Why I (almost) quit playing Uncharted: Drake's Fortune
The recent price drop and new slim PS3 was enough to convince me to round out my collection of current-gen consoles, and of the already-released PS3 exclusives, the game that I was most eager to christen my new system with was Uncharted. I'm of fan of the recent Tomb Raider games because they are the closest things to an Indiana Jones game that I've played, and Uncharted seemed to take what I like about Tomb Raider and combine it with the stop-and-pop gameplay of Gears of War. How could it go wrong? In a lot of ways, apparently.
The game consists of a few standard gameplay elements: gunfights, platforming, puzzle-solving, driving (ski-dooing, in this case), and just for the hell of it, quick-time events. There are problems with each of these, though gunfights deserve to be discussed first because they are what you spend most of the game doing.
The most notable problem with Uncharted is that the enemies are bullet-sponges. They can take so many bullets to the body that my go-to weapon was a handgun because of its assuracy and lack of recoil, and gunfights became a largely un-dynamic headshot shooting gallery, where I would stay rooted behind cover in one spot waiting for the enemy to pop their head out enough for me to put a bullet in it. When I would miss with a handgun at a long range, though, and hit anywhere else on an enemy's body, the AI would have an annoying habit of stumbling just enough to get outside of my reticule and then perform an animation that I suppose was intended to make the character appear to be trying to get out of the gunfire that I was raining down on him, but instead just looked like some sort of stiff dance move. I understand that on first thought, adding stumbling and bullet-dodging animations to the enemy AI characters makes sense--it's not very realistic for anyone to remain standing in direct gunfire or to not so much as flinch after being shot--but I can't understand the thinking that went into deciding that the solution to this problem would be to have the enemy AI perform the following sequence of events:
(1) Get shot in the chest
(2) Stumble as if tripping over a curb
(3) Perform awkward dance
(4) Recover and drop back behind cover
(5) Pop up again a few seconds later in nearly the same spot in which you just got shot.
These design decisions don't do anything to improve the believability of the enemy AI and increase player immersion, so what purpose do they serve, aside from making gunfights more of a chore than they have to be? Adding to this is that all of the gunfights feel extremely long-winded. It might have something to do with the fact that it takes so damn long to kill anyone, but enemies also jump out at you frequently and in large groups--you'll kill a room of people only to have a whole new group of them appear almost immediately afterwards. Because of all this, if I was playing the game for any extended period of time, the gunfights became more a chore to get through than anything else, and I would dread finding open spaces filled with cover, because I knew that an ambush was coming. Dreading the shooty parts of a game that is all about the shooty isn't good.
Next up: platforming.
When you make an 'Indiana Jones'-style treasure-hunting platforming game, a variety of interesting environments are key. Tomb Raider knows this; Uncharted doesn't. Uncharted has one interesting environment that is stretched out for the entire game. You go from back and forth between samey-forests and samey-ruins before being thrown a couple of bones at the end, neither of which are particularly inspiring. Though Tomb Raider has that over Uncharted, neither game has completely figured out how to solve the leap of faith, though Uncharted doesn't perform poorly in this regard. The distinction between what you can and cannot grab onto, and what gaps you can and cannot jump over, will sometimes come down to trial-and-error. If you think you can make it, you probably can, but there are a number of spots where I had to leap to my death a few times before figuring out which was the right way to go.
What's left to discuss of the gameplay is the puzzle-solving, driving, and quick time events, and all each of these can be addressed with a question:
- Why bother putting puzzles that are so brain-dead easy that they are essentially equivalent to a toy I had as a toddler, where I had to match plastic 3D objects with the corresponding hole that they would fit into? They shouldn't even be called puzzles, but rather arbitrary barriers.
- Why combine realistically unresponsive Ski-doo control with a ridiculously unrealistic explosive barrel-avoiding mini-game? It felt like I was playing an unresponsive River Raid.
- Why slot 4 quick-time events into an 8 hour game, and why expect the player to be able to react quickly enough if they only happen once every two hours? Each one was basically an automatic arbitrary death.
The final problem that I have with this game is your character's progression through the environment. For a majority of the game, you're following clues in Sir Francis Drake's journal, and the path that the journal takes you on doesn't make much sense. You'll go through secret passage after secret passage, only to walk into a location that the enemies had found using a staircase or a door. It feels like none of the clues or secret passages serve any purpose other than having you travel through every corner of the small location in which the majority of the game takes place. And every other part of the story is basically B-movie filler.
All of this leads to one question: With all of the negatives things that I've had to say about this critically-acclaimed game, why did I finish playing it?
In spite of everything, Uncharted isn't a bad game. As long as it's played in short bursts, it's a moderately fun action game with beautiful graphics that is just short enough in length to keep you playing until the point where you see the light at the end of the tunnel and think, "Well, I've played it this long, so I may as well finish it."