Tag Archives: Uncharted

Best of 2016

Better late than never!

I found last year about as good for games as it was reasonable political discourse and beloved celebrities. Hell, my annual top tens, shortened to top fives in recent years, now find themselves shortened to a three-game single-post list – and still there weren’t many notable leftovers. These were basically the only ones that gave me the butterflies that a true GOTY contender should bring.

I enjoyed Fire Emblem Fates but disliked its split across three games; the long-awaited The Last Guardian came close but fell short due to technical issues that were somehow worse than its 2005 predecessor, Shadow of the Colossus, making it my least favourite of the series; Pokémon Go was among my most-played games but I don’t think there’s enough actual game there for me to put it up there with these three; Battlefield 1 was reliably fun and surprisingly polished for a DICE game at launch, but couldn’t hold my interest for long. I liked Project X Zone 2 as well, but I can’t ignore the fact that its main hook for me was the presence of Ryo Hazuki.

With most of my gaming time spent on retro these days, I had worried that my declining interest might have been terminal. But my document listing potential GOTY nominees for 2017 is already longer than the below, and Red Dead Redemption 2 is coming, so maybe it was just a crap year.

3) Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End

The most technically impressive reason to own a PS3 continues the pattern on the PS4. Uncharted 4 is stunningly beautiful, as I’m sure you’re aware – probably the closest we’ve come to a playable CG movie, so polished in its performances, cinematics and attention to detail that it makes everything else look amateurish. Frankly the visuals would have been enough to drag me through it, but it’s one of the strongest adventures in the series, and deserves credit for being the only mainline Uncharted game not to shit the bed with annoying supernatural enemies in the final act.

That said, I’ll be disappointed if we get Uncharted 5. ND’s done well to wring another top release out of this series and I’d like to see it turn those remarkable skills to something new.

2) The Witcher 3: Blood and Wine

Yes, one third of my already-truncated list is an expansion. I said it was a bad year.

Blood and Wine, though, is the first expansion in a long time – maybe since the GTA IV episodes – that’s an actual expansion. Not a handful of missions wrapped up in poor-value DLC. It’s new environments – on a similar scale to the already vast original and arguably the most beautiful locale yet – hosting a new scenario, new gameplay styles, new characters, an almost entirely new story.

It’s also probably the best part of the game. It was fun to take part in a smaller adventure, where you’re not fighting for the fate of the universe, that doesn’t use narrowing the focus as an excuse to skimp on the production values.

CD Projekt Red has fast become one of my favourite developers; one that – like Naughty Dog above – commands my full attention simply by announcing a new game. Only this is done without the financial and technical powers of a first-party publisher behind it. Is it simply lower costs of doing business in Eastern Europe, or an unexpectedly vast bounty coming from the admittedly brilliant Good Old Games? Who cares as long as Cyberpunk 2077 can come close to this?

1) Doom

I could probably have guessed at the beginning of 2016 that new releases from Naughty Dog and CD Projekt would be there or thereabouts when I was compiling my favourites of the year, but a new Doom? No way. I don’t think id’s games have been hugely relevant since Doom 3 got overshadowed by Half-Life 2, and the multiplayer and E3 demos didn’t instil confidence.

What I got, though, was a shockingly fun old-school shooter that revelled in its status as a game, and a Doom game at that. It has the visual design of the classroom doodles of a 14-year-old angsty teenager – but that’s a good thing. It’s about speed, responsiveness and blasting demons without only token gestures towards providing depth and a storyline for motivation – but that’s a good thing too. The soundtrack is awesome, no caveats required. The whole thing pressed the buttons I’ve been trying to touch with a recent retro fixation, reminding me why I grew up loving games above any other medium.

It’s brilliant, pure and simple. The excellent Wolfenstein: The New Order – based on an id property but not developed by the studio – reminded us to pay attention, but it was only the herald for the true return of id Software.

Best of 2011 #8: Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception

In what was a quiet year for me, my ambivalence towards Uncharted 3 was one of the few things that got me on my soapbox. In that case, its inclusion in this list is either, like Gears 3, emblematic of the strength of the series, or possibly an indication that, outside of an obscenely packed tail end, the year wasn’t all that great for gaming. While there’s some truth in both answers, and I stand by my assertion that it’s an overrated game, there was enough to enjoy in Uncharted 3 to say that it’s mostly the former.

The fact that I found it disappointing is less a criticism of this game and more unmitigated praise for Uncharted 2, which still is peerless as a piece of cinematic action; if this had topped it, it would have been far more surprising. My complaints aside, it was just as much of an achievement for in-game characterisation and blending gameplay and cinema – even if the ratios were occasionally somewhat off, you had to admire it technically during sequences like the plane crash and its seamless transition to the similarly brave desert sequence – as it was a great action game… when it worked. It didn’t quite reach the astronomical highs of either of its predecessors, but it’s still fresh enough and done with such panache that it makes the lack of creativity in most action games all the more obvious.

What Uncharted 3 has left me with more than anything is anticipation for Naughty Dog’s recently announced new project, The Last of Us. I never much cared for ND’s games until this series, but talk of resources being diverted from Uncharted to the new game has me very, very excited.

Uncharted 3 is Way Overrated

This is an industry with a media that seems built on hyperbole, and the embarrassment of riches that the last month has brought us has taken it to new heights. Arkham City was one example, even inspiring some hacks to further undermine review scores with hyperbolic trash like this, but I found it hard to get too riled up when the game turned out to actually be bloody amazing.

When it came to Uncharted 3, though, I just don’t see it. Perhaps the urge to come out against it is a reaction to the utter insanity provoked within the community by some very reasonable criticism of an apparent sacred cow, or maybe I’m right, thanks to having the unusual ability to look beyond the phenomenally pretty graphics and be put off by PS2-era design issues that have no business being in such a supposedly polished, modern game.

Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception

Opinions, eh? Yeah, fair enough, but I’d love someone to argue in favour of Uncharted’s pathetic enemy AI. I thought that old trick of all enemies suddenly gaining omniscience as to your position as soon as one of them is alerted had died out around the time of Metal Gear Solid, but it apparently stowed away on the trip from the 90s when Naughty Dog was dragging Indiana Jones into the present. Otherwise quite competent stealth sequences take a nosedive if you’re spotted, as laser sights converge on your hiding place after someone caught a glimpse of you 20 feet from your current hiding place. Dive under water and swim away, climbing up on the far side of a boat where no one can see you should help, right? Nope. They all know where you’ve gone.

But, hey, if the fight descends into carnage you can always just shoot them. Oh, wait. The gunplay is shit too thanks to inconsistent aiming and enemies who seem to shrug off headshots before dying from a bullet to the arm. The janky aiming has been acknowledged by Naughty Dog and will supposedly be changed to something more like Uncharted 2 – I’ve never been a fan of the shooting in these games, mind – in a patch, but how does it even make it into the final game? What wasn’t great has been broken.

One other complaint is one that’s more endemic to the game, though. Uncharted 3 is extremely linear, and while that’s not necessarily a bad thing because I love a rollercoaster ride of a game as much as anyone, it does a terrible job of hiding the tracks along the way. It’s inconsistent in corralling you onto the right route, making what looks like a viable path – or evenslightly to the left or right of the one true path – result in a quick trip back to the last checkpoint. I’ve even had bits where an attempt to drop an entirely safe distance to the ground results in instant death, while scripted falls from much higher are taken in Drake’s stride. I’ve always treated Uncharted as a bit like the post-2003 Prince of Persia games, being great platformers once you get past the annoyance of substandard combat, but I felt like Uncharted 3 wasn’t nearly as solid in that respect as its predecessors.

My last complaint is a spoiler, so I’ll keep it brief and advise anyone who hasn’t finished the game to stop reading.

Besides the fact that fighting Ghost Rider is frustrating as hell when piled on top of the issues with the game’s combat, am I the only one who thought the game’s final act was Uncharted 2’s all over again? Swap the train ride for the admittedly awesome horseback chase; throw in another the lost city that’s somehow never been spotted from the air despite sitting in the middle of a perpetual sandstorm – an able substitute for Uncharted 2’s blizzards – full of annoying, apparently supernatural enemies; and then the escape by the skin of your teeth as it collapses around you with all of its treasures. Haven’t we been here before?

I didn’t hate Uncharted 3, as much as I might seem down on it; maybe it was inevitably going to disappoint after such staggering highs as Uncharted 2. I can’t escape the feeling that this was somewhat rushed, perhaps with Naughty Dog working on its new project, which, based on its existing pattern, will surely be Unkarted.

Best of 2009 #1: Uncharted 2: Among Thieves

It had to be, didn’t it?

It’s not often that a game is this clearly my game of the year, and it’s usually not this obvious as soon as I play it, but Uncharted 2 is just so far ahead of everything else that any attempt to be controversial and give the nod to something else becomes impossible. Obviously there’s the visuals, which are simply staggering, but then there’s the seemingly never-ending list of the voice acting, the performances, the animation, the much-improved gunplay, the massive scale, the set pieces…

Naughty Dog moved the goalposts, showing how to make a game cinematic without trying to be a film. People who think that Metal Gear Solid 4 did that need to take a long look at this, because Uncharted 2 tells a story and renders some truly epic action scenes while letting you, you know, play them.

Take something like the train sequence, the helicopter attack in Nepal, the tank attack, the Pursuit Force-style truck chase – you get the idea – and it would fit in as a finale or banner set piece in any other game, but Uncharted 2 has almost one per level, and it still finds time to slow things down for the walk through a Tibetan village or fairly straightforward puzzle sequence. Lessons had clearly been learnt from the original’s shortcomings because this one neatly sidesteps most of them. The tightened-up shooting and lack of zombies is enough to more or less wipe out my complaints.

Uncharted 2 was absolutely incredible and a huge step beyond what any other company did this year. Bow down to Naughty Dog, because the ball’s firmly back in everyone else’s court. Good luck with that.

Uncharted 2: Wow…

Uncharted 2 does a lot of impressive things, but what gets me more than anything is quite how old it makes something as beautiful as the original game. If you have both I encourage you to compare, say, the first game’s forest sequences to the sequel’s Borneo rainforest, and then bear in mind that this is just a short sequence, and within a few hours you’ll hit the mountains of Tibet, Istanbul, Kathmandu… and some that it would spoil it to tell about. Even in that short sequence it wipes the floor with the first game, let alone the competition, and still manages far more variety in its environments.

Uncharted 2

In short, I’ll be very surprised if we see many – or any, in fact – console games this generation that look better than this. The gloriously animated and acted cut-scenes are up to the standard of Heavenly Sword, and unlike that, this has a good story and a good game to back it up.

Aurally, as well, it’s a masterpiece. This is really the first game that I’ve bought since my new sound system that can output uncompressed PCM sound, and it’s done everything from shake the walls to making me think that a knock on the door from the rear speaker was real. Little things like rain, and big things like debris from explosions landing all around you just all sound crystal clear and so well defined. It manages subtlety and giving the sub a workout with equal aplomb.

Don’t think it’s also just an AV upgrade, though, because Naughty Dog’s done a fabulous job of tightening up the few rough edges that the first had, gameplay-wise. Uncharted fell victim to that early PS3 problem of having to somehow justify the Sixaxis’ motion control through superfluous and gimmicky use, from the annoying but fairly sensible use of it when balancing across logs, undermined somewhat by the baffling use of motion control to aim grenades, and both are thankfully excised here. Hand-to-hand combat is less of an uphill struggle, too, as I can actually now perform combos.

If I have a complaint, it’s that a lot of the environment is simply window-dressing and completely non-interactive, and as a result you can frequently find ledges and platforms that look climbable but actually aren’t. After a couple of hours, once you learn the game’s visual vocabulary, you can tell at a glance, but as it’s neither as obvious as, say, Mirror’s Edge’s red highlights – not saying that’s a bad thing, obviously – nor as organically clear as the best Prince of Persia games. It might have been a bit less subtle about the highlighting of interactive objects early on, as I’m not the only one who’s been overlooking things in the opening stages, and late on, in the mountains, there were more than a couple of moments where I fell a couple of feet to my death because that platform wasn’t meant to be jumped on.

But regardless, is this an early contender for game of the year? Certainly. I’m struggling to see anything that can come close at the moment.

Best of 2007 #5: Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune

Uncharted: Drake's Fortune

It’s taken far too long for the PS3 to get it’s first really top exclusive game, but now that it has one (no more “PS3 has no games lol” jokes, please) it’s a very good one. The Sony camp get vindication and the rest of us got to enjoy over a year of merciless mickey-taking. It all works out in the end.

Uncharted is unlike almost most next-gen games, in that it looks beautiful and also looks colourful. It has the much-vaunted “destroyed beauty” – it’s set in the ruins of an ancient city – yet the fallen masonry is bordered by golden sunlight, lush forests, and azure tropical oceans. Even when it gets dark, superb lighting and subtle use of mist and other effects means it can do it with the same aplomb as the games that do nothing but.

I hope that more games follow this lead. We need more to our games than brown and bloom lighting. And Drake is a likeable, positive character bolstered by a great script that never descends into action movie cliche. It’s an example of in-game storytelling from which others would do well to crib: characters aren’t lifted from any Steven Seagal movie, platforming and exploration is helped by sterling animation work to not rely on pixel-perfect positioning.

While it lets itself down somewhat in the final acts (not quite enough to undermine the hard work that went before, it should be said) and the game isn’t brimming with content for your £50, it’s an example of how quality can outshine quantity. An eight hour romp that is never less than thrilling is worth far more to me than a twenty hour opus with fifteen hours of filler. Essential.