June 11th 2012
Uncharted was a game I had heard a fair bit about, but never actually played. Well, rather, I had heard a fair bit about its sequels, two of which are on the PS3, another on the Vita. I picked it up, 2nd hand, and I must say that it was a great experience. However, before I go onto the main likes / dislikes of the game, its probaly worth mentioning one of the main reasons I enjoyed it so much.
Put simply, it is very rare that I play a game, start to finish, and am left with the feeling that the designers knew exactly what game they wanted to make, how they wanted it to play and, importantly, a real sense of fun throughout. Yep - Uncharted, start to finish was consistent in the rules of play, encouraged you to have fun and gave you enough variety in its action, climbing and characters for me to feel really involved in it, start to finish. Compare this with Mass Effect 3, which I recently finished and commentated that the main reason ME3 fell apart at the end was not the slightly poor communciation of its plot, but rather the fact that it reduced the last 2 hrs of the game to something that was ultimately less than the sum of its parts.
Uncharted was a MUCH simpler game, but was also much better for it. Rather than go through my likes and dislikes about the game, I am going to comment on a few big stand out thoughts on the game, mainly around the design and gameplay as opposed to the story (you'll see why).
1. It really is more than the sum of its parts... because of pacing.
At face value, Uncharted is a blockbuster game with all style no substance. Yes, the core gameplay is actually quite flimsy - the climbing sections are no where near as challenge as the shaddow of the collossus, the action not a patch on gears of war and the story extremely light, even for an action game. However, what you get is a game that retains its sense of fun start to finish and, through limiting how much time you spend doing any one thing, enhances your enjoyment. THe pacing is excellent - you quickly learn the basics of cover, using your weapons (both fists and guns) and the game pretty much opens up and allows you to discover the best ways to taking out large numbers of faceless enemies.
Yes, the enemies are faceless, the action not as deep or rewarding as I may have hoped, but it retains a sense of genuinely encouraging you to have fun in the environment. On ocassions this is simply by tossing more enemies at you and forcing you to work out a strategy to defeat them. Then you die. And, yep, some of the enemies remain in the same positions when you respawn, but how they attack you often varies. It is all very well done - you cant just learn basic patterns, you have to at least think and react on your feet. In the action sections, this is crucial, because you will die alot. Its not that the game is particulary hard (it does have very forgiving save points), more that your health is so crappy that a one or two mis timed movements can end in your death, particularly towards the end of the game. This however does not distract from the action - the game respawns you immediately and reloads your ammo - rather it does heighten the intensity at which you progress through the game.
And this, for me, is the main reason I loved Uncharted - at no point during its 8 hr play through did I feel as if i was "rinse and repeating" the action or puzzles - you generally spent no more than 20 mins in anyone area and this generated enough variety to make it always feel as if you are progressing.
2. The action is good, the climbing satisfying and the puzzles a good distraction...
I dont really think that Uncharted had one core gameplay element that stood out. The action, on its own, was good, the climbing good and the puzzles pretty limited. But, enough of the time I felt as if I was doing something different and with a different challenge attached to it that I was happy to proceed. Sure, you can play through the action pretty brainlessly, but you can also think carefully about your weapons, use cover and melee attacks to make your way through an area and, if you really want, sneak up on enemies and take them out silently. It was a classic case of a game that was a bit of a jack of all trades, master of none, but that was fine.
A quick note on the climbing - i really liked it. Mainly because i felt like i was playing a game that thought "yeah - we liked shaddow of the collossus - lets take the climbing out of it and see what happens in an action game". It really wortks - the climbing is simpler, integrates a light puzzle element, but does make enough use of the setting and puzzle elements to make it all worth while. Also, the animations are great - Drake looks superb flinging himself from pillar to post.
3. It goes to show, story is not everything...
The story was pretty lightwieght. It had bad guys i barely remember the names of, sidekicks who dont do much except move the plot on and the Francis Drake connection a little underused. That said, there was enough there to pique my interest and once the game got going (it took only 20mins for me to get really into it), the story was delivered with a similar amount of fun and lightness that befitted the game.There was no gravel voiced moddy dialogue here - Drake is an everyman (dressed in jeans and a tee shirt) with quips and actions that are totally in sync with the rest of the game. Indeed, it was one of the rare occassions where the relatively lightweight story actually helps the game - unburdened by a lack of pack story (say like Red Dead), minimal exposition is required and it had none of the fanboys that, say Final Fantasy or Metal Gear would have (meaning that it is not required to "tick certain boxes to appease them"). This means that you get a game, like its hero, is very much its own man.
Normally, i need a good story to keep me interested. Here, like in Vanquish, you have a game that puts fun at the front of the agenda and sticks to it firmly throughout the game. Refreshing, entertaining and while a little lightweight, certainly consistent with what it tries to achieve.
4. I think I've made my point, but there is one more thing...
I've spoken about the fun and the consistency of the game design, but there was one last thing that was particularly great about this game, being its last hour and a half. The game has a genius change of pace that ensures that the end of the game is not just interesting, but also has a different challenge. I'll not say much as it will spoil it, but there is a nice change in pacing that certainly develops the games plot and gameplay.
All in all, Uncharted is a great game. Yes, its story could have been better developed and the action is a bit lightweight, but you know what, I had a blast palying through it. The high production values certainly help (the voice acting is very good) ensure the game never slips too far into parody and while the name "Indiana Jones" was on my lips more than once, there was enough in this game in its own right to make me stand up and notice it.
Finally, credit to Naughty Dog - they managed to make a game with light plot, action that is not as great as its peers, simple puzzles and some straightforward platforming sections and turn it into a really enjoyable experience. If you occassionally enjoy films like Transformers. The Transporter and Indianna Jones you will certainly enjoy the comitment to fun and entertainment that Uncharted has.
A really good game.