Aftershock: Uncharted 3 Is Half a Great Game
I love Uncharted 2. Just love it. Not only was it the best game of 2009, but it’s also one of the best games ever made. Its combination of epic set pieces and insane pacing has never been seen anywhere else, and its storytelling is just about as good as is possible in our chosen medium.
You don’t just travel along with Nathan Drake on this insane adventure to Shangri La; you feel every hit he takes. Despite being third person, Uncharted 2 is as immersive an experience as they come. When it came out, the game had a profound impact on me. I Picked up the game at 10 in the morning on release day and sat in front of my TV all day until I had finished it. I loved it so much.
I say this as a preface to my comments on Uncharted 3, because I want you to know where I’m coming from. I want you to know what this franchise means to me. Know that it is with a heavy heart that I call Uncharted 3 a supreme disappointment.
It starts off so well. The first half of the game is a great mixture of exploration, puzzles, climbing, chases and shooting. It’s all balanced so well, and for a while I was ready to call it the game of the year. The chases in particular were a nice addition to the series. They were fun and tense and exciting and everything you want out of this game. And the puzzles were a great improvement from the previous games’; they were actually kind of challenging, yet still fun.
It also features a playable flashback that shows how Nate met his partner Sully, and it’s a great sequence that is full of wonderful sentiment and really gets to the heart of why we love these characters.
And then the second half happens. Uncharted 3 trades in its chases and puzzles for shooting and shooting and more shooting. And it features some bizarre difficulty spikes, where you’ll face wave after wave of snipers and armored enemies, and you’ll die over and over again. These sections ruin the game’s heretofore brisk pace.
An example: one of the Uncharted 3′s epic set pieces takes place on a sinking ship. You’ll blow a hole in the side of the hull of the ship, and tons of enemies start pouring out of the woodwork, including the aforementioned snipers and armored enemies.
In, say, Resistance 3, sections like this are exciting. While at first they seem overwhelming, they really aren’t. You are capable of winning every fight, thanks in no small part to your impressive arsenal of future weapons.
In Uncharted 3, fights like the one I have just detailed feel overwhelming, and they are overwhelming. There’s a sense of urgency to it, because water is flooding in through the hole you made in the ship, and so the goal is to seemingly hurry through it as quickly as you can. But you can’t do that. You must take this battle slowly, and even doing so will probably result in your death several times. The game had been moving at a rapid pace, but during fights like these that pace grinds to a halt.
And the second half of the game is full of fights like these. You’ll fight, and you’ll die, and the game will stop being fun.
To add insult to that injury, the story absolutely falls apart in the second half. Like in the previous games, everyone’s goal initially seems to be to find some lost treasure, but it’s eventually revealed that there is some dastardly plot at hand.
What that plot is we’ll never know. We are given vague descriptions of what the bad guys’ ultimate goals are, and we’re told that what they’re looking for in the Atlantis of the Sands is a threat of some kind, but that threat is never detailed, and we never get to see it in action.
Who are these bad guys and why are they the bad guys, anyway? They’re just assholes, I guess, and as far as the story is concerned that’s enough of a reason to hate them. I guess they have some grand evil scheme for the world, but we’ll never know what it is.
So not only does the game fail to be fun in its second half, it also fails to tell a satisfying story. Uncharted 3 at first seems to hold so much promise, and then said promise is dashed. This game is a step back for Naughty Dog, certainly, and, thus, it becomes the year’s greatest letdown.
It’s a shame I have to say that, but that’s the way it is — Uncharted 3 is Drake’s Disappointment.
Follow Phil on Twitter: @philrowen