My Easter weekend reward was to be finally cracking the seal on Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception. I loved the first two games, and was eager to get my teeth into this one. My last video game blitzes were the fantastic Assassin’s Creed 2 and the reasonably good followup Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood (I’m a few iterations behind on purpose), and then the duology Batman: Arkham Asylum and Batman: Arkham City.
All of which were games that I can’t recommend highly enough. You feel like Ezio as you stalk the streets of Renaissance Italy and decide how to take out your quarry. You feel like Batman as you figure out how to break into the derelict factory complex and take out the Joker. Immersive and compelling stories, with terrific gameplay, voice acting and visuals. I expected the same from Uncharted 3.
Perhaps I expected too much.
I have not sat and yelled at a television screen for as long and for as loud as I have with this game. It is maddening. It plays like a 3D platform scroller fused with a never-ending quick-time event. There is only one path to take and god help you if you can’t pick it out of the lush scenery. Except for climbing at least — in all corners of the globe, ledges are helpfully painted either bright red or yellow. Even historical monuments. Did I say helpfully? I meant condescendingly.
Oh yes, the sets are absolutely beautiful, but all you have to do, intrepid game player, is press the right button at the right time. Only one button. Just the one. The button in question may change from time to time, but really, that’s all there is to it. If you are lucky enough to be standing next to some pre-determined object, your single button press may result in a different outcome but you don’t really have any control over that. At all.
After dying spectacularly over and over again in the first sequence when trying to navigate the one true path out of overwhelming (and snappily-paced) disaster, I all but threw the controller at the PlayStation. I thought maybe I was just rusty, and pushed on with clenched teeth.
For example, I am being chased through a burning castle that is engulfed, floor to ceiling, in flames. It’s not even a little bit not on fire. I should be dead from smoke inhalation before I make it to the top of the first set of stairs. Instead, I spend about twenty minutes navigating a maze of equally engulfed rooms and staircases as I head to the roof.
Yes, brilliant, the roof of the castle, some hundred feet or more into the air. Where else would I go?
A case could be made that if I am that immune to fire and smoke, I should make for the closest window on that starting first floor and bail, as I’d no doubt survive the fall, broken glass and flaming furniture. Hell, afterwards I’ll get up and give you that rugged-good looks trademarked grin when I stand up and dust the ash off my sexily-rumpled adventure gear! Of course, the bad guys must be similarly immune as they continue to take up positions and fire at me while the room is so intensely red with flames and wood-turned-coal that you would be forgiven for thinking you had suddenly found yourself on the set of the movie Backdraft.
(A case could also be made that Drake is Spiderman without the web shooters, but I digress.)
Don’t think I’m being overly harsh here. I love the Tomb Raider series in all it’s cheese-tastic glory and god knows they weren’t all that, story-wise: a female Bruce Wayne-cum-Indiana Jones that wrestles tigers in the Himalayas and shoots dinosaurs with unending ammo? Come on, I’m easy! You are allowed a certain amount of gimmes in a video game. You sort of have to, otherwise they would become unplayable. But Drake has used up his gimmes and even the character knows it. Most of the inter-character dialogue, the high point of the game so far, is given over to the discussion of just how unbelievable all of this is.
I play games to be part of the game, to feel like my choices help determine the outcome. I can’t even decide when I want Drake to walk or run: the game decides for me. If I want to be ‘railroaded’ through a story, I’ll read a book. And I promise you that the worst of those books will have a damn sight better story than the laughable narrative that this game offers up. I especially need a good story if I’m going to put up with hair-pullingly bad gameplay.
(Purposely skipping the comparison of a video game like Uncharted to a movie because a) playing a video game time-wise is more akin to reading a book and b) you want to ‘live’ the video game the way you can with a book, but not a movie. It’s a whole other blog post.)
And seriously, Drake: at least get a goddamned flashlight, will ya? How are you not dead yet fifty times over? Lara Croft would have you tied up for breakfast before she even had her boots on. Sheesh.
Edited for Further Thoughts: It strikes me that perhaps I am more willing to accept the bizarre and impossible from a game like Tomb Raider. The Tomb Raider series isn’t striving for realism, it’s striving for effect — and that effect is spectacular feats, a magical alternate history of the world, combined with the adrenaline rush of a great Indiana Jones film. The Uncharted Series is hyper-realistic visually, so I expect, nay demand more of it. Doesn’t mean the story can’t be fantastical, but by god, it has to make sense.