In this week’s Breaking Down The Backlog, I finally bring my time with Nathan Drake to a close.
And so concludes the Playstation 3 trilogy of Uncharted games. What a journey it has been! From inauspicious beginnings with the first game, to a confident second instalment and now a solid finale, for an Uncharted game anyway. It doesn’t necessarily change-up the formula too much, and actually has some problems the previous games didn’t have, but I ultimately had some amount of fun playing Uncharted 3.
For a game that is seven years old, I have to say the graphics were seriously impressive. There were several moments throughout Uncharted 3 that genuinely awed me with the sense of scope and the sheer quality of what I was looking at. Sure, there are bits and pieces that clearly showed its age (the anti-aliasing has aged poorly) but I swear it might be the best looking last generation game outside of The Last of Us. A boat sequence started a bit plain, but gradually transitioned into a level that was genuinely breath-taking. The storm that lashes the cruise-liner – coupled with the choppy sea – and one particular camera placement all combine to make something genuinely awesome. On a more minor technical note, the way the light streamed through the trees in a level based in France was almost as incredible because you that was done in real-time and it looked very realised. Stylistically speaking, the desert sequence near the end of the game was perhaps my favourite part in all the Uncharted series. It was a real breath of fresh air and the way the desert was portrayed it actually looked endless and not a small level surrounded by a cool matte painting. But I do think that the environments became rather dull post-desert and the lost civilisation Drake discovered was really lacking identity. Very disappointing when compared to the previous game. However, on a technical level, there is very little to criticise so hats off to Naughty Dog for making yet another superb looking game.
The writing was enjoyable in a blockbuster film-esque way. It reminded me of a Marvel movie filled with clever witticisms, banter and some emotional moments. I liked the overall premise of Nathan Drake trying to find the treasure that Sir Francis Drake discovered in South Asia and retracing T.E. Lawrence’s steps when he tried to locate it. The characters remain very high quality. Drake was excellent, as was Sully and the new member of the team, Cutter, was also very good. However, all that aside, I found the actual narrative to be – quite frankly – utter garbage. I actually found it rather insulting on some level. Margery, the main villain, and her main henchman were awful. They were hardly threatening and their motive was vague at best. Plus they disappeared for large portions of the game which reduced their effectiveness even more. On top of this, the narrative was filled with gigantic coincidences that really sucked out most of my enjoyment of the story. Drake literally stumbles upon the where he needed to go, twice. Once after washing up on a beach and again when he was lost in a huge desert. When I saw the credits, I was stunned that the story was written by the same people who did the previous game. Almost everything was worse. It genuinely felt like they had run out of steam half way through so they just let the graphics department create a load of spectacle and then created a story around them. There was no narrative cohesiveness between level to level and it all felt kind of flat.
Not that I expected any different, but the combat in Uncharted 3 retains the previous entry’s problems. The enemies were too bullet-spongey, the guns felt like water pistols for the most part and the aiming felt very loose. It is very telling that the most fun I actually fighting random henchmen was using the rudimentary, if fairly satisfying, mêlée combat. Throughout the game, I would do my damnedest to avoid shooting a gun. Which, in a third-person shooter, is insane. And in the big combat arenas the game forces upon you, I found the enemies were too unerring in their aim and Drake to be made out of wet paper, even on normal. My housemates can attest to my shouting at the screen because of some random Uzi bullet coming from half a mile away and killing me. I don’t know, the combat of these games never gelled me with and it is to the point where I don’t know if it is me or the Uncharted series that has a problem. At least, at least, there wasn’t a terrible boss battle or awful ‘natives’ to fight (although it gets close, although it only lasts for an encounter or two) to cap off the game. Naughty Dog learned their lesson in that regard.
So what do I think of the Uncharted games now I have finished the ‘original’ trilogy? They are a series that puts spectacle, graphics and nice writing over fun game-play but then over-fill their games with said game-play. This makes it an absolute slog to play at times. I wish they doubled, nay tripled, down on the puzzle and climbing elements. Despite this, in every other aspect, from the sound design, to the graphics, the acting and the motion capture, the games are almost beyond reproach. Maybe the fourth one will fix some the issues I have with this series, it is, after all, made on a fresh engine on a newer console. I doubt it. But I will play it, eventually, just to see what Nathan Drake and crew get themselves in to.
In the next Breaking Down the Backlog: God of War 3