It ain’t the main reason, but one of the reasons why I haven’t blogged in, like, a week is that I’ve been immersed in the Uncharted games. Bought all three during those evil Black Friday sales. Stood in line for over an hour at Best Buy to buy the damn things. I had no idea what to expect beyond claims that they were meant to be modern-day takes on the whole Indiana Jones spiel. Since I love me some Indy, I’d been meaning to give them a try.
Overall, I dig the series. It ain’t rocking my world like Katamari of Street Fighter, but it’s cool.
The gameplay can be a little repetitive. There’s two styles that dominate all three games: shooting scenes and platform scenes. The shooting scenes can be intense when other elements are tossed into the mix, but most of the scenes boil down to you hiding behind a box and waiting for people to stop shooting so you can pop up and shoot. It can be a little tedious, and if this is how these “cover fire” games tend to play it makes me glad I never bothered with the likes of Gears of War. Because of this, I looked for every opportunity to just rush in and punch people.
The platform bits are a little better, but they’re way too easy. I played the game on Normal, and the only time I ever failed on a jump was when I didn’t know where to jump because of camera angle issues. There wasn’t much of a need to time your jumps or anything like that. And the puzzles tend to be just as easy, since they usually boil down to matching up symbols and simple stuff like that.
But when the games decided to change things up a bit, it gets pretty damn awesome. The chase scenes, where you have to outrun swarms of spiders or collapsing bridges or tanks, tend to be pretty intense. The shooting scenes become just as intense when they toss in new elements, like when you’re on the top of a moving train and having to worry about low-hanging bridges and helicopters all while having to shoot at dudes. Unfortunately those cool scenes are outnumbered by the tedious ones, especially in the first game, but they’re cool enough to make up for the disparity.
So yeah, the actual gameplay is kinda mediocre. And if these games were from the same gung-ho paramilitary school as all of those obnoxious Modern God of Battlefield Grand Theft Warfare games that dominate this generation of gaming, I’d probably hate this series. I can’t stand that trend, with its faux-grittiness and hyper-realism. While Uncharted leans towards realism over stylized shit, it wants to be Indiana Jones rather than 300, Black Hawk Down, or Saving Private Ryan. The main dude, Nathan Drake, is your classic roguish hero. He’s a bit of a deceitful, amoral scumbag– he does it all with a good bit of charm and ends up doing the right thing mostly out of the need to screw over someone who screwed him over. He’s a bit more like Han Solo than he is Indy Jones in that regard.
And the stories are straight from the Indiana Jones school of thought. Each game deals with Drake trying to find some lost city (El Dorado in 1, Shangri-La in 2, Iram of the Pillars in 3), and his quest quickly turns into a race with some nasty individual wanting to exploit some relic found in the city. And each of the games seems to be a deliberate reference to one of the Indy Jones movies. The artifact in the first one is basically a South American version of the Ark of the Covenant, and the game references how Nazis were heavy into searching for such items back in the day. The second game shifts over to Asia, not unlike Temple of Doom. And the third one has scenes completely lifted from The Last Crusade, like when Drake is looting the tomb of a crusader knight while being chased by a swarm of things, or when he has to chase down a convoy of trucks in the desert while on horseback. I look at these bits as homage rather than rip-offs. These games are modern love letters to this sort of pulp shit, and it’s good stuff.
The first game was my least favorite. Part of that is due to the fact that it was the first in the series and didn’t have the room to be “experimental,” and part of that is due to it being released early in the PS3’s run, so the developers didn’t have as much experience with the system. All of that makes the game feel “small,” especially when compared to the sequels. It doesn’t have the same scope as the other two games, with most of the story taking place on a single island. This leads to a lot of repetition in terms of setting. I was sick of jungles and brick walls by the time I was done with the game. And the jet ski parts were pretty awkward. I fucking hated those barrels that would explode if you so much as touched them. Yeah, it makes sense if you rammed into one going full speed, but there was a point where I was just sitting there and the barrel slowly floated towards me and it still blew up as if I smashed into it going 100MPH. That was lame. And the climax was a little underwhelming, mainly because the final baddie was just some second-tier dude who looked like every other generic dude you fought in the game. And the running Nazi zombie things came out of nowhere and kinda ruined the vibe of the game. Had I just bought this game and hadn’t bought all three at once, I probably would have given up on the series after this game.
But the second game changed all of that. It broadened the scope, turning the games into the globe-trotting spectacle they should have been from the get-go. The villains were a bit more interesting, especially since one of them was your former partner-in-crime who betrays you in the early levels. The game also adds in a few more supporting characters, adding to more witty banter and the like. The only thing I didn’t care for in this game was the “twist” at the end. Up to that point, you had been encountering some Yeti-like monsters, and it felt “right.” You’re in the Himalayas, so it makes perfect sense, but then it turns out that they’re actually dudes in suits. What makes this particularly annoying is that they’re blue-skinned dudes that look like super-buff Avatar cat-people. And once you discover this, these guys abandon their Yeti suits and you spend several levels thinking “when did this become Avatar?” But other than that detail I think the second game is the best in the series.
The first half of the third game is the best stretch in the games thus far. The opening level is a bar fight that revels in melee combat. And after that you work with an entire team of characters, and it makes the whole thing feel like a heist movie. It also introduces the most interesting villain in the entire series. He’s a smarmy, arrogant type who’d just as much pay you off as shoot you in the back, and he also pulls off some mysterious moves as you chase him around. I was thinking this dude was being built up as something of a rival for Drake, or at the very least a memorable one-off villain, but the second half of the game kinda ruins all of that. The climax feels like a retread of the second game, and the finale just sorta happened. But what ruined it for me was the fact that said villain doesn’t pan out. You get to duel him in a cool knife fight in the final level, but all of his mysterious posturing amounts to nothing. All this talk of djinns and secret societies and he’s just a dude with a knife? Really? So yeah, the third game has the best set pieces (the airplane scene is great, and there’s a cool bit where you race out of a sinking cruise ship, among other scenes), but it doesn’t come together as well as the second game. Still better than the first, and it left me wanting more, so it did plenty right.
The games are the sort of action movies I wished Hollywood was churning out. The set pieces are awesome, the banter is good, and the characters are likable for the most part. There’s stuff that kinda pisses me off (Fuck you Nazi zombies and blue cat-people.), but it wasn’t enough to completely turn me off.