I’d heard a lot about this game, and the series it has spawned, but never more than see a few screen shots until some generous roommate plopped it down in front of the Ice Box’s entertainment center.
Were some of the cinematic set pieces pretty awesome? Yes. Did they do their archeological homework and then adapt it to their story? Yes. Is it fun to shoot people with a Desert Eagle? Yes. Would I buy it or its sequels? Absolutely not.
The game is very, very short. I played the first 3 chapters (of 22) several weeks ago, and then put it down because I got busy. I returned to it last night, and finished the game in roughly 8 more hours. Also, while theoretically I could play the game again, and several of the set pieces and tableaus would look just as good the second time, I don’t think I care enough about the plot (more on that in a bit) or the action to do a full replay.
I may have articulated this before, but when considering video game purchases, I generally want a game to provide me one hour of playtime per dollar spent on the game. That’s more or less arbitrary, but it would be way too much work to try to reason out a better simple value to compare things in my collection as diverse as Civilization IV and Infamous. Anyway, a quick calculation for Uncharted shows that I got at most 10 hours of play time out of what would be a roughly $20 purchase. That pretty clearly makes Uncharted not worth it for me, except to rent or borrow.
Game play warrants nothing better than “alright”. Its cover-based shooting, but not the kind I came to enjoy in Mass Effect. For one thing, Nathan Drake doesn’t aim well. Technically, aiming isn’t necessary, and you can just shoot from the hip. But the enemies generally use cover, which means that you’re usually just wasting ammo unless you aim. And the aiming crosshairs moves and adjusts ever so slowly that I often wound up getting shot by a crowd of enemies even while trying to aim at one. And even after you’ve spent multiple seconds to line up a shot, Drake has a terrible habit of missing. I lost track of the number of times where I fired a half dozen pistol shots at an enemy soldier in the open, adjusting my aim as he scrambled under fire, only to miss every single time. Not to mention blew my ambush chance because the gun kicked up over the enemy’s head. Player error or no, those are the kind of frustrating experiences that make me not want to play the game again.
Also, I get that part of the cinematic experience and challenge is the enemies freely spending their ammo to shoot at you. And I get limiting that the PC’s ammo, especially for the good guns, is a way to control the difficulty. But the ammo disparity got really annoying, especially once the game introduced the high-powered handguns that I enjoyed using. A revolver or Desert Eagle usually come with 7 shots, and if you are lucky enough to take down a guy with the same weapon, he will drop about 2-3 additional rounds. By contrast, if I drop my revolver with, say, two shots left, then pick up a different pistol and then pick up the revolver that the enemy just dropped, I will get the full 7 rounds. Basically, the game punishes you for having favorite weapons by giving you less ammo for them.
A particular point of ire for me were the shotguns in the game. Based almost entirely on my experiences with Mass Effect, I learned to like shotguns as a way to deal with not being a very accurate shot and often winding up fairly close to enemies. I specialized in them. At the end of Uncharted, there is a sequence where you have to run up a flight of stairs with a shotgun, and three dudes with shotguns will be coming down at you. I died multiple times on this sequence, gunned down while trying to bring the shotgun to bear or after only getting a glancing shot on an enemy, even at very close range. And that’s even after knowing they were coming. I don’t expect them to always be a one-hit kill, or to hit all the time, but the game made me feel awfully dumb just about every time I decided to pick up a shotgun.
You get rewarded for killing an enemy with a melee combo by having them drop double ammo. Occasionally, this is useful, as when you and an enemy suddenly come around a corner and surprise each other. On the other hand, most of the time I didn’t see the wisdom in charging across a cluttered battlefield trying to charge an enemy that would no doubt introduce me to the business end of his gun before I got there. Also, enemies on the same force don’t seem to be able to hurt each other with their guns, or at least don’t care that one of their guys is standing next to me, and so more than once I tried to melee an enemy only to have his mate gun me down. Usually, I decided it wasn’t worth even trying to go to fisticuffs.
Grenades seemed to be intended as an option to level the field a bit when you’re outnumbered. You certainly find a fair few of them lying around. With the exception of fixed positions, I generally found the thrown grenades to be not worth the trouble. I’d get shot a lot aiming them, the enemy would be out of the blast radius before the grenade went off, and out of sight before I could draw another weapon to shoot at them.
There is an achievement in the game for executing 20 enemies with melee attacks without being detected; I don’t think I had one. Granted, I wasn’t really looking for opportunities, but I didn’t see a lot of cases where I could have sleathfully killed more than a single opponent. Usually when I encountered a bunch of guys milling around, there was some cover near me, but a nice open space between me and them that sure felt like it would have made stealth impossible.
So, really, while the gunfights had their good moments, like occasionally clearing a room with a full clip from a powerful weapon, shooting somebody on a high ledge so that they catapulted off, or contemplating the destruction my newly acquired grenade launcher would do (with its three shots), they were the weaker part of the game. The fun part, then, were the platforming sections as you work your way across obstacles, often with beautiful scenery that you can admire.
But even that’s not always problem free. Every once in a while, the game decides that something isn’t a ledge, even though it looks just like something else that is a ledge. The best example of this came in this big maze room, where there was a side passage that appeared to be within easy jumping distance of where I was. I jumped out that way, hoping to find one of the collectable treasures that are scattered throughout the game. Instead, Drake sort of did a half jump, grabbed nothing, and plummeted to his death. Apparently it was just background. There was another time where this happened the other way round: the ledge I needed in this cathedral blended in almost perfectly with the background that I died several times trying to find other ways to access the area it led to.
Platforming sections are best exposed by something I said a few times during play: “Oh *sigh*, you’re not an Auditore.” Frankly speaking, Assassin’s Creed, not to mention Prince of Persia, does platforming way better than Uncharted. The backdrops may not be as consistently beautiful, but the characters in those games move with much more agility and grace than Nathan Drake.
Oh, right, there are vehicle sections. The jeep is fun; all you have to do is shoot other vehicles with a grenade launcher and watch them burn. The jetski section is lame, especially when you get caught bouncing back and forth against the walls trying to get up a small rapids.
I guess I’ve run out things to talk about other than plot and characters. Spoilers ahead.
In general, I think I like the main character, Nathan Drake, except when he’s talking to other people. His battlefield dialogue, such as it is, was actually pretty good: the highlight is when he occasionally says “Oh, come on!!” after missing a shot, nicely mirroring my own frustration. By contrast, I don’t much care for the cocksure attitude that he often shows to others, especially at the beginning of the game. That isn’t to say that he changes substantially during the story, just that his attitude is a lot less annoying once you understand what’s going on (at least as much as he does).
Hmm, speaking of character development, I guess I should point out that there isn’t any. Crazy batshit loco stuff happens to the characters, but doesn’t seem to change anything about who they are. You know, at the end, that Drake will have another adventure, and that Elena will try again to film it for her television series. Sully, even if he pays his debts, will probably get in debt again and need another of Drake’s schemes to get him out of trouble.
Now, plot. The plot isn’t entirely predictable, and it leaves you with way more questions than it answers. Hell, even I managed to figure out parts of the story way before they happened. The final secret passage, in the cathedral, is right under the altar, which I checked around on my first time through (when I was going through another secret door), because it didn’t make sense to me that the secret door would be anywhere except under the altar.
There are Nazis. Why the hell are there Nazis? While the tableau shot of a U-Boat stranded up river in the Amazon is cool, their entire involvement with the plot doesn’t make any sense. There is frankly no reason for them to be involved. Also, given that their former base is overrun with monsters, I’m curious how the hell they managed to get the thing built. Seems like completing a secret U-Boat dock on the other side of the world while you face attacks by marauding monsters is very expensive and not worth it, especially since you don’t need that to know what the magical MacGuffin does. And especially especially because that MacGuffin doesn’t do anything you could possibly want.
Speaking of that magical MacGuffin: the ultimate failing of the narrative is that there is no effort made to understand or explain why it does what it does. I’m not saying I want a precise scientific explanation, but even a nicely recapped legend or myth once the shit hits the fan would be better than just having to guess. Probably the worst offender in this regard is the “final” villain, who acts throughout knowing what it does, but still seems to care for nothing except selling it. A simple monologue would have done wonders for clearing the air about that.
About the “descendants”. My face visibly fell once I realized what kind of monster they were (substantially before they actually appeared, again showing off the predictable plotting). I fucking hate “booga-booga” type monsters, I don’t buy horror games, and I wasn’t pleased when Uncharted decided to moonlight as one. Also, they’re smart enough to figure out how to make and set triggered traps, using sharp things they find (or perhaps make!), but aren’t smart enough to take and use the working guns dropped by soldiers they kill? Really? Intelligence may be super complex and all that, but it seems like if you can do the former, you can do the latter.
There’s a lot more stuff I could get into: the character sketches for Eddy in the additional content were terrifyingly racist; Elena could have gripped her camera in her mouth while using her other hand to be pulled up(and why does she continue on without it?), etc.
But now I can’t help but notice the irony that I spent roughly 4 hours writing and revising a post about an 8-10 hour game. I’ll make the weak excuse that I forgot my bag at home today, and so I can’t do anything really productive, even if I had wanted to. Even so, that’s ridiculous.
So, bottom line: for all of its pretty scenery, Uncharted winds up as Jack of several trades, master of none. You can do worse, but you can also do much better. It’s short, so if you’re interested in playing it, rent or borrow it.