Uncharted 3 – finished

I’m feeling a bit melancholy today. You see, last night I finished Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception. That means I’ve got two years to wait for Uncharted 4 (assuming such a title exists, or will exist). UC3 will probably wind up being my personal “Game of the Year,” unless Skyrim *really* surprises me.

So, some final thoughts.

Without booting up Uncharted 2 for comparison, I actually feel like UC3’s gameplay mechanics were actually a bit jankier this time out. Part of that comes from the richness of the animation; it can make small movements more challenging than they should be. You know the drill: you have to climb a ladder but every time you move the analog stick you walk past it since the smallest step Drake will take is a bit too far.

This was’t as big a deal as it might have been for a few reasons. First is that Drake generally saves himself. If you nudge the controller and walk off a ledge, he’ll grab on. You have to actually jump off a ledge to fall. And even if you do that, UC3 is filled with invisible checkpoints and respawns are super fast so you can just try again.

Also, the benefits outweigh the drawbacks for me. I love how cool Drake looks when he’s running through narrow passageways, bouncing off walls and stuff.

Honestly I play Uncharted for the narrative and the spectacle, not for precise controls or state-of-the-art shooter technology. Enemies are still bullet sponges (unless you go for the head shots) but ammo is plentiful. Some of the fancy stuff (eg grabbing a live grenade and throwing it back at the enemies) doesn’t always work that well. Drake was constantly hitting a wall with those live grenades and blowing himself up. I quickly learned that it was better just to dive for cover.

I really wish I’d never watched any of the preview coverage of the game, since a few of the best ‘set piece’ moments were totally spoiled by those. [SPOILER already spoiled by preview trailers] As soon as I got on to that big cruise ship I knew I was going to end up in the hold with the ship sinking, for instance.[/SPOILER]

That said, the sense of chaos and bat-shit craziness is amazing. Naughty Dog loves putting you on moving terrain. That’s all I’ll say about that. My jaw was hanging open an awful lot.

I generally play games on Easy these days, but I played Uncharted 3 on Normal and it was still really easy. That’s not a complaint, just an observation. I was glad I didn’t get too hung up since, again, I was playing for the narrative and wanted to keep things moving along. Frustration, for me, can ruin the pacing so easily.

I love these characters and I find that to be a particularly rare feeling in games. I know a lot of folks who love the characters in Mass Effect and Dragon Age but none of those ever resonated with me like Drake, Sully and Elena do. They’re like family! Chloe is back too, and she’s brought a friend.

One really curious choice is that Naughty Dog jumped ahead a few years (at least) between UC2 and UC3 and, well, stuff happened. Stuff that is referred to somewhat obliquely and never expanded upon. I want to know more! In a perfect world we’d get some awesome single player DLC mini-episodes that bridge the gap between UC2 and UC3.

I just adore this series. If I hadn’t already pre-ordered a Playstation Vita, I’d be pre-ordering one today just so I could play the Uncharted game it’s getting. When I finished my first play-through of UC3 last night, I sat through all the credits and then jumped into watching the featurettes included on the disk. Then my cursor hovered over the “Another round” campaign option.

But no, I need to clear my plate for Skyrim this Friday.

Please Naughty Dog: Put my fears to rest and announced Uncharted 4 already. I’ll carve out time in my 2013 fall schedule for you!

Lovin’ on games

Been a while, eh? I have to admit that Google+ has been my ‘blogging’ platform lately, but I had a hankering to get back to something a bit more structured. We’ll see how long that lasts. Anyway, here goes…

I’ve been playing electronic games since there’ve been electronic games to play, pretty much. OK I wasn’t in the MIT lab playing Space War! on a PDP-1 when it was invented, but I lived through the transition from mechanical pinball tables to Pong and from there on out, I was a “Gamer.”

We gamers can be a snarky bunch, and we love to argue and debate and proselytize almost as much as we like to play. In fact sometimes I start to get the feeling that actually playing the games comes second to talking about them.

Then every so often the stars align and I’m 12 years old again and staring at a TV screen that is somehow also a game, and a feeling of joy suffuses my spirit.

I’d lost track of the release date of Uncharted 3 so I was a little surprised when the UPS dude dropped it off (along with a cookie for Lola) yesterday. I wasn’t even that excited when I slid the disk into the PS3 later that night. Even though I’d really enjoyed (and finished — a rare event for me) the first two games, somehow the hype for #3 hadn’t really touched me.

And then I launched the game, and the Uncharted theme started to play and a few seconds later Drake and Sully were walking down a London Street, dressed to the nines, and I was hooked.

This blog post isn’t a review and I’m not trying to convince you that you should play Uncharted 3. There are plenty of reviews out there that you can read and decide for yourself. I’m just trying to remind you of what it’s like to truly love a game, warts and all. When’s the last time you felt that way? For me it’d been a little while. Maybe since Red Dead Redemption.

Uncharted, for me, is about story and chemistry. The actual gameplay isn’t all that special and in parts can actually be kind of clunky. But I am genuinely fond of the characters and I love how much work Naughty Dog puts into ‘throwaway’ actions in cut scenes. A tiny example… as the crew sits around a table trying to unravel a puzzle, Chloe (voiced by Claudia Black) throws out a possible answer. Drake (Nolan North) seizes on it as a good lead and the focus of the scene moves to him. But in the background we see Chloe fist-bumping with Charlie Cutter (Graham McTavish), her new beau and a new member of the team. A trivial action? Absolutely, but that’s kind of the point. It’s tiny details like this that make the experience transcend “video game cut scene” and become “interactive movie.”

If you hate interactive movies, that’s OK. There’re lots of games to play besides Uncharted 3.

In a way, I think the Uncharted series is the West’s answer to Final Fantasy. I play both series to get to the next chunk of story, and the stories in Uncharted are good enough to pull me through to the end of the game. That isn’t always true with Final Fantasy: as a Western series, Uncharted’s stories are much less obtuse than they are in a typical iteration of Final Fantasy, too. That helps keep me involved.

Before yesterday I’d been sitting on my hands, squirming in anticipation for Skyrim to release, but now I can’t wait for the work day to end so I can jump back into Uncharted 3. I can’t wait to see what happens next, and I can’t wait to see how Elena (Emily Rose) is going to factor into this episode’s adventure. I love these characters the same way I love Gandalf or Malcolm Reynolds. The fact that they appear in a video game is almost beside the point. Journeying through their adventures with them makes me happy. And making me happy is what games are (generally) supposed to do. [Qualifier to allow for the few ‘message’ games that are out there.]