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Mission Impossible?: When Games and Movies Collide in Uncharted: Golden Abyss

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After all the ado about Aliens: Colonial Marines this week, I began to wonder whether cross-pollination between games and movies is not only an impossible task but perhaps one best avoided. Certainly I have come to appreciate cinematic elements in my games, from cut scenes to staged set pieces replete with explosives all about accompanied by a robust, brass-heavy soundtrack only to set the stage for the melodramatic strings during a particularly poignant, maybe even slow-motion climactic finish. Inevitably, looking at 90 minutes of spectating versus 30 hours of participation, the two must be viewed as apples and oranges.

Attacking my Pile of Shame, I set my sights on Uncharted: Golden Abyss for the Vita. The first in the series to make the portable leap, Golden Abyss is the series’ most recent release. As a whole, the series has rated very well on the PS3, with Uncharted 2 currently showing a 96 rating on Metacritic as a high-water mark. Golden Abyss, while still maintaining positive reviews, is the lowest of the bunch. I hoped Golden Abyss would, at best, stand as Vita validation, maybe an unfair expectation and not necessarily needed, and at worst, a chance for me to see what all the Drake fuss was about (from a PS3 non-owner).

I will say this: the game looks pretty spectacular. There were times when I marveled at what I held in my hands, sometimes hoping I could be quick enough with the Vita screenshot feature to capture the beauty. I tend not to think of portable games looking as good as console counterparts, but the Vita handled the task admirably.

I did turn off some of the touch and other Vita-“enhanced” features though it appears some are unavoidable. I used the control sticks to climb and aim; the touch screen for the QTEs, item exploration and manipulation, and weapon switching/reloading; and tilt and camera features for other occasions and challenges. For the most part, I wouldn’t say these elements were tacked on so much as they were a bit gimmicky. However, I never felt they were overly obtrusive or diverted from my enjoyment of the game. I have no comparison to Uncharted predecessors to know whether these elements were standard.

I liked the feel of the game. Chapters were broken down in manageable bits with generous save points which work well with portable play. There was a combination of gun firefights, climbing and traversing through jungle and ruins, minor puzzles. Interspersed throughout were cut scenes giving reason to run about as well as create some affinity (or distaste as warranted) to the game’s characters.

On the surface, it seems like the game would have everything a gamer would want, a chance to play Indiana Jones is really what we’re looking for, right? And Drake does a pretty good job — intelligent, handsome, and respectful of the field or archaeology. Yet there’s a disconnect that keeps me from falling into the “I’d better get a PS3 to play the entire series” attitude. At times, Drake plays more Peter Parker than Henry Jones, Jr. and therein lies the difficulty between game and movie.

It was weird because I much preferred climbing sequences to shooting the baddies in the game, but there’s a point, fairly early on, where the climbing borders on the absurd. Not only is Drake launching himself from platform to platform, climbing ropes hand-over-hand, shooting his pistol while hanging (there’s a trophy for that), but Chase seems more or less to be able to do the exact same thing. And Dante. And Sully.

It’s not that I can’t suspend disbelief. It’s that the game wants to be real, have moments of depth.  But Drake not only is a climber extraordinaire, but the path by which he ascends greatness is conveniently outlined in safety yellow.  Regarding the gunplay, controls were competent enough and I felt comfortable with the Vita’s dual control sticks, but at times, I felt I was shooting baddies because Uncharted is a video game and baddies are supposed to be shot in a video game. I don’t know why I have less issue with being a space marine super soldier shooting theocratic aliens divided by a species-identified caste system, but that act seems to make sense in its own way. I know Indy offed people (hey, the propeller ran into baldie, right?), but the actions seemed more appropriate in context.

Further instances of game intrusion disturbing or detracting from the cinematic feel include repetitive dialogue, collectible hunting, and mission failure. During the Drake-Dante confrontation, it was a bit depressing seeing Drake stabbed and stabbed and shot and stabbed over and over again. Maybe it’s a tribute to how much I wanted to see Drake succeed that such disappointment can exist, but it played more as unpleasant break from the story and action than anything.

The end result was I looked forward to my Uncharted sessions because I wanted to see how the story would play out (Sully ex machina), but I didn’t always look forward to playing out the game. There’s a YouTube of Uncharted as a movie and in some ways, I believe Uncharted may almost watch better than it plays by cutting out some of the excess that accompanies the “hindrance” of the game medium.

P.S. As a Playstation Plus freebie, the game is well worth the time and money considering you could also get Gravity Rush, Mutant Blobs Attack, Wipeout, Ninja Gaiden, among other titles.


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