May God strike me down, IGN, if what I'm saying holds no true value. But fresh off beating Uncharted 3, I'm not awfully impressed. Impressed, you know, based on the 10 outta 10, game-changing standards you gave me. Maybe the rating was assigned to show that IGN has turned a corner, and is just gonna start giving 10s to must-plays instead of the monotonous 9.5 we've been seeing for years. They promised me perfection, and what I got was greatness; that's my complaint here.
I played Uncharted: Drake's Fortune (the first one!) and was alternatively wowed and bored. The game delivered epic firefights, an alluring plot, and a real movie feel. For once I felt a game had spawned from its story as opposed to its gameplay mechanics and the “wouldn't it be cool if we could do ______ in real life?” factor. Well, maybe that plays a part, but that's beside the point.
The original's story bored me until I encountered a supernatural mindbending twist toward the game's conclusion. For the gameplay this worked wonders. You were brought a new enemy (which was not a Nazi zombie) and forced to change your game. That end bit won me over. Uncharted was a must-have franchise.
Uncharted 2, the game whose release induced me to buy the original and its successor, was a whole realm of level ups. Every aspect of the game had been improved upon, and the boredom I experienced from the first game was demolished by the incorporation of fantastic and astonishing set pieces. Seeing a gameplay trailer for Uncharted 2 in which you had to jump off a building as it collapsed into another building basically sold me on the franchise. Good work, Naughty Dog.
I found new gameplay mechanics at every chapter. What's this, a riot shield? Hey, a propane tank! Oh look, a discernible main villain! And how about that character development? Elements missing from the first one were supplied. The only drawbacks were a bit of cheese from the classic (yet completely lovable) cast and some copycatting of game one in terms of storyline. (Insert last-minute supernatural twist here — but let's not bullshit, it was still really cool.)
So when IGN planted a 10, a God-game stamp on UC3's forehead, my expectations exploded and reformulated into an entirely different monster.
The game I bought, though, colored over the lines of the second installment, this time with prettier ink.
Uncharted 3 begins with a new feel to it, lunging you into an actual passable fistfighting segment. It was fun, it was cool, it was useful. It made Conor O'Brien's UC strategy of punching out everyone ever way more plausible. After that, you are thrown to Nathan Drake's entirely shrouded past. You gain some of his origin story. Cool! Then you go back to presenttown and rock the cradle a bit, beating bad guys to clues for the next thing on your map. Same old, same old. Only this time there seems to be a chance in hell that the bad guys would be where they would be, in other words, there was less “How in the fuck did these guys get into this hidden tomb before me?”ing. You make an epic, epic escape from a magnificent set piece, and move on.
One of the game's three new minor characters (Yes, I said three, minor characters.) then breaks his leg and is never ever seen or heard from again. The only remnant of his existence we have is Elena Fischer (who somehow just so happens to be roped into every game, which I'm actually totally cool with) mentions him, asks about him, and gives us no reason why or how the hell she knows who he is, much less why she cares.
So you begin your quest; you, Elena and Sully, ole pal. You get separated because, well, the game would be lame if you had a partner the whole time. You find yourself on drugs, which leads to one of the game's coolest yet least important sequences in which you sprint through the streets of a crowded Middle Eastern city while fucked up on a hallucinogen. After this, some bitchlady named Catherine Marlowe tells you that your last name isn't even really Drake (thus making you NOT related to Francis Drake! probably) your mom committed suicide and your dad gave you up to the government to raise. All of which is neat, but none of it matters. Nate's attachment to Sir Francis Drake is so strong that it needn't be one of lineage for the story to be effected. And Nate's parents? Yeah? Ok. Also, how did Marlowe obtain these files? Why does she care to notify Drake that she knows? Why are neither of these questions answered?
The problem with this game is that it's trying to be a movie told from the first person. As in, entirely from the first person. As in, we have no idea what the fuck anyone but Nathan Drake is doing. And we have no idea who Marlowe really is, why she's after this croc pot of treasure, what her relationship is with Talbot (who probably hated it when the kids in his elementary school called him “tablet”) and what she thinks of Drake behind his back. There aren't those filling scenes. Metal Gear has those scenes. Resident Evil has those scenes. Final Fantasy has those scenes. GTA has those scenes. Uncharted has Drake talking about his entirely implied failed marriage to Elena (who, and this is one of my pettier qualms, looks different and less distinct). Chloe, character who is in this game for a reason I actually don't know, hinted at a past with Drake at the beginning of UC2 and has yet to fill us in on that.
Speaking of past, UC2 threw two characters that Drake's known before our way without telling us anything about that past. One of them turned on Drake, which was interesting. In UC3, a character with no implied or expressed past joins Drake's crew (and his reasons are not given when Elena, a journalist, asks for them from Drake). There's no new elements here.
Fast forward a couple grand set pieces, including a boat (that FUCKING boat) and a train (I meant “plane,” but I thought it symbolic that I typed train instead), and bam, you're in the desert, and the game is ending.
You go through a grand sequence of fights (which do unfortunately dip into the “How in the fuck did these guys get here” aspect), which caused me many a death, (Side note: I'm generally bad at this game, I trudge through it with zeal.) and lead to the granddaddy of all the hidden tombs. It's the Atlantis of the Sands. The Golden City. The big balls of the game. You open a huge door and, like last time, there's this huge fucking world, (again, more plausible than UC2, it's not underground, it's in the middle of the desert). But the problem is, it's the same thing again. Grand, beautiful city to finish the game in. And you bet your ass it falls apart. As the game climaxes with two of the least satisfying main-villain kills in my relatively brief history of gaming, you run away from the grand, beautiful city because you it's crumbling to shit and you make it out alive thanks to Salim. Who's Salim? Oh, he's the Tenzin this game, except they didn't have time to give him a backstory this go-round.
I cannot help but feeling this is a frankly better ending.
So you escape, there's this feeling of “I'm glad I won't be getting shot at anymore” mixed with “where's my gun, because this game failed to blow my mind so I now want to do it myself.”
Looking back to what Uncharted has done through its history: it set a precedent, then it evolved that precedent, then it expanded that evolution. I'm afraid your Wartortle is leveling up, but refusing to become a Blastoise. This game feels like the last one. With no innovation in the gun system, no new toys either (like the propane, hammer, and riot shield all were), a new melee system that's repetitive after a minute or two, a limited enemy gallery (those big guys who you repeatedly kicked in the nuts were random and silly). You had this nonsubtle focus on set pieces, and in this, Uncharted found the Titanic, Drakes on a plane, and a super cool burning mansion. But beyond that, you have more unbelievable survival — as in, Sully repeatedly dying and then never actually dying; not the hundreds of bullets Drake takes over the course of the game — more tomb chasing, and the same dude-killin'. The puzzles were pleasantly innovative and not boring. The spiders were a cool effect. The childhood scenes were fun. The drug scenes were entertaining, though useless (Arkham Asylum's Scarecrow, anybody?). The desert scenes were necessary but point/ephiphanyless. And the end was ripped right out of UC2, minus the supernatural aspect, but plus the pretend supernature of demon-headed reincarnated baddies, who were as easy to nix as their former versions. The game was cool to have, incredibly fun to play, but not very fulfilling. This game features the worst final boss fight of the three, no question. In the end, you miss the treasure for the sake of saving the world yet again (you think Drake would learn), Sully finds some scoop on the tail end of the hunt, and you get married to Elena again. The ending scene is short — shorter than the last one, I feel. Wouldn't this be a red flag? Your game is supposed to supplement the storylines you left out in the first two, not leave you with crumbs of an ending.
The villain in this game, Catherine Marlowe (whose name I'm spelling with an E on the end purely out of hunch), is half there. She's an ex of Sully's, and incredibly wealthy and in it for some power, though she seems not like the kind of person to seek infinite power, or to want to unleash unprovoked evil. Yet, that's her. Then you have Talbot, who acts as the real bad guy of the game, he's the one who pisses you off most. Like Navarro in the first one. Lassaravich, the villain from UC2, was nasty. Marlowe is as such, but to a lesser extent. The only difference is she's a woman whom Drake wouldn't punch.
In the end, the game leaves you feeling accomplished, but not whole. There's something more to be put in here, as the game's only 22 chapters long. You don't get a sense of completion, it seems more like you just ran out of story in which your background could be laid. At least when Street Fighter made non-sequels, they had the decency to title it the same and just add words to it. I feel like I just played Super Uncharted 2: Among Deceived Thieves Turbo Redux. In Final Fantasy, the sequels are of different worlds. Maybe Uncharted would have been best parting with Nate for its sequels, a la GTA. GTA is on its fifth installment right now, and its been around since the '90s. When a new GTA comes out, it's balls out. They upgrade everything. They make every aspect worth every additional dollar. I feel like Uncharted just went the Madden route, updating rosters, adding a nifty element or two, but I'm getting the same experience sold back to me for 60 more dollars. At least I beat the damn thing. You bet your ass I was gonna beat the damn thing.
It's a great game, but to call it a masterpiece is frankly incorrect.