Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Uncharted: There is a gun in my adventure soup...

Time for another little PS3 review: Uncharted: Drakes Fortune. A game that tries to be a mix of Tomb Raider with Gears of War shooting mechanics. Nothing wrong with it, since after all shooting was never Tomb Raiders strong point and Gears is pretty good at it. So what could go wrong...

The core problem of Uncharted is that it is way more shooter then adventure game. It not only has those shooter sequences like Tomb Raider, but it has pretty much bad guys all over the place. If there are platforms to jump on, you can expect bad guys before that and after that and often even in between. I don't mind shooting by itself, but Uncharted really overdoes it a lot. You are never free to just explore something, you always have to shoot your way through a horde of bad guys. And even more annoying the shooting isn't even very good. It never feels like your shooting actually accomplishes anything, its just something that slows you down. You shoot people because they are there, not because you have a good reason for doing so. The shooting is also plagued by a constant rarity of ammunition. If you can only carry 100 bullets, but have to fight 20 guys in a row, each requiring 5 bullets at least, things easily can get messy and you stand there empty handed. You can of course pick up new ammunition that the enemies drop, but that isn't easy when being under constant fire and the enemies also have the tendency to die far away from you. So for most part you can only try to head shot people and hope for the best. The game also features some hand to hand melee combat, but that feels utterly useless, since when you fight a horde of bad guys, you just don't have the time to go melee when everybody is shooting at you. Another little annoyance is that the enemies don't seem to be overly clever, once alerted they will instantly start shooting, even if you are still two rooms away with no line of sight. Just feels weird hearing all those gun shots when there is nobody around they could be shooting at. The enemies also have the annoying tendency to approach from all sides at once, so you often end up right in the middle with no clear way to go into cover, which means you basically have to simply learn where the enemies respawn by try&error. And speaking about try&error, quite often the reset points feel a little far away from each other. Its never 'game breaking' issue, but certainly an annoyance to have to fight through the same guys again and again. Since most of the fights are also pretty much the same thing over and over again, you get a lot of repetition in the shooting. Its just not very fun.

Now the other part of the game is adventuring and puzzle solving, but that sadly is a very very tiny part, close to non existent actually, since there are like two classical puzzles in the whole game. The game does allow you to look into Drakes diary, which by itself that sounds like cool little thing, however it only works in a tiny few selected areas and you can only view the page that is relevant to the current puzzle, so just browsing in the diary doesn't work, which is very disappointing and makes the whole feature look way to restricted. The whole jumping also doesn't have much puzzles in them, unlike Tomb Raider your path is for most part extremely clear, since there really is only one way to go. So instead of trying to figure out how to get from one point to the other, you just follow the predefined path, no thinking needed. Sometimes this even gets borderline ridiculous, since there have been more then one case where I actually grabbed a vine without even realizing it was there. Not only demonstrates this that the graphics aren't also that easy to make out as they should be, it also shows how linear this game really is. The jumping also has the problem of being pretty boring. In Tomb Raider: Legend you have quite a bit dynamic in it, Lara might miss to properly grab a ledge, requiring player interaction, the player might tap a button to speed her up when climbing a ladder and small things like that. In Uncharted you have none of that, which steels the game of a lot of the elegance and fun that Tomb Raider: Legend had.

Another little annoyance is that the game doesn't really do much with the other characters. You quite often are running around with another character on your side, but beside giving you a little extra firepower, they don't really do much for you or you for them. Ico and Prince of Persia:SoT showed a lot of nice things that can be done with a second character, but Uncharted leaves that area pretty much untouched.

One good part of the game was the story, while relatively cliche and predictable, it simply was fun to watch and well executed. Nothing that nocks you of your socks, but a pleasant surprise compared to all the other game elements. The final boss fight was also kind of nifty, since it was more old school 'figure-out-the-pattern' then just plain shooting action.

Overall the game however was quite a disappointment. Way to much mediocre shooting and close to none puzzling. Giving that the story and the overall setting would have had plenty of room for puzzles and adventuring there was just way to little actually in the game. And as a shooter, the game just fails as well, because the shooting just isn't fun. The story saves the game from being a complete disappointment, but the gameplay was a lot more lackluster then I would have expected from such a high profile title. The game also happens to be very short, so that you can easily finish it in a day.

Some other random annoyances in the game: Quick time events are used extremely seldom, making it near impossible to react to them on the first try. Motion controls are there, but rather terrible, aiming the grenades feels very weird, since you only control the angle with motion, not the direction, that is done via the analogstick. Its also used to shake of some enemies in the game, which however is way to hard, since its very tricky to actually shake the controller in time, when you are resting your arms. Balancing via motion controller seems to be ok, but its so rarely used, that its hard to tell if it actually worked properly.

Another little random positive thing: The game features quite a ton of artwork and photos as bonus, nothing fundamentally new in gaming, but quite extensively done here, nice way to fill up the space that a BluRay disc offers. The game also allows you to select between a ton of languages, with audio and subtiles independently, which is a very nice thing to.

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