This post contains spoilers. So there.
Nathan Drake is a nearly perfect human being. He's multilingual, has a vast knowledge of historical explorers, he probably knows where every country, capital city and street is in each continent and he's not even 40 years old.
But wait — the list gets longer.
He's also an expert climber. If he were placed inside a 50-story, wet paper bag, he could climb out of it. He doesn't use ropes, harnesses or any other safety equipment. His fingers are vice grips.
Drake is proficient in hand-to-hand combat. He can punch, kick, dodge, counter and throw any opponent in any weight class that comes his way.
He knows parkour, so he can chase someone through any terrain, whether simple vaults or complex rooftop jumps are involved.
He has a sense of humor. He can make a joke in the gravest of situations, which shows he's an optimist with heart, charisma and attitude. He never gives up. These qualities allow him to charm more than one woman to his side and male partners to help him out no matter how dangerous the situation might be. His slender build and good looks certainly don't hurt in this department, either.
He has book smarts, despite not maxing out in formal education. He solves centuries-old puzzles internationally at the drop of a hat.
Last, but certainly not least, Drake is a master gunfighter. You can put any weapon in his hands and he'll aim it with excellent accuracy, reload it in a flash, climb with it in his hands and even shoot with precision while hanging from ledges.
Nathan Drake might be the perfect specimen.
But a great action game, does not a flawless hero make.
Uncharted 3 is a beautiful, cinematic game that plays like a 6-hour-long Indiana Jones movie. It features chase sequences, crumbling building escapes, vast landscapes, clever dialogue and enough shootouts to keep arms dealers in business for decades.
Uncharted 3 also features a story that fakes you out when you think it's going to run deep, disjointed gameplay segments, red herrings that make no sense by the game's end, numerous gunfights thrown in for the sake of gunplay, insta-kills and copied and pasted story segments that repeat over several chapters.
From the beginning, Uncharted 3 had a lot to live up to. After all, Uncharted 2 was a blazing success. It nabbed Game of the Year awards, reviewed superiorly and featured some of the best sequences in action game history. Uncharted 2 is the pinnacle of Naughty Dog's adventure career. Although it's not without its faults, it's something to be proud of.
After that, I'm sure Naughty Dog's team spent weeks in conference rooms, trying to craft the next story that would top 2's, with bigger, better action scenes, more chases, more gunfights, more high-stakes situations and more witty banter.
Exactly how could they top Uncharted 2 was the question. My answer is — they couldn't — without switching gameplay mechanics or imagining the gameplay in a different way.
Because the Uncharted series has high strengths, it makes its weaknesses much more apparent.
I would consider it to be one of the smarter series out there. In a lot of games, we let things slide and suspend our disbelief because, hey, it's a video game. Of course eating a sandwich will take you from 2 percent health to 100 percent. That's the way things work in this universe.
Uncharted 3, though only semi-based in realism, had a lot of game-y things that stuck out to me, but only because it’s a pretty smart series.
For instance, in multiple chapters, the game copies and pastes the exact same situations into them.
Enter new location
Climb to the destination
Solve a puzzle (or two)
Find the treasure you're looking for
Bad guys show up
Long gunfight with bad guys
Overarching boss shows up and takes the treasure you just found via a cutscene
Side character tells Drake the mission is too dangerous, but he doesn't step down
Repeat steps 1-9 in the next chapter
Only a select few chapters (most near the end) vary the recipe enough to really change anything. But the variations only include bigger escape sequences, longer chases or (mechanically unsound) escape sections where you have to run toward the camera.
Everything felt too repetitive and safe to keep me interested in playing.
I normally find pleasure in forwarding the stories in Uncharted games, but I found myself not interested in most of 3's. It starts out on a high note, but quickly devolves into varied, disjointed set-pieces, tangential chapters and long, pointless gunfights.
Story segments that I found interesting, such as Drake's childhood; how he met Sully; Marlowe (the diabolical villain this time around) and her history with Sully; and Drake's real past were never expanded upon after the game teased to them during a few chapters in the first half.
It was made painfully obvious that Nathan Drake isn't Nathan Drake's real name, and that his childhood was rather rough after his mom killed herself and his dad gave him up to an orphanage. These details are never fleshed out.
Also, I was under the impression that the reason why Drake is on this game's mission is because he wants to track down Sir Francis Drake's travels to pinpoint his own existence from Francis Drake's lineage. The whole thing is very close to home for Drake because whenever every side character annoyingly tells Drake to back off from the adventure when things get too dangerous, he is reluctant to. Something deep is driving him to finish the quest and we never get to the meat of it, or how it ties into his past. Drake never explains himself. Instead the game wraps itself up with the discovery of yet another lost city (much like in Uncharted 2) and an escape from the city.
It could all be a setup to Uncharted 4, but at this point, I'm finding it hard to care about the characters' motivations after finishing a 6-hour story that didn't bother to dive into those motivations. The next Uncharted will have to move things in a different direction for me to care about it at all.
Drake and company's imperfections start to show during points in the game that had me banging my forehead on my coffee table.
In one part, Drake is in an airplane hangar with a side character and they have to push a Jeep-looking vehicle up an incline, so he can climb on top and jump to a window. The side character opens the car door and says s/he can put it in neutral so they can push. Once they get it to the top of the ramp, the car starts sliding backward, and it becomes a timed climb-and-jump puzzle. I kept wondering why the side character didn't just get in the car and put his/her foot on the brake to keep the car steady. Or perhaps one of the characters could've boosted the other one to the window and eschew the car altogether.
In a section shortly after, another car rolls up and bad guys get out to initiate a gunfight. After the fight, Drake and the side character push the car back out of the gate it came from. One of the enemies who got out of the car had to have had the keys on him. Why not just grab them and ride out?
In yet another section in the same level, after a long, unnecessary gunfight, I had to climb on top of a car to get to a low roof. When I got to the roof, the side character asked me to wait because I was getting too far ahead of him/her. So I waited for the character to catch up. When s/he did, I jumped back up onto the roof and the side character was insta-killed for no reason.
I turned the game off immediately after that and waited a few days to play it again.
In another level, after a daring escape from a capsizing cruise ship, Drake jumps off of it, and the screen fades out as he’s left in the middle of the ocean, by himself, floating toward a plank (to keep him afloat?). When the screen fades back in, he has magically washed up on the shore in the town Elena is staying in. He immediately wakes up and goes to her place. Yeah, right.
In a much-publicized section toward the end of the game, Drake is wandering in a desert after a plane crash. He's alone and has no idea where to go. He sees mirages and ends up collapsing after two days of searching with no food and water. In the middle of his searches, he finds a well that's dried up. A day later, he stumbles back upon the well and curses himself for going in circles. At this point I looked up and said, "OK, so the world's greatest treasure hunter doesn't know what a compass is?"
After surviving for two days in the desert, he finds a town and enters it, only to climb, fight and shoot at more enemies, as if his exhaustion and fright from the lonely desert trip immediately vanished. Bogus.
Games that score perfect 10s and GOTY nominations shouldn't have boneheaded problems such as these.
Perhaps my biggest problem with Uncharted 3 is its constant shoehorning of gunfights into situations. I suppose Naughty Dog did this to appeal to a wider audience of shooter-lovers, but Uncharted has never been made better by its gunfights.
I have to hand it to the bad guys in the game, though, they are seriously dedicated to bringing Drake down.
There's a section where you're escaping a burning building. It's crumbling down with every step and, guess what, enemies are still lining up to pump you full of lead. In the airplane sequence, when Drake is climbing onto the back of the plane while it's on a descent into a desert, enemies are still shooting at him. When a ship capsizes, and it's filling with water as it sinks to the bottom of an ocean, enemies are still shooting at Drake. They are the ultimate mercenaries. They risk their lives for their employer, at any cost. I hope Marlowe has a good benefits plan for them.
The enemies are all clones, too. Remember how I said the game-y parts stand out in a detailed experience? The lack of attention and variation in the bad guys is apparent. For most of the game, you're fighting the exact same enemy in a black suit and red tie multiplied by 100 for whatever set-piece. I'm really disappointed Naughty Dog didn't make more visual enemy types.
Naughty Dog have proven that they can do gunfights, chases, exploration, intricate set-pieces, story-driven adventures, puzzles and over-the-top escape sequences. It's time to try something else.
If Naughty Dog dialed everything back for the next Uncharted, it would push the game in a new direction while allowing it to stay in the same genre.
Enough with every ledge Drake grabs crumbling, every floor he steps on collapsing and him surviving every 30-foot drop. Enough with the "Oh crap!" catch phrase, pulling the pin on enemies' grenades before kicking them away and delivering finishing blows to the balls.
Enough with an invincible Nathan Drake. It's hard for me to believe he can really survive all that stuff and then die after a few gunshots mid-gameplay. I turned the difficulty all the way down to Very Easy in the middle of my playthrough and still had a hard time in certain combat sections. Enough of that.
Make Drake have weaknesses beyond his mouth getting him into trouble. If he really is driven by some inner need to see if he's related to a treasure hunter, take that somewhere instead of teasing to it and never coming back to it before the game's finale.
Tomb Raider had six games before Crystal Dynamics gave it a light reboot and then another two before the reboot that's due next year. Uncharted has only had three games, and I'm ready for a reboot. The next Tomb Raider looks as if it's going to make Lara Croft look more vulnerable and human. This is what I want to see out of Uncharted. I'm tired of the Nathan Drake (and his entire secondary cast) that can do anything. I want him to have some weaknesses.
Photos from Naughty Dog's Flickr