Wednesday, October 21, 2009

FEATURE - five things wrong with Uncharted 2.

Ya'll know me - I play my games on a PS3, and I'm rather partial to it. I'll also tell you without a moment's reservation that Uncharted 2 is the best game of the year (so far), and while many publications - 28, by my count - have granted it a perfect score, it's not a perfect game. It's got flaws. Significant flaws, some might say. Let's talk problems. But let's not talk if you haven't beaten the story mode yet.


Still with me? Good! I'm proceeding in No Particular Order here, but let's start off with one aspect of Uncharted 2 that I disapproved of long before I got my hands on the game (and was proven right about):

#1: Chloe.

Uncharted and its sequel put unprecedented emphasis on a character-driven plot. More than that, Uncharted was almost wholly unique in how much of an everyman Drake (and Elena and Sully) is (are). For the most part, the sequel follows suit. Flynn seems like a normal enough guy, Tenzin's cool and I even buy that a fellow like Lazarević exists, somewhere out there in the world. But Chloe?

Chloe is... too easy a solution to the problem of presenting Drake with a love triangle. She is The Bad Girl, the wholly-conscious-of-her-own-sexuality-and-works-it girl. Don't get me wrong - I've met this girl, I've known girls like Chloe (minus the sexy accent) - women who walk the razor's edge, consciously acknowledge themselves as "bad" and have a great time with it, but at no point in Uncharted does she feel as real as any of the other characters.

She always feels like she was only put there to blatantly sex up the franchise, to make quips about how great her butt looks, to be The Bad Girl for Drake to play off (his more-noble nature is put under a spotlight when placed next to her purely selfish ambitions).

In terms of plot it works fine, but in terms of buying into the experience, Chloe stands out like a sore thumb of forced characterization. Unlike every other character in the game, I never believe Chloe - she doesn't feel like a person, she feels like a set piece. A bullet point to be checked off on a features list, and shoehorned into the narrative.

Casting a sexy, bad girl opposite Drake wasn't necessarily the wrong decision, but they needed to be much, much more subtle with it. There are times when such subtlety occurs ("That was chivalrous, huh?" "It's not dead, you just have to ask for it."), and if that had been the rule instead of the exception Chloe could have worked out great - unfortunately when all is said and done, she just feels forced.

#2: It's only dangerous if it happens in a cutscene.

Speaking of Drake's leading ladies, remember the whole last third of the game where Elena is by your side as you storm the monastery and finally enter Shambhala? I don't know about you, but that girl took about three hundred grenades to the face and shrugged it right off. Of course, when Flynn pulls out a grenade during a cutscene? Well shit, now she's in trouble.

Just like Drake getting shot on the train (Flynn was busy, wasn't he?), it doesn't begin to ring true because we've seen the character get shot about a bazillion times. The whole train sequence I was expecting Drake to somehow get impaled on the Phurba dagger - that would have made sense! Why?

Because it's only buyable in a cutscene if it's (a) a weapon that hasn't appeared (or been used) yet in-game or (b) a one-time-only type of injury/accident. See: God of War and its sequel. Kratos gets impaled on a giant column thrown by Ares, or impaled (again) with the Blade of Olympus. It works because these aren't the same weapons your hero has been successfully negotiating throughout the game - they are special - subconsciously, we understand how they have managed to breach his defenses and mortally wound him. The same doesn't apply in Uncharted 2.

Bullets don't seriously injure Drake - they only make him see black and white for a few seconds.

#3: Ancient mythological relics of untold power only have one general type of power.

And that is to turn people into kinda-human-but-not-really monsters. This was acceptable in Uncharted: Drake's Fortune because, really, it served the exact same purpose it does in Uncharted 2 (and likely will in Uncharted 3). The same purpose such items gave Indiana Jones - it gives Drake a reason to push on against impossible odds, shed his selfish ambitions and selflessly attempt to save the world from this unholy power. Classic reluctant hero motivation - great.

The only reason it's not acceptable in Uncharted 2 is because they pulled the exact same shit in the original. Not even sort of the same - it's exactly the same. I swear, if Uncharted 3 has Drake searching for the Holy Grail but it turns out the Grail transforms guys who drink from it into Unholy Water Vampires I will be tres disappointed.

The reason the same mechanic has been used twice is because Naughty Dog endeavors to place its characters in a believable word with extraordinary events that are - arguably - possible. There could be a crazy dust/drink that drives men insane and sort of mutates them into feral/tribal creatures of nightmare. That's not as crazy as a box of dust that melts faces when opened, or a cup that heals the sick - but it's pretty damned close.

Honestly, Naughty Dog - we won't have a problem with it if next time you go full-out supernatural. It's cool - just don't do the Magic Mutation Mixture thing again.

#4: Gloves (and the lack thereof).

This is the smallest, most nit-picky of my problems with Uncharted 2, and it's likely only a problem because I live in a part of a world where we have Winter. Going on averages, you're likely reading this from California, Texas or Florida - where snow isn't much of an issue.

But let me tell you this, my seasonless associates: there's no way in hell anyone could go crawling over snow-and-ice encrusted structures for more than ten minutes without a good pair of gloves! I can accept that Drake is able to take countless bullets to the chest and survive. I can accept that, with two hands placed within inches of each other, he can repeatedly, perfectly propel himself six feet up a sheer cliff, but negotiating the the ice cavern and monestary levels without mittens? Impossible!

#5: I've danced this dance before.

I don't really want to include this one, as it doesn't actually bother me in the least - but it might bother you, so let's address it.

A common complaint from some major sites is that Uncharted 2 does nothing new if you discount the production values. That's all totally true. Cover-based shooting hasn't been new since the turn of the century, platforming has been around since before the NES and stealth gameplay reared its head in the mid-80s - but for me a lack of original gameplay mechanics don't begin to detract from the experience Uncharted 2 offers.

Sure it's all been done before, but when I'm leaping from an ancient ruin, flying through the air as Drake reaches backwards to fire an AK-47 one-handed to explosively ignite the glowing blue sap of the Tree of Life as a roaring, newly meta-human war criminal tears after me in a murderous rage, I totally don't care.

1 comment:

  1. I totally agree with the plot thing. I want them to do something fucking crazy with Uncharted 3. Sometimes this felt like the second-half of the first game.