Back in 2009, Uncharted 2 was a groundbreaking game. When I think about that game in retrospect, I think fondly about the great characters, the great story and those incredible setpieces. I still get the chills thinking about playing through that moment in the collapsing building and the train sequence. It wasn’t a perfect game, but it was definitely ahead of it’s time. Even in 2011, there isn’t really another game out there like it.
Well, there wasn’t anything like it until the release of Uncharted 3 a few weeks ago. For better or worse, Uncharted 3 is essentially more Uncharted 2 and not much beyond that. That can’t be a bad thing, can it?
To me, the Uncharted series’ biggest strength has always been the characters and the story. As always, Nathan Drake and his friends are in top form and it’s very easy to care about them as you progress through this adventure. In this game, you as Drake are off to find the “Atlantis of the Sands”, though a super-shady individual by the name of Katherine Marlowe is hell-bent on getting there before you do. If you’ve played Uncharted 2, then the story progression and plot devices in Uncharted 3 may feel eerily familiar (and predictable in many cases), but for now, more Uncharted 2-inspired story in this case isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
The pacing of that story I do take issue with though. I’d say the first half of the game was a bit slower overall than I’d like, followed by the second half of the game, which runs at breakneck speed to the end. Until I hit the half way point of the game, my perception of this game was fairly negative. Now that I’ve gone through it, I just wish things were paced a bit more evenly to shore up the first half of the story.
Where the game shines brightest is during its intense and heavily-scripted action sequences. Did you like the collapsing building scene or the train scene in Uncharted 2 as much as I did? There are moments in Uncharted 3 that equal or surpass that in terms of intensity, how tightly your gameplay connects with the story and how detailed each moment within that sequence is. I won’t go into spoiler-territory if you haven’t played it yet, but just know that at its best, Uncharted 3 feels like you’re interacting with a movie rather than a video game. When you finish this game, those setpiece moments will absolutely stick with you.
As amazing as these moments are, my expectations were already tempered by the fact that I’ve seen similar setpieces in Uncharted 2. Along with those expectations are the same types of problems that I let slide the first time around, but are harder to ignore now. These setpieces are extremely linear in design, which means there’s only one right way to navigate through any of these sequences. This works great if you’re able to power through these sequences on your first try, but any failure in these sequences means you’re playing through the exact same scripted sequence over.
Compounding the problems at times are the setpieces (such as chases) that require you to make a number of correct decisions very quickly. Due to the way the setpiece was designed, it can be very unclear as to what it is you need to do in any given split-second, which for me lead to a lot of failure, a lot of trial-and-error and a lot of deja vu. For me, these problems happened more often during the first half of the game than the second.
I understand that these sequences have to be scripted a specific way in order for them to be as crazy and amazing as they are, but it sucks when any sort of deviation from that script due to your own curiousity or human error leads to deja vu. In whatever the next Uncharted game may be, I’d love to see Naughty Dog either make some of these sequences a bit more clear in terms of player instruction, and/or give the player a bit more wiggle room to improvise.
One aspect of the game that’s taken a weird step backwards is the combat. Sure, melee combat feels a lot better thanks to it borrowing some gameplay elements from Batman: Arkham Asylum, but shooting is notably worse in Uncharted 3 than it was before. I’ve put a video above to demonstrate the weird differences in shooting between Uncharted 2 and 3. I don’t know what Naughty Dog did, but it does feel worse and makes it more difficult to aim. This is not a deal-breaker for me, but it does impact the way I play the game. Instead of relying on the long shot, I’ll move in closer or just rush in to engage my foes in melee combat.
The most common enemies you fight in this game have also taken a weird step for the worse. One enemy AI behaviour change that I despise is the fact that in any given firefight, at least one enemy is going to run right at you to try and beat you up. On paper, this behavioural change makes sense, as it stops players from simply camping and picking off targets one at a time. However, this solution fails on multiple fronts. What ultimately ends up happening is that you end up in really frustrating scenarios where you’re forced into a fistfight while other enemies are shooting at you from a distance. Besides the fact that you’ll likely die unfairly in this scenario, it makes no sense from a human perspective. If I’m an enemy, and my partner is having a fistfight with my target, do I shoot at my target, even if I might shoot my partner in the process?
The jump from Uncharted 1 to Uncharted 2 was huge. As high as expectations may have been for Uncharted 3, the reality is that this game hasn’t evolved much from Uncharted 2. If your expectation for Uncharted 3 was just more of the same, then this will scratch that itch wonderfully. Comparisons aside, I still think Uncharted 3 is a really great game in its own right. Better than Uncharted 2 as a whole? Highly debatable. My problems with it are partially to do with maybe expecting too much from it, and from the fact that certain problematic aspects of Uncharted 2 that I let slide the first time around are still present in Uncharted 3. I would still recommend you check it out, especially if you’re a fan of the series, but I’m really hoping that Naughty Dog shakes up the formula in a big way for the next one.