Some gamers — I’ll call them “nitwits” — think that reviews should be unbiased. Nitwits usually say this after someone criticizes a game that they (want to) love. For example, when A.V. Club gave Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception a C grade, nitwits who hadn’t actually played the game whined about the writer’s bias. They also blasted the website for “not letting a fan of the series review the game”, which shows how illogical and self-unaware the nitwits really are.
I enjoyed Uncharted 2. Among Thieves was a fun romp with nice shooting scenes and clever writing. Therefore, I am biased. If you’re a bias-shunning nitwit, then this review (and my entire website) is not for you. Good luck finding a review written by someone who has no preconceived notions regarding the Uncharted series or videogames in general. If you do find such a review, it will be dumb and misleading because it’s not written by an expert.
Our second group, the “fools”, consider themselves enlightened. The fools understand that nitwits are stupid for even suggesting that a review could be unbiased. The fools accept personal opinion; they just believe that reviewers should focus on objective game quality when determining the score. Oddly enough, this only seems to come up when a reviewer criticizes a game that the fools (want to) love. For example, when Tom Chick gave Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception a 4 out of 10, fools ranted about how he performed a disservice to gamers by not rating based on “quality”.
Foolish Words: “A reviewer’s score is supposed to reflect the quality of a game, not whether an individual enjoyed it.”
Foolish words: “Provide facts only: this is what the game does well, and this is what the game doesn’t do well. Personal opinions shouldn’t enter into a score.”
Based on extensive internet research (i.e., reading message boards and blog posts), fools generally consider “quality” to be a synonym for “good graphics”. They certainly don’t consider complexity or deep interaction to be signs of quality, since Uncharted 3 lacks both of those things. So even though Tom cited an awful lot of examples to explain why this story-based videogame’s storyline sucked, his review was flawed because he didn’t score the game based on its objective quality (i.e., graphics). Or so the fools say.
Objectively speaking, Uncharted 3 displays fewer parallax layers than Ranger-X.
Objectively speaking, Uncharted 3 features fewer simultaneous onscreen characters than Gunstar Heroes.
Is that useful information? No. But it’s objective!
I actually saw one fool claim that a hobo’s opinion is no different than an expert’s opinion. Obviously, the words of nitwits and fools cannot be trusted. Our third group — I’ll call them “humans” — realize that it takes far more critical thought and experience to develop support for an opinion than it takes to point out objective facts. A strong opinion relies on a strong understanding of games. A reviewer’s job is to wield that strength with clarity and precision, so that readers may decide for themselves if they would reach the same conclusion. A reviewer’s job is not to agree with or represent the masses.
Nothing that I’ve written above should surprise you. The reason I felt the need to go into such things is because a couple dozen websites already gave Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception a perfect score. Another three dozen beyond that awarded the game a near-perfect score. This is unfortunate because Uncharted 3 is a bad game. Of course, those five dozen websites are wrong and I am right (as everyone will understand in five years). My guess is that those sites are pandering to nitwits and fools, since that’s the audience who labels any piece of software with an exorbitant cutscene budget as a “AAA” title. And after the success of Uncharted 2, how could the sequel be anything less than stellar? Back in the ’80s, people also expected The Search for Spock to be awesome.
Uncharted 3 starts off well enough. After the tutorial barfight, two flashback levels show us how Nathan Drake — then a street urchin — met his long-time friend Sully. The majority of these two chapters involved walking, and walking, and some walking, followed by a bit of climbing. At this point in my Uncharted 3 experience, I hadn’t yet tired of staring at elaborate setpieces while . . . walking. This section concludes with a frantic chase across the rooftops as young Nathan escapes with his stolen treasure from a mobster organization. The chase scene is so expertly scripted that it gives the illusion of control while maintaining tension, even though you really can’t do anything except run and jump along a pre-defined path.
So, really, one of Uncharted 3′s most exciting scenes is a glorified Canabalt.
If you should happen to get caught or die during this chase scene, you’ll discover that Uncharted 3 contains a ton of checkpoints. Checkpoints are triggered not only between scenes, but often multiple times during a single action scene. You can kill five foes in the first part of an Arabian town firefight and trigger a checkpoint, so that if you foolishly dash into the middle of gunfire and get riddled with bullets, you’ll lose at most two or three minutes of progress. This kills the game’s pacing. You won’t ever feel the full impact of a prolonged firefight unless you play the game to perfection the first time through.
This is gaming for babies. Without any punishment for failure, there’s little incentive to master the game’s mechanics.
Between gunfights, Uncharted 3 — like its predecessors — makes Nathan climb around. I might have a poor memory, but I don’t recall the climbing sequences being so linear in the past. I recall a scene from the very first Uncharted, set amidst jungle ruins, where gamers had to survey the scenery and figure out the best way to climb from pillar to pillar to reach the goal. In Uncharted 3, there is only one clear path to the goal . . . and your partner quickly shouts “MAYBE WE CAN GET OUT THROUGH THAT WINDOW” before you’ve even had a chance to notice that there’s an open window. This, too, is gaming for babies . . . a far cry from when Ninja Gaiden II advertised “HARD TO BEAT!!” on the front cover.
Much of my Uncharted 3 experience wasn’t spent shooting or climbing. Several stages just involve walking. The worst of these is the desert level. The desert level’s there because Naughty Dog hates us. It’s kind of like Metal Gear Solid 3′s random ladder climb, except without the 120% awesome heroic music. The idea behind this stage is that Nathan is lost in the desert, so you just move the left stick to wander aimlessly. This aimless wandering is interrupted by sporadic cutscenes showing how thirsty Nathan is.
I’m sure the intent was to make us feel Nathan Drake’s plight. Drake spends the whole level searching for water and never finds any — but then, in the following level, Drake manages to fight off an entire city full of gun-toting goons. Some of the goons even have rocket launchers. After spending an entire level showing us that Nathan’s dying of thirst, the dude is rolling around and leaping over walls and bare-knuckle brawling in the next stage.
It’s stupid to waste a gamer’s time on a boring level in the first place (just hold “up” and you’ll “beat” the desert level), but it’s even worse to waste our time by establishing a storyline point that’s ABANDONED IN THE NEXT LEVEL.
There’s also a hallucination level that’s the same concept: push up, with an occasional left or right, to win. In an effort to distinguish this level from all the rest, Naughty Dog made everything look blurry. Here’s the thing: if I’m going to play a Dragon’s Lair clone, then I’d rather play Road Avenger or Time Gal on the Sega CD. Running over Mad Max street punks and fighting Roman gladiators was awesome. And you could actually lose.
Nathan Drake never actually fights the main villain — a villain who has haunted Drake for twenty years — and at the end of the game, all the heroes and heroines wind up pretty much where they started. There’s an end-game twist that could have been awesomely devastating, but the resolution brings back bad Dallas memories. Uncharted moved the story forward. Uncharted 2 moved the story forward. Uncharted 3 plays out like a random Star Trek episode where nothing permanent is allowed to happen; the writers could have alien wizards turn the Enterprise into a watermelon, just as long as it’s back to normal when the episode ends. In other words, Drake’s Deception isn’t a compelling story. For a game that prioritizes storyline above game mechanics, that’s fatal.
Somehow, in the midst of all this pointlessness, Uncharted 3 briefly manages to be awesome. There’s a set of four blatant filler stages where Nathan Drake is captured by pirates. His daring escape involves a series of tense gunfights and an imaginative climbing sequence that truly follows in Uncharted 2′s footsteps.
If only the game didn’t have those 18 other levels.