Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception, a Review

20130223_153153If I were to trace the development of my addictive personality, back through the drinking, the ten years of smoking, and all the way to its earliest manifestation, I’m pretty sure the trail would end at a Sega Master System and a fourteen inch television. That was my earliest rig, where I’d chill with Alex Kidd and Wonder Boy in a semi-catatonic trance for hours on end, achieving such feats of uninterrupted ass-sitting as to give the modern standard of inactivity a run for its money.  And keep in mind that in those days most kids were still wistfully playing in piles of leaves and shit, so in this I was somewhat of a trailblazer.

My addiction continued to blossom as I got older, and by middle school I had developed a compulsive habit of selling one system to buy another ahead of certain must-have AAA releases. Eventually I had an epiphany: I should write about videogames. Best case scenario I could one day get a job doing something I love, and if not, maybe I could start a blog and trick companies into sending me free games to review. It seemed like a good idea at the time, but when I sat down to work on my first clever and insightful review, I discovered that writing was actually quite difficult. I wrote, re-wrote, deleted, raged, and inevitably pulled a teenager and simply gave the fuck up after it became apparent that it would take longer than an hour to make the text on the page reflect the ideas in my head.

Now I am as close as I’ll ever be to true adulthood, and by some nervous twitch of fate my professional life has allowed me to work on my writing skills.  The road to videogame journalism should thus stretch out before me, lit up in neon mushrooms; a dream that has waited patiently to come true. But there’s a problem: it’s almost impossible for me to pick up a videogame and enjoy it these days. I still have my PlayStation 3 (which I deemed important enough to bring to Taiwan) and my Vita (…lucky me), and I still go through the motions of painstakingly working through my endless backlog. Yet sometimes I get the feeling I’m doing so out of some subconscious, Peter Pan-ian insistence that I must go on loving videogames rather than a true sense of enjoyment.

So I’m going raise a toast to my malformed and abortive youthful ambitions by writing a videogame review. Perhaps this is how I’ll get my gaming groove back. But really, who cares. It’s time to review:

Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception

Uncharted is one of the big guns in Sony’s repertoire of first-party franchises. I remember playing the first one back when the PS3 was looking like a Sega Saturn-caliber flop, and trying to convince myself and those around me that it was an excellent game: “no, seriously, just look at the foliage!” The series follows the rapacious global wanderings of Nathan Drake, a treasure hunter in the mould of Indiana Jones, and his roguish half mentor, half father figure Victor Sullivan.

First let’s talk about Drake’s Deception the videogame. Whenever you take control of Nathan, you’ll be doing one of three things: solving puzzles, climbing obstacles, or killing people. The puzzles are occasionally engaging, though sometimes you’ll find yourself wandering around aimlessly in search of a ship in a bottle, a golden hind, or some other inane object. I was frequently shamed over the course of these searches by the big “press up for a HINT!” message that appears whenever the game decides that you’re short-bussing it on the problem at hand.

There’s also a whole lot of climbing to be done in Drake’s Deception. You better get used to hearing variations of “damn, it looks like the door is locked. Better find another way in” because that’s how the game likes to inform you that it’s climbing time. The process of climbing itself isn’t terribly engaging, as there’s only one ‘correct’ way to do it and the next step is always fairly obvious. However, it does give the game an opportunity to deliver the graphical goods, and whether you’re climbing up the wall of a chateau, a cliff face, dilapidated ruins, or a capsized super tanker, it’s at worst convincing and at best mesmerizing.

Once Nathan is all puzzled and climbed out, it’s time for him to start shooting people. And I must say, if I had to pick a universe in which to get shot, I’d probably opt for Uncharted 3. Bullets don’t seem to faze people much. There’s no sense of impact, just a little puff of red smoke (or blood?) that lets you know you’ve scored a hit. And, almost as if the bad guys are just keeping count in their heads, after three or four puffs of smoke they dutifully lie down and pretend that they’re dead.

At least that’s the impression I got from playing on the normal difficulty. I would try for something a bit harder but I just can’t anymore. It’s my hands, you see, they’re becoming less responsive with each passing year. There was a time when they were quick enough to make a quarter go a long way on a Street Fighter II machine. But now it feels like there’s an expanding dissonance between the cognitive impulse and the mechanical response, like my mind is shouting “there’s a fuckin’ bandit behind those rocks!” and my hands are like “WHICH ROCKS?!”  I can only assume that things will keep getting worse, and that by the time I’m 50 my mind will only be able to reach my hands via the neurological equivalent of a carrier pigeon.

But I digress. Now it’s time to talk about Drake’s Deception the videogame that thinks it’s a movie. There are several points in the game when the player’s level of interaction is scaled down to a bare minimum, such as pressing the control pad to shimmy through a tight crevice or wander pointlessly around a desert landscape. These sequences are presumably meant to push the narrative forward and develop the cast, going for a ‘half game, half movie’ feel. But since videogames inevitably make for terrible movies, Drake’s Deception can only go so far as ‘half game, half shit.’

OK, maybe that’s a bit too harsh.  The ‘press up to progress the movie’ bits were tolerable enough during the first half of the game. It’s just that my girlfriend decided to sell her couch somewhere around the desert sequence, so the game’s narrative interludes began to chafe more as I had to endure them sitting cross-legged on the floor.

The fifteen minute fever dream in the desert was particularly onerous given the inevitability of the outcome. Sorry gamers, but Nathan won’t be dying in the desert; just like we’ll never see an enemy (they come in two forms in Uncharted 3- suits or hoodies) cowering behind a car, unable to shoot because he can’t bring himself to kill a living thing; just like we’ll never see how hard Sully hits the bottle after his tortured scream each time Nathan falls and breaks his neck. None of this will be happening, so perhaps it’s time to come up with some other way of telling a story, and preferably one without any QTEs.

The sum of the ‘press up to play the movie’ parts isn’t even terribly compelling. Throughout the course of the game, we see a Nathan obsessed with settling a score from his Dickensian past, ignoring a constant stream of “someone you love is going to get hurt” advice along the way. Initially I was down with this approach because I thought it would bear the fruit of a dead Sully and a lesson learned. But I thought wrong. I was merely duped by the subtle allusions that harm was coming to Sully: once when it was suggested he was being tortured by pirates, and later when he was shot in the back, only to have it subsequently be revealed that this was actually a hallucination; yes, a hallucination. I experienced a strong wave of déjà vu when that bomb was dropped on me, so I did some quick Googling to discover that Sully had also been shot in the first game, only to be saved by a notebook in his front pocket. A little disappointing, I must say. It’s like the Naughty Dog’s bag of tricks consists solely of ‘Sully dies; NOT!’ And given the overall narrative arc in Drake’s Deception, the moral of the story becomes:

Nathan Drake discovers the terrible price we pay for self-awareness… NOT!

So that’s about it. I would love to talk about the multiplayer, but apparently it requires an online pass. Can you believe that shit?

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