It’s not very original to say that Uncharted 3 is a game that plays like a movie. If you could only say stuff that was original, then 92.4% of the internet would disappear, taking a whole bunch of tired and crappy memes with it. This sentence, however, would remain, because no one’s ever said it before: there should be points awarded for smothers, shepherds and spoils in fantasy AFL.
So yeah, Uncharted 3 puts you at the centre of your own adventure flick, like National Treasure or, if you’re feeling generous, (which I generally am after a few beers) Indiana Jones.
I’ve bagged games for trying to be movies before. Uncharted 3 gets away with it, mostly, because it’s so polished. It’s shinier than Inara’s pistol in Firefly*. There’s no loading screens unless you die. There’s so much eye candy in the environments that my retinas got diabetes and now I have to look at pictures of insulin three times a day. The cutscenes are brisk, dialogue has an easy charm, and the game is paced so that you can’t go 15 minutes without a cliffhanger or “Ohh sh …” moment. They overdo the whole “something collapses just as you grab onto it” trick, such that it’s more surprising when something doesn’t collapse, but you don’t care – you’re on the rollercoaster and you’re going where it goes.
This game does not want you to stop moving. Many of the platforming sequences are timed now so you have to move to the right spot on time as the camera pans, resulting in a bit of trial and error running. During combat, the layout of the environments and the AI prevent you from camping behind one piece of cover. Cover often leaves you open to one or more sides, and AI can flank you or throw grenades to flush you out. You can only carry two weapons, with limited ammo for each, so you have to keep moving to re equip. Strategic placement of certain weapons around a level will provide clues as to how the game wants you to deal with a certain situation. You’re the stuntman – you have to position yourself at the designated spot in each scene, and stuff happens. Melee has also been improved with the addition of a counter system and finishing moves a la Batman games, so it’s more feasible to stay stealthy for longer. Don’t expect to be doing unarmed runs through the game though – it’s not that flexible.
The impetus for motion is present even in the puzzling sections, which serve mostly to break up the action but also to make you feel relatively smart. If you linger in a puzzle room, like I did a few times to admire the view – in one part there are these cool statues with inverted faces that follow you around the room – the game gets antsy. A button prompt pops up to remind you to check your notebook, then another asks you if you want a hint, then your buddy, Sully, will start making suggestions as to how to solve the puzzle. I was bemused by the game’s impatience with me and wondered what would happen if I just left Drake standing there – maybe Sully would have just solved the puzzle and finished the rest of the game for me. So he should have too, I’ve been carrying his ass for 3 games now.
As with its predecessors, Drake’s Deception flags in its last third, and for similar reasons: the puzzles disappear and shooting difficulty is ratcheted up by introducing a wacky supernatural element to the enemies, rather than by presenting interesting level design. Whereas the earlier firefights present different options by playing with distance stealth, verticality and visibility, in the end the game just throws more and stronger dudes at you.
Uncharted 3 is pure beer ‘n’ pizza gaming, the kind of game you might show to your older jock cousin on Christmas to try and get him into games, because you don’t have FIFA or Madden and you can’t show him the godawful AFL Live. It seems to say “games can be just as good as movies”, which is its strength and weakness. Like high gothic architecture, it is very beautiful and often impressive, but part of me realises that, based as it is on a flawed premise, it hasn’t got much further to go. For me the promise of games is that they can be something so much more.
*This joke is clever on at least 2 levels. Don’t make me explain why.