Friday, 30 September 2011

Uncharted review

Beware of spoilers!

Back in January, I got a PS3. I could have been happier, as from a few years prior my gaming consisted of WOW and the odd DS or Wii game. The console seemed to have little to offer other than a few games such as FFXIII. Yet barely half a year has passed and my library already exceeds fifteen games, and I have played more. How wrong I was. And one of the top stand outs? Uncharted.

I heard it was good, but never thought to try it until I traded in Portal 2 and had a fair sum of credit from it, so went to the 3 for 2 section and got Uncharted 1, 2 and Darksiders. I am very glad for that decision. The series is fantastic.

You play Nathan Drake, a man of many talents. The most appropriate, if a bit misleading, description for him is treasure hunter. Assisted by a varying cast of allies and villains across the two games you are taken to a remote island, across vast mountains, the streets of a city at war, not a selection of places you would likely think would correspond with each other, never mind fit together in such a way that it all seems very natural. I lie a bit in that the remote island is basically the first game with no other locations, but the games are in fact similar so hence why it makes sense to review them together. Both feature a tale with real historical background, from search for El Dorado to the chintamani stone. While some of the elements are highly exaggerated, as I’ll get onto, they seem credible and this really pulls you into the story, disregarding the characters themselves. While quite a… unique twist is added onto the end, it’s worth it as I will draw upon later.

The characters themselves hold interest, with various acts of betrayal and loyalty throughout, and in moments of near-death that the so often find themselves in, while not quite causing the heart to skip a beat, certainly seek you to care. One of the principles Naughty Dog wanted to work on with Drake was that rather than the lead being a superhero with perfectly fluid movements he is instead much more human. He makes mistakes. His movement is not perfect, as like any human, with certain traits apparent. Some of his jumps hardly look flattering, quite the opposite to the distinct confident lunge found elsewhere. And best of all, he makes mistakes, often not having an answer to the situation. He’s still more than your average human, completing far more death-defying stunts than usually healthy, but since this is kind of essential to the genre it can’t be helped. Speaking of which, I’ll digress a bit.

This is a shooter. Drake kills HUNDREDS of people. That kind of action is hardly represented by your average human. And he shows little remorse. Sorry, none. The game simply wouldn’t work if you had to lament each kill, but it does kind of conflict with the character they are trying to build. This problem is even addressed late in the second game, where when faced with the option to kill the head honcho of the operation, whereas he has already cold heartedly killed several hundred lackeys just doing their job, he hesitates under confrontation. Sure this is probably trying to get across that human quality, and indeed his personality aligns so this would stop him killing, he does not come across as the cold hearted killer he really is. But again, the genre does not allow for that – killing hundreds doing their job actually classifies you as a hero. But the game couldn’t exist without this suspension of belief, so I’ll stop complaining here and admit that it’s necessary for the game. Anyway.

The actual system used for shooting is largely cover based – if you run out in the open, even with the most powerful of guns, don’t be surprised if a shotgun or sniper knocks you down. Of course you generally have time to carefully hop between cover, you can’t just run in and hope for the best. Generally. The first game allowed you to duck out of cover and shoot, which works, needing to pick your time to strike, but also shoot without it. There is no marker given on screen for this, so it is pretty much a wild guess. The second game has both these features but with a wide marker in grey, giving a vague idea of where your shooting, so while its still inaccurate it can actually be used to some benefit. While it still exists in the second game, it is more or a problem in the first, in that if your hiding behind some cover, and someone is on the other side, so you could shoot them without getting out of cover in reality, you must leave the cover or face the inaccurate shot penalty, which is fairly annoying. This rarely comes up though and otherwise the controls are perfect, always feel fair and allow you to do what you want. Unlike some other games, you know if you die its always your fault and no control issues can be blamed.

But finally there’s one part of the game I have yet to talk about but I can’t ignore it. In parts, its like a high budget blockbuster movie but all the more tense with you in control. Several times simply amazing stunts are performed, more often than not under your control, which simply feels epic. From running across a bridge collapsing underneath you to – my personal favourite moment – riding on the back of a train, with a carriage fallen off, spinning towards you, it looks like it’s gonna crush and kill you, but at the last second you enter a tunnel and it’s cut-off. These moments all feel genuinely tense, and at times it feels the bad scenario is going to happen. It feels like your right in the centre of an action movie, and that makes it so much more epic.

I’m approaching my word limit and I still have so much more praise for the series. I’ll say it’s brilliant and if you have a PS3 there is pretty much no reason not to have played both games including the upcoming Uncharted 3. I’m not sure I can award higher praise than saying it’s an essential purchase. And it’s just one of the games that make me immensely glad of the decision for me to get a PS3.

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