustration with a welcome sense that they are trying not to incur a high level of irritation amongst its player base.
The nagging sensation that Uncharted never knows if it wants to be played or watched never really dissipates over the twelve- or so hour running time. At times, it is ostensibly a film where it wants the player to take centre stage, but only if the actions taken tie in with what is expected at that exact moment in time. In the game’s eyes every chase is done without problem and every gunfight is a swashbuckling adventure of ballet with bullets. When the reality leads to the player running into a wall or being blown in the air by an unexpected rocket, the reel resets and the impact becomes diluted. But when the player is given time and space to explore and move at his or her own pace — when the cues are generous enough to allow for a wrong turn and the environments breathtaking from any angle — the simple truth is that there is no other title like this. And make no mistake, that is the majority of time spent in this world.
Drake is still the hero everyone wants to be, still has the lines the player wishes he could say, and still acts out the action sequences everyone wants to play. The familiar cast returns, and new characters are effortlessly introduced in a way that makes them more interesting than the majority of avatars this year. The story may follow familiar beats, but is superb popcorn hokum that always entertains. The second is a better title, but as a sequel to one of the best games ever, Uncharted 3 manages to hold its head up high, and that is an achievement all in itself.