Dry dialogue, boring gameplay and a generally lackluster main character let down beautiful graphics and an audacious storyline across the Uncharted series, writes Don Rowe.
I tried to like the Uncharted games. I really did. Night after night I plonked myself down on a beanbag, took up the controller and went in search of ancient treasure. More difficult to find than the city of El Dorado, however, was an enjoyable gaming experience.
Nathan Drake is a treasure hunter, drawn inevitably onwards in the quest for mystical riches like the lost flotilla of Marco Polo and the ‘Atlantis of the Sands.’ With a recurring cast of associates including journalist-turned-wife Elena Fisher and replacement-dad Sully, Drake faces down pirates, mercenaries and unscrupulous business partners across several continents and eras.
Don’t get me wrong, the production values are there. Even from the first Uncharted, remastered for the PS4, the graphics are superb. Set pieces like a rusting German submarine in the heart of the Amazon provide a beautiful, otherworldly backdrop. The lighting and set design is on point for the most part, and if the gameplay lived up to the quality of the locations, we’d be looking at a masterpiece.
But the thing is, Uncharted is only actually fun if you really like pushing the thumbstick in one direction and tapping jump occasionally.
There’s no real sense of urgency or consequence. Hanging from a train dangling over the edge of a mountain, I didn’t really care if Drake fell screaming to his death or clambered frantically to safety, his fingers worn down to bloody nubs. When – shock, horror – a girder Drake shimmied along would bend and swing wide, slamming the durable fella against the wall or something, it was more of an inconvenience than a fright. Of course he was going to survive a queued up event like that, so why bother?
At no stage was I frightened by the enemies. Predictable, generic bad dudes made combat a matter of popping the occasional slug in the dome of a faceless goon from behind yet another conveniently placed crate. The guns felt light and flimsy, like the AK-47 had been filled with BB pellets.
And the dialogue sucked. I’ve read a couple of reviews from the big dogs on the web and everyone is praising the Hollywood-esque scripting between the bland and boring characters across all three games. The thing is, Hollywood scripting is some real lowest-common-denominator shit, and in the Uncharted games they’re picking low-hanging fruit. Dry jokes, flavorless villain monologues and a general sense of ‘nobody talks like that’ pervaded the cutscenes.
At least on a theoretical level the plot is one of the series’ strong points. Chasing down the lost flotilla of Marco Polo is certainly an audacious goal, for example, but the execution is so lack luster. At one stage in Uncharted 2 my girlfriend looked up from her book and within a few seconds called a major plot twist about ten minutes before it happened.
One thing I can praise the series for, however, is the packaging. The collection arrived in a beautiful golden box with media assets on a golden bullet-shaped USB drive, sneakily hidden behind the game disk. The manual was stitched at the seam and imprinted with the shadow of old nautical maps and other adventurey stuff.
Opening it all up was the most exciting part of the game.
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