Impressions: Uncharted 3

Plot: The narrative opens with a quote T.E. Lawrence’s Seven Pillars of Wisdom: “All men dream: but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake in the day to find that it was vanity: but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dream with open eyes, to make it possible. This I did.” The plot revolves around the mystery of the Iram of the Pillars, an ancient city lost in the Rub’ al Khali desert.

The story begins with Nathan “Nate” Drake (Nolan North) and Victor “Sully” Sullivan (Richard McGonagle) going to a meeting in a pub in England. They negotiate a trade with Talbot (Robin Atkin Downes), who offers a large sum of money in return for a ring that supposedly belonged to Sir Francis Drake. The trade doesn’t go well and Talbot’s hired thugs move in. After fighting their way out, Nate and Sully emerge in an alleyway, where they are surrounded and subdued by Charlie Cutter (Graham McTavish), who appears to be the lead thug. They are then approached by Talbot’s client, Katherine Marlowe (Rosalind Ayres), who steals Drake’s ring. Nate attempts to go after her, but Cutter guns him and Sully down, seemingly killing them.

Impressions: First thing first, this will be all spoiler free. I’m 9 hours and 22 minutes into Uncharted 3 on Normal mode. I believe I have 3 chapters left. I won’t tell you how many chapters there are. Anecdotally I’ve read people finishing this game in 8 hours in Normal mode. Those people are definitely without a doubt rushing through the game. I wouldn’t be surprised if they allowed the game to ‘reveal the puzzle’ solution when they could figure it. It’s a shame really, but I think it depends on the person. I stop to take in the sights, enemy battles are trial and error. I’ve never died as much in the first 2 games as much as I have in 3. Normal mode in some areas feels like hard. I think there is a reason for it, but I’m not done the game yet.

The melee system is improved, I’m doing way more hand-to-hand takedowns than I’ve ever done in the past Uncharted games. The aiming is odd in this game, I had the sensitivity cranked up max at one point just to get it working properly. Then as you get settled into the game, your style adapts and changes and then I cranked it way down to one notch above default. There is a precision to this game, I think Naughty Dog might’ve done something to really try and control the pacing overall of the game. In Uncharted 1 you could camp in some spots. Uncharted 2 called for you to mix it, but you could still camp, there was a lot more shooter-esque situations. 3 is asking you to run and mix it up a lot, almost like watching an action movie. Actually forget that, that’s exactly what they want you to do.

They definitely focused on presentation a lot more and the gameplay seems somewhat dialed back. It’s less game than the previous one. It’s not an interactive game, where you just press buttons. But… you know maybe it’s just a complaint of wanting to do more. This series is really on it’s on level. It’s right up there with MGS4 but with that game in mind. I think if/when they do another Uncharted, I want to see gameplay variety. There are stealth areas in Uncharted 3, but they’re set. By that I mean in the ways the game is scripted, you have to take down enemies in a specific line. There is no organic way to do. When the game becomes a shooter, you just run around and kill everyone. I’d like to see the stealth aspect built in more and also them expanding into the melee system more. Batman is a lot more fluid. Cinematically the Uncharted fights look like you’re watching an action sequence, again that’s presentation. But in this guise, it almost feels like QTE sequences and this is mainly because of Drake’s movement. The great animation almost works against him. You know this is crazy to say, but it’s almost like the game needs a button to plant Drake down and you can start to sway around and dodge hits, etc instead of just like Batman press the counter button and the character will react. The cool thing about the melee system and which I think is above Batman’s in this regard is how much of the environment you can use to finish off enemies. Or the ways you can flat out take them down with weapons during a melee system. Melee’ing to disarm never gets old for me, it’s super fluid.

You know I think it’s more so how they build their environment, they have a realistic setting. But there should be various ways to tackle an area and this is where I think Naughty Dog made a conscious decision to present something, rather then play it. You know how in MGS4 you can stealth an entire playthrough, or run and gun the game or FPS it. Uncharted needs another way to play it. I think they’re almost there with the melee system/stealth. If I had to think of a solution I would say script the game in an open-world sense. Just being able to do more within the controlled environment they want. It’ll work, but just would require a lot of mapping.

My play time is actually higher by 30 minutes because I reloaded a checkpoint during one puzzle after I got close to solving it. Just to start fresh and re-listen to the hints. Literally got stumped, but awesomely so. The puzzles are a lot more involved now, meaning it’s “you” as the character trying to solve it. The integration of Drake’s little notebook is the same, but a lot better. The game might somewhat hold your hand on where to go, but the puzzles are there for you to figure out. There was one puzzle in particular which felt like it broke the fourth wall.

The visuals are unreal dude. It’s not how they look, it’s how detailed every single last thing is. Brick by brick, texture by texture, color, lighting, shadows and then when the player interacts with the environment. Things look natural. The cut-scenes are natural, everything is super presented beautifully. The pacing is slowed down I think enough that it’s like a giant crescendo, I don’t know how the game ends yet. I have some theories, but we’ll see when it’s over. I think I’m more sad for the fact that the game is ending more than anything else. There are some set pieces in this game which literally were absolutely crazy good looking. You know how MGS4 re-did Shadow Moses. Uncharted 3 does that with it’s own games in 1 and 2. Just when you think they can’t be improved upon, you’re wrong. Dead wrong.

In Gears 2 there was one aspect I really liked in the game which I had hoped they would expand upon but they never did. It was when you and Dom are underground and there is the moving cover of the worms. There is one chapter in Uncharted which is absolutely nuts dude. From a gameplay perspective, it’s asking a lot of a player, so crazy. But it takes that concept of moving cover and then puts it in a realistic environment. Then you have natural animations and it’s to a point where this game isn’t normal anymore.

I think if I would do a Uncharted 4. 1, 2 and 3 all share the same concept. It’s basically Drake looking for something. They need to Temple of Doom the franchise. Basically have Drake maybe taking a vacation and returning home or on the way. But maybe flies over the Bermuda Triangle and gets dropped into solving the adventure or mystery of the Bermuda Triangle. Maybe it’s Atlantis related, who knows. But what I’m saying is, rather than him hunting for something, he gets dropped into an event instead. Rarely do you want a franchise to go on forever, but I do with this one. I just wish they hadn’t numbered the series. And really gone the “Indiana Jones and the” route.

To add onto things, Uncharted plain and simple, needs a crouch button. Something to hold your stealth, rather than relying on the environment to stealth. You have to be able to do both and that’s what’s missing. It should be less “Gears” and more MGS. It worked in 2, but Uncharted 3 asks you to do a lot more and I think this is what I mean where it’s less gameplay. It asks you to do things, it’s scripted, it’s presented well yes. But you should be able to do more as player within that environment. They expanded the melee system but they didn’t so much the stealth where that should be an option. Uncharted isn’t “stealth espionage” though, so they need to find the perfect mix. I think they found the right mix with shooting/melee in this game. You just need to do a tinge more melee wise, maybe not so much do more, but have things be a bit more responsive.

I think to basically EA and the boxing franchise. Like remember in 2 Lazarovich gives you a whole speech about killing tons of people up to the end point of the game. Indiana Jones would knockout more people than he would kill. But even knocking them out would result in deaths in some cases. What I’m getting at here is a weird mix of adventure and then integrating a realistic sense of how would a person react in that environment. Normally video games have rules, but Uncharted 3 with how it’s presented plays so natural that those concepts of shooting/killing a horde of enemies to get back an area, that’s blurred. So you need that option of maybe not killing. So maybe that stat of how many people you haven’t killed is important, versus your hit ratio and getting that 100 headshots trophy, like I did. Or getting the 5 headshots in a row trophy, etc.

Essentially this game is like the best movie I’ve ever watched, instead I got to play it. Now it’s not literally the best movie I’ve ever watched, but this is the first game that truly is a cinematic experience. To some gamers that will be a bad thing, they’ll gripe about certain sequences, the scripted nature of the game, the linearity and some might not even like the story. Again that’s all subjective, like my opinion is.

Overall I need to let this sit for a bit. I don’t know which game I liked best. Was it better than 1? Yes. Was it better than 2? Yes and no. However, from start to finish Uncharted 3 is the best game of the franchise. Because this game was really planned out in a manner Naughty Dog wanted – from start to finish. It’s paced, it’s controlled and it’s built up like a crescendo. They know what they’ve done in the previous two games, they know what they haven’t done and naturally the inclination is top things but at the same time keep it consistent to the level they feel is a winning success. For some games those highs might be higher and the lows might be lower. For me it’s a steady play, a steady watch and when you can’t put down the controller, that’s a good thing. That’s completely rare for me nowadays.

I watched all the behind the scenes that get unlocked after you beat the game and their basic process is this. They design areas “set pieces” first and create a story within that set piece. While things are working on simultaneously they aren’t married immediately. I don’t think that’s a good thing, personally speaking. The content is just as important as the layout and they have to work hand in hand. I mean I’ve never worked on a design without considering the content – ever. So it’s abnormal to me to hear that type of admission from them. But for them it works. I think however the difficulty lies in the story. In how they actually root it in history, so it becomes reality that leads to fantasy. El Dorado or Shambala might be imaginative, but the architecture, the history, the lore, the legend, the stories, all of that is real and that type of detail is always always present in Uncharted. There is a lot of obsession with this team, especially in the details, specifically in the details and because of that it’s literally like combing a desert with a fine tooth comb. It’s a great thing, plain and simple – they care. I don’t know how many gamers appreciate that aspect, or they just want to play a game that looks pretty. Uncharted as a franchise has become more than that, after 3.

Game design is interesting, like I play this game and it’s 100% created. Something that seems impossibly real and I’m playing it. So maybe it’s my own disconnect to their creative process and not vice versa. But as much as they planned the game cinematically. I think it still can be pushed because of how close this game resembles film. It’s ironic that the game is called ‘uncharted’ because that exactly what Naughty Dog is doing with this franchise, going into uncharted territory and redefining how a game can be played and told. They’re storytellers first and foremost. Except as game designers, they create from nothing and imagine.

However just like a movie will suffer from highs and lows, so does this game. And it’s because it plays like a cinematic experience and not like your traditional game. That that’s the folly of Uncharted 3. It’s not a bad thing at all. Because at the very end I’m hooked. I’m hooked on the gameplay, the visuals, the soundtrack, the characters, the story, every last bit of the experience that this franchise is. And at the end, I’m sad. I’m sad it’s over. The adventure is over and I want more. I get greedy just like the 67 treasures I found on my first playthrough. However in the same sense, it’s important not to forget that it’s still a game. And I think that’s where more of the action sequences in 2 will be appreciated over 3.

For me if they were going to do another sequel and I hope they do. It’d be lovely if it was still in the PS3 era, but if it’s in the PS4 era as a launch title. I’m there day and date. But as game, they need to establish how it plays. If they’re going to put the melee system more, push the stealth more, those types of aspects. I think it’d be as simple as putting that crouch feature and controlling the movement better. Then how the environment is designed from a level standpoint and what you can do within it. That’s the key. There is one chapter in particular that does it perfectly in this game. If they can grasp that, then Uncharted will evolve once again. If you want to stealth you can stealth, if you want to run and gun you can do that, if you want to camp and have a shootout you can do that too. That doesn’t have to do with the controls so much as it does the level design and what can be done in that area. It’s the sense of open-worldness. A bit more of that and you have a creative mix. You can still throw in the awesome XXXXX scenes and do them a certain way, still be scripted because no one will present it better than Naughty Dog. You know it could also be as simple if they gave Drake a whip too. Using a tool in the environment. Although I don’t know if they’d ever go this route.

I can honestly say I don’t know what would be next for Uncharted. Naughty Dog seems to be driven on what they haven’t done. Stories and searching for lost treasure they is a lot to be told yet. Various religions around the world. Maybe they need that Crystal Skull in the franchise, that ancient alien aspect and hell go to space. Because space is the only thing this team hasn’t done! They’ve done the jungle, they’ve done fire, they’ve done water, they’ve done city, and now they’ve the desert. They can push the living city concept more perhaps but even then that would only be a section of the game. I stand by what I said, that if there is another game, I’d like to see Drake happen into an adventure. That’s his life, he attracts it. As opposed being that treasure hunter always hunting. So to that I say Bermuda Triangle. I’d like to see the search for Noah’s Arc, but I’d imagine anything Christianity related to be too sensitive in the sense, depending on how they handled it. Uncharted 3 really blurs that line of video games having rules and that’s the first time I’ve ever seen that happen. There are brief moments of it. So if that’s incentive enough to make a 4th game, I’m all for it.

Last thing I’ll talk about. I was wrong about the aiming. Although I think the new animation feels clunky in some regards. The movement of Drake as a character feels more ‘real’, but in how he interacts when I control him, it still has a bit of a fight and I think that lends to unresponsiveness of how you want to approach an area. It seems like Drake only really works his best when he’s running and moving and mixing up the hand-to-hand and gunplay. It’s not a bad thing, not at all. But if Naughty Dog can clean this up a little bit, things would be even better. It’s that balance meter to perfection. Which is another impossible feat.

There is some gripe online that the aiming is off compared to the last game. I think gamers shouldn’t have a say in how a game is played, in regards to the sensitivity, etc. I think the option should be there, changing button layouts, cranking speed of the reticule, etc. But the last thing I want is all the games playing the exact same way. Just because COD is the number 1 multiplayer FPS, doesn’t mean all FPS should play like COD. I don’t know about you, but I think gamers are becoming lazier. Where is the learning curve? Where is the willingness to adapt to the style of play and play within the game.

In the end it took me 11 hrs and 4 minutes to beat Uncharted 3. I played trial and error when I died, I hunted for treasures and explored like an adventurer would. Great game, but beyond that Uncharted is the best franchise to come out of this console generation. How the game happens to look visually? That’s just the extra icing on the cake. Uncharted is pushing story and characters more and because of that, you want more.

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Ghost Dad wrote 56 articles on this blog.

I was named after my grandmama!

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