Sunday, 17 June 2012

Game On: The Uncharted Franchise

When I first got back into playing video games, I didn't bother with anything outside of first person shooters (Doom 3, Half-Life 2, Bioshock) but a friend of mine picked up Uncharted: Drake's Fortune for the PS3 and we both became obsessed with it. The amazing graphics, the humor, the action sequences, the terrific voice acting and characters, the engaging storyline. It had everything. It was a third-person shooter though, and as I was new to this new generation of video games (the last game console I owned was the Atari) I originally just watched my friend play it and just sat back and watched, marveling at the movie-like style of the game. As you discover while playing the game, the gamer plays the character of Nathan (Nate) Drake and must search for clues to the fate of his ancestor, Sir Francis Drake, and stumble upon pirates, treasure and a deadly curse along the way.

A few months later I bought my own PS3 and not long after bought Drake's Fortune to play for myself. It was a lot more fun than I thought it would be, though the bad guys were insanely tough (they would take a few shots to the head and still keep coming) and I hard time at first timing jumps right when scaling the castle or escaping the collapsing pillars. Stuff like that. However, I loved getting trophies for the game as it gave me an extra challenge and at the time my friend and I were in an ongoing competition to see who could get the most PS3 trophies.

When Uncharted 2: Among Thieves was announced, I couldn't wait to play it. The trailers made it look awesome and every review I read or watched on Youtube raved about the game. Admittedly, I found it a little disappointing at first. Partly I think because of all the hype that had been built up around it, but there were things that bothered me about the game (and still do). I didn't like having to climb up the train in the first chapter only to have to do it again later on. I didn't like the seemingly never-ending cut-scenes at the beginning of the game. I didn't like fighting the guy on the train who seemed to be practically invincible or the boss battle at the end where you basically had to run around in circles shooting at stuff. That said, there are things I love about the game. Especially the gun battles in the city and on the train. The graphics, humor, and characters were still all top notch as well and the story (aside from the early cut-scenes) was fantastic. Drake starts out searching for the missing fleet of Marco Polo but ends up in a deadly quest to find the Cintamani Stone which grants immortality (though at a cost). As the title "Among Thieves" suggests, some of the allies Nate makes along the way turn out to be less than trustworthy adding an extra element of danger to the story. There is also a bit of focus on Nate's love life (past and present) with two women vying for his affections, or perhaps more accurately, reminding him of his failures as romantic interest for them. There is also some cool multi-player built into the Uncharted franchise here for the first time.

With Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception I tried to keep my expectations low. It wasn't that I didn't enjoy Uncharted 2, it was that it wasn't as mind-blowing for me as I had anticipated. Uncharted 3 again has the same amazing graphics and some of the humor of the previous games. This time, however, the game focused on Nate and his mentor Victor (Sully) Sullivan and their search for "The Atlantis of the Sands", even giving us a couple of chapters of flashbacks to when they originally met. I found this much more effective than the flashback cut-scenes in Uncharted 2 because you were actually able to play through these chapters as Nate, rather than just sit and watch. Where the game lost me a bit though was around the middle chapters, with Nate chasing after some modern day pirates in an attempt to rescue Sully. There are about 5 chapters here where you're on a wild goose chase which eventually dead ends and has almost no impact on the rest of the game or the story, though it is fun to play as you get into gun fights while in the water or on boats. Also, there is an a lot more focus on hand-to-hand combat in this game than I really like, as if the developers (Naughty Dog) spent too much time playing Batman: Arkham Asylum and wanted to add in more fist fights to their own game as a result. I also wasn't a fan of the hallucinations that Drake keeps experiencing in later chapters, which again reminded me of the Arkham Asylum game and Batman's battles with Scarecrow. Once again, I enjoyed the game, but not as much as the original. Uncharted 3 also has multi-player, though I admit I play these games more for the single player campaigns/stories than the online content.

The latest installment in the franchise is Uncharted: Golden Abyss, exclusive to the PS Vita. This is actually a prequel to the previous games. Nate and Sully are here, but Elena and Chloe (the love interests from the first three games) are replaced by a woman named Chase, and Drake sets out to find clues to the Seven Cities of Gold. As you would expect, the game play here is quite a bit different given the Vita's touchscreen abilities. There are still gun battles, but hand-to-hand combat has changed in that you have to tap the screen to hit someone. There are also charcoal rubbings which you can complete by rubbing the Vita's screen, objects to cut with your machete, and the treasures you would normally find in an Uncharted game can be picked up by tapping them on your screen. The story takes a lot of different turns, none of which are very memorable. Chase as a character isn't as likable as Elena or even Chloe, though Sully turns up in the later chapters to help bring some humor in to the game. Overall, it is a different experience from the PS3 games, and while I did enjoy the new aspects of touchscreen game play for the most part the hand-to-hand boss battles at the end dragged on far too long.

I realize this all seems incredibly critical. It sounds (even as I type this) that I'm being incredibly harsh on the games and their (to me) flaws. However, this is one of my favorite franchises out there, and I feel the need to point out the bad as well as the good. You can't overlook the blockbuster movie-type storytelling and cinematics that the Uncharted franchise pulls off. The characters are more real in terms of voice work, emotion and depth than the ones you would find in any other franchise (with the exception of the original Bioshock) and as I've said above a few times, the graphics are amazing. Add to this treasure hunting, fun gun battles and playing for trophies and each of these games has quite a bit of replay value. If nothing else draws you back to the Uncharted games more than once, the characters of Drake, Sully and Elena are entertaining enough on their own to keep bringing you back.

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