I haven’t finished the game, yet, so I can’t really speak about any spoiler-ish details that might be juicy or something but I can at least discuss the basics of Uncharted. I realize a lot of you will be in love with this franchise, and for good reason, and I do not venomously hate the series. In fact, I rather love some of the pacing practices, the art style, the lovely Indiana Jones vibe and all sorts of crazy kid stuff. I even gave Uncharted 2 my ‘game of the year’ back in 2009. I love this series and I have no quarrels with what it achieves. It’s a cinematic game.
Except Uncharted doesn’t feel like one of those games that has ‘cinematic gameplay’ as one of the bullet points. It doesn’t over-use quick-time events, it set-pieces are scripted but you’re actually allowed to take part in them, there’s a feeling of involvement and humanity with the series you don’t get anywhere else. I still fault the game for some of its heavy linearity, cut-scenes used to further the story, the lack of narrative interactivity amongst other stuff. The design team, Amy Hennig in particular, have all written this down as just making non-interactivity as beautiful as interactivity (in this industry) and I can get behind that. Non-interactive stuff gives context to the interactive stuff (setting, plot, character) except it shouldn’t be used, exclusively, as a means to express all that; these are video-games after all.
I have to agree with the Eurogamer review though, honestly, for all the charm and rugged linearity there’s still a overhanging sense of semi-spectator to the whole thing. I would love to love this game but I can’t. It’s shallow, it doesn’t (in the words of IGN) “take storytelling to different places” it just sort of… meanders around. The pacing is excellent, the characters are excellent, the story is excellent, the gameplay is smooth, the design is fantastic but… there’s tunnel vision with this one. I want to run around without any real direction, I want to explore these worlds and levels at my own pace but I can’t because Naughty Dog won’t let me.
Of course, that’s not what they were trying to achieve but I simply cannot enjoy a video-game beyond simple gunplay, traversing and quick-time events. I can try. I can get involved with the story but never in the story. Drake and I never sync up even though I love all the characters, I can never truly care for them given how the game assumes I love/hate them all. It feels James Bond-esque (especially the Moore days) in which the directors/writers assumed the audience would find moustache-twirling people all villainous and evil, they were right. But what would be stronger is having the villain do something villainous like kill innocent people or kill a character we like.
I’m complaining, I know, but I don’t feel like I should like Uncharted 3 at all given everything I’ve said so far about non-interactivity. Yes, I hate the application of cutscenes but they’re a tool for the medium and any tool (no matter the poor reputation it gets) shouldn’t be thrown into oblivion. I like to liken it to religion, quite a controversial thing, but the whole ‘religion is like a penis’ (nice to have one, don’t shove it down my kids throat etc.) is the exact same for atheism or any theism or belief really. Religion has been used as both a tool of exploiting mankind and enriching mankind. The bad stuff doesn’t make the good stuff redundant.
It’s the same with cutscenes. Mass Effect is full of them (enriching) but then every Rockstar title uses them and nothing else as a narrative device (exploiting). Uncharted is a series that does use them, primarily, as a narrative device but there’s still a sense of involvement. Characters talk while you’re walking, stuff happens while you’re shooting stuff. The set-pieces are scripted but you’re allowed to take part (not like Modern Warfare 3 or Battlefield 3) so there is a sense of illusionary interaction… but it still feels good. I still enjoy and get into the story moreso than a Rockstar title because I’m not strictly a ‘spectator’ who shoots people and nothing else. There’s still traversing, quick-time events and I do feel like I’m furthering a story rather than watching it whisk me away.
I’m ranting, as usual, but this is somewhat of a ‘film critique corner’ because Uncharted 3 is a very, very good shallow video-game. It prides itself in its almost envious cinematic goodness, and that’s okay, but I can only have fun with it so much until more interaction would make it incredible. There’s something to be said when we enjoy Uncharted 2 more than the ‘furthering interactive storytelling’ likes of Black Ops and Red Dead Redemption. A lot of art games fall prey to this too, and perhaps nailing down non-interactivity is the best starting point for this industry’s artistic battle?
I’m not sure.