Monday, December 10, 2012

Uncharted: Drake's Fortunate This Didn't Go On Longer

Uncharted looks pretty cool. And it is pretty cool in a lot of ways, but at the same time that appearance of coolness just helps you forget or ignore that the actual gameplay is a bit repetitive and not all that deep.

The game takes you on an Indiana Jones-esque adventure with Nathan Drake in search of treasure, and it really is like being in an action movie. The voice acting and writing is some of the best I've heard in a game and makes the game feel high quality. There are also some epic scripted events in which you must narrowly avoid danger (sometimes using quick time events) just like an action hero. For the most part though, once you get past the first couple chapters, even though the acting continues to be top notch, the story starts to drag. It's pretty much just following the trail to the treasure while killing the bad guys before they can kill you.
Along with the convincing writing and acting, Uncharted will also try to convince you of its high quality with its stunning graphics. The lighting, water, and bright jungle foliage are the first noticeable things, but the rest of the environments are also a sight to behold. While the enemies may start to look the same after a while (no, not just because they're foreigners, you racist) and sometimes have wonky death animations, the main characters look pretty good, especially at a distance. They even get convincingly wet when you'd expect them to. Unfortunately, the novelty of the graphics does wear off after a while, since much of the game is spent in the same sort of environments: jungles, ruins... more ruins. And while the graphics are nice, the level design will often leave you feeling like you're being herded in one direction by an "impenetrable" wall of trees or other similarly arbitrary obstructions.
Actually playing the game consists of three kinds of segments: shooting, climbing/exploring, and driving. Shooting basically amounts to hiding behind cover and poking out to shoot the bad guys whenever they peek out from their own cover. You can also melee enemies with a "brutal combo", but there aren't really any other kind of melee combos. You'll encounter a variety of weapons, but you'll only be able to hold one kind of pistol, one other kind of gun, and a few grenades at a time, so there's a little strategy in deciding when to pick up a new gun. The liberally available achievements for killing a certain number of enemies with each gun are also a motivation to try something new. Basically, whenever you see the telltale obvious cover spots, you'll know there's a shooting segment coming. For a lot of the game, you'll also have Elena, a documentary camerawoman along with you. I can't tell if she actually helps shoot, but she pretends to. Luckily, she seems to be unkillable, since after yelling in surprise at an incoming grenade, she was more than happy to enjoy its delicate warmth by not even attempting to get out of the way.
The climbing segments are basically like those in Shadow of the Colossus only without the stamina gauge. Against all odds, Nathan Drake is better than all the guys on Ninja Warrior and has no problem hanging from ledges and jumping over huge chasms. Sometimes a ledge will start to break away, forcing you to hurry to the next one, but rarely are these segments very hard. At first, they'll feel cinematic and kind of like puzzle solving, but as you go on, they'll start to get repetitive. The only real challenge with these segments is spotting the grabbable ledges you need to start with, but after that it's easy-peasy. If, however, you fall, you'll be able to restart a short distance back. For as strong as Nathan is with climbing, his ability to survive falls is much less regular and depends on where the game allows you to go. You won't mind if the fall kills you though, because dying is better than falling all the way down and starting from the beginning. Also during these segments, you'll be able to look for shiny dots hidden (almost always) in the corners which indicate treasure. Picking them up adds to your list of treasures and for every five, you get a trophy. Speaking of these trophies and achievements, the game has its own set of achievements in-game. They're the same as the PSN trophies, but the in-game achievements also have point values. If you get enough points, you can unlock special features and cool options like mirror mode.
Alright. So then there's the occasional driving segment. These will having you manning a gun while someone else drives or driving a jet ski while shooting. None of these are all that fun. The more frequent jet ski segments will have you avoiding inexplicably numerous explosive barrels and enemies popping out and shooting at you. Now that you can finally move faster, your first instinct might be to go as fast as you can, dodging everything. You will probably die if you try that. I found that I was best off when taking my time, shooting the barrels, shooting the enemies at a distance, and then going on my way. Unfortunately, while you can move and shoot, you'll have to rely on auto-aim which works well on barrels but not enemies. If you want to aim and shoot, you'll have to stop and make yourself vulnerable. So yeah, these are fun for about thirty seconds, but then you'll be wishing you were back on foot again.

And that's basically all there is to the game. You cycle through climbing, shooting, and driving several times, get a cutscene that rarely adds anything interesting to the story unless you're early or late in the game, and then do it some more. It's not unenjoyable, and the graphics and good acting will probably distract you from the repetition for a while, but it's probably good that the game only takes a little over ten hours to finish. Any more than that, and it would definitely start to wear thin.
At the beginning of the game, this quote was shown. By the end of the game, I was convinced that it was there only because they doubted whether players would actually have the patience and attention span to finish the game, let alone "thoroughly finish" it. Hopefully Uncharted 2 changes things up a bit.
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