Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Gaming Review: Uncharted 3: Drakes Deception

There is a thing that many people do, called "displacement activity". This is where you are worried about something, so you keep yourself busy doing something else, even when perhaps you should be applying yourself to the thing that is making you worried. I have an exam in about a week, the first exam I've done for a couple of years. By a complete and amazing co-incidence, I finished Uncharted 3: Drakes Deception last night.

This is not a metaphor for my exams. I hope. 

Uncharted 3 feels like it has a lot to live up to. Uncharted, an early Playstation 3 title, had a lot to carry on a platform light on "killer software" and whilst a pretty solid game that sold well but never really fired the imagination. Uncharted 2, however, was something else - a fantastically paced, slick action game that swept along like the best kind of action movie. It was an epic, jaw dropping experience, and I loved it. The problem for Uncharted 3 is simple - how do you top that?

The simple answer is, you don't. Pretty much everything that can be said about Uncharted 3 could also have been said about Uncharted 2 - this is polished, high-calibre entertainment and I thoroughly enjoyed it. It's just not really bringing anything new.

But, for those unacquainted with Nathan Drake and his fondness for clinging from high ledges by his fingernails, Uncharted 3 is a giant modern day love letter to Indiana Jones, whereby our intrepid hero and associated hangers on - gruff father figure, estranged love interest, cockney sidekick, etc - gallivant around the world uncovering well preserved traps and puzzles in intricate tombs and castles, whilst battling hordes of enemies with a variety of foreign accents. The gameplay alternates between third-person shooter combat, puzzle solving and climbing around huge environments, with various twists and set-pieces thrown in. In its own way it is outrageously linear, but that linearity is turned to creating constant action beats or cinematic flourishes as the next huge and ancient contraption whirs into life and a new wonder is revealed.

The target this time is Irem of the Pillars, the Lost City of Brass, deep in the Arabian Desert, but the game includes a punch up in a London Boozer and a trip through the London Sewers, a first-floating and then-sinking Cruise Liner, a ruined French Chateau, and an ancient Moroccan castle that I am amazed didn't totally collapse after the amount of grenades I chucked around inside it. All the locations are sumptuously realised, and most of them come to a sticky end, and the changes of scenery and rotating gameplay elements do a great job of masking the repetition of plot.

If you think it's ruined now, wait till its been shot up and burned down. 
The plot - well, I've no idea why the game is called "Drakes Deception" because it certainly passed me by. It's as linear as the level design. But the script sparkles, and the voice acting is superb; surprisingly understated and touching at times, especially with the (failed) relationship between Elena and Nathan being dealt with in quiet moments between the bombast. Developers Naughty Dog want this to be a 12-hour movie that you play - they want you to enjoy yourself, to be caught up in the moment, yet tell a good (if basic) story in the process. Moments like the 5 or 10 minutes wandering lost in the desert are strangely brave, in my opinion - taking the player away from shooting and climbing and giving them a moment which is essentially looking at the landscape and listing to the (outstanding) musical score.

The two big trends in AAA gaming at the moment seem to be "open world" and "military shooters", and Uncharted 3 is neither. Neither does it want to be - I can't really think of another game to compare it too; I keep coming up with films instead. And I guess that's what they're after, a game that reminds you of the best action movies, the ones you keep coming back to because they hit all the right beats, and know what they are, and revel in creating something around that purity of vision. And I'm totally on board with that.

Postscript: "Hollywood" has optioned Uncharted for a movie and according to most reports has set about making changes with the characters to make it more "relevant" to the big screen. I'm sure that will end well, it always does with game to film adaptations, right? ....Right?