Uncharted is probably the most important Sony franchise and as such, the game’s third entry (Drake’s Deception) was a highly anticipated release this fall. Even more so, since Uncharted 2 (Among Thieves) is regarded as a contender for best game of this generation. The first game (Drake’s Fortune) introduced gamers to Nathan Drake, a perfect blend of Indiana Jones and Firefly‘s Malcom Reynolds. Nathan, expertly voiced by Nolan North, proved to be an insanely likable wise-cracking anti hero and an instant hit with the twenty-something target audience. It also didn’t hurt that Naughty Dog was able to rejuvenate the Tomb Raider formula and made a solid game to go along with their charming new lead.
Even though I thoroughly enjoyed the first game, it’s not as universally praised as Uncharted 2. The developers went trough all the feedback they received on the first game and found there was one thirty second section that everyone loved. It involved Drake hanging off a ledge, shooting a canister, which resulted in the spectacular slow motion sailing past of an assailant and his jeep. That’s when Naughty Dog said, ‘we’re making this our next game’. Of course, that didn’t mean ten hours worth of flying jeeps. No, Naughty Dog realized Uncharted had a strong cinematic side and decided to focus on that in the next game. In doing so, ND created a level of movie-like spectacle that no other developer has managed to match. The following video, from UC3, illustrates that nicely.
It’s been a month since Naughty Dog’s Uncharted 3 release and now that the hype has faded and the smoke has cleared, I think it’s time to look a little closer at the interesting dilemma this game poses. You may think you want nothing more than the kind of non-stop cinematic set-piece action that’s on offer here, but video games aren’t films and moving games so far along the spectrum of what can be considered ‘interactive’ means imposing a lot of restrictions on the player. Part of the game still is very much a game, but you get the sense that these third person combat levels are here solely as an excuse. Otherwise it would be especially evident that you’re essentially ‘playing’ a film (Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, in this case). Apart from the fact that ND couldn’t even be bothered to get the aiming working properly (they patched this problem only last week), these shooting sections are decent, but it’s clear that the semi-interactive cut scenes take precedence over the parts that are actually playable.
At times, Uncharted 3 feels similar to Heavy Rain‘s experiment with interactive cut scenes. Thanks to a large variety of quick-time-events, players in HR could influence the game’s story to some degree. The main difference between the two games is that a less than desirable performance (or a certain choice) in HR, simply caused the story to branch off in another direction. Uncharted 3, on the other hand, has only one perfect sequence of events the player is to complete. Get it wrong, and you’re dead. Since it’s impossible to always know in what direction you’re supposed to escape a collapsing building, you’ll often have to try again after Drake inexplicably falls to the ground, dead (you should have taken a right turn, apparently). As a player, this makes you feel a little redundant. Another game that launched in November, Skyrim, can be located on the opposite side of this ‘interactivity’ spectrum. It’s a role-playing sand-box game that allows the player a large amount of freedom. I guess you can consider this video gaming’s ‘promised’ genre, since it might one day fulfill all our expectations of what a video game should do. But I have to admit, I haven’t been able to trudge through much of Skyrim, and apart from its moody winter atmosphere, it’s boring me to tears. Who knows, maybe I’m part of the problem.
As for Uncharted 3, I have to give credit where credit’s due though. Most developers would have just relegated the more complicated events to cut scenes and called it a day. Instead, Naughty Dog went to great lengths to make the player feel involved in all of Uncharted‘s spectacular set pieces and while it doesn’t always exactly pan out the way it’s meant to, at least it gets us talking. If ND hadn’t bothered with this type of gameplay, I would have just discussed the game’s combat sections instead of the future of the medium. I wonder what they’ll be doing on the next generation of consoles, for which it is now high time.