It started with a reviw and ended with my thoughts…..

I recently finished playing the great game that is Uncharted 3 : Drakes Deception, and almost straight from the get go I wanted to write a blog on it, I wanted to talk about some of the themes of the game, some of the phenomenally strong characters and how even though many claim the game isn’t as strong as its predecessors in terms of “cinematic or gameplay” highs I think the game digs a little deeper and packs a little more punch, and in turn does a few more clever things than most triple A titles do. Also this isn’t so much of a review but me looking at some of the themes and my thoughts on MY experience of my play through of the game, It is all subjective so keep that in mind, you won’t find a ratings or scores on this “review”.

Now firstly a warning, that I do not like to give away spoilers, however this blog will be discussing the various themes of the game, characters, scenes and acts within the game that have very significant impacts on the story and I would not be able to discuss these in-depth without spoiling some of the game. I will do my best as I write this but before the flame war starts with comments like “YOU RUINED THE GAME ENDING FOR ME”. I wanted to put up a SPOILER ALERT and warn you all now. With that being said lets put on our critical thinking caps and let me show you video games are more than cathartic sadistic games that turn our children into serial killers.

Secondly some people reading this won’t know much about Uncharted. So a little back story is necessary. The easiest way to explain it is you are Nathan Drake a modern-day descendant of sir Francis Drake (a pioneering famous historical figure whom spent most of his life travelling distant lands and discovering great secrets). The family motto being “greatness from small beginnings” rather fitting considering Nathan started life as a cast away street child in south America to being what I’d call a more bad ass, smarter, funnier version of Indiana Jones.

Uncharted 3 is obviously the 3rd title in the series and starts with a deal gone wrong in London that leads to a bar fight, a 400 year old mystery dating back to Elizabeth the 1st, the original 007, Lawrence of Arabia , a thrilling escape from a sinking boat that pushes the concept of using your environment to parkour to an ENTIRELY NEW LEVEL , and eventually leading to what seems like a hopeless journey across the sands of the middle east in search of “The Atlantis of the Sands”.

I just wanted to get this out-of-the-way first, The game is visually stunning (bar the odd weird interaction with stationery scenery) and has the cinematic feeling that truly blows you away but this won’t be covered too much throughout, however there’s a great advert I will put at below featuring Harrison ford in awe at the sheer scope and wonder of the game quoting that “this game is more exciting than my whole life”

The Story is bloody awesome, As it always is in the Uncharted series, Like many of the conspiracy theory books and films about the darker side of history and the general whimsical nature of ancient cultures. There is a blurred line, where the story weaves in real characters, events and history but adds in a new twist that at points is almost believable, and what’s even better is characters within the world don’t swallow it all blindly, they take real reactions, they call it nonsense and impossible much like how real people would react until the dig further and further. There is this wonderful aspect to the story where you know its nonsense, much like The Da’vinci Code but the story is so well done you can’t help but go “It sounds plausible”.

So that is the basic back story and I will touch on the any event and some of my favourite bits throughout right now I want to discuss some of the truly brilliant themes that really surprised me and drew me In even more to the game

Very rarely in games, or in any medium do we challenge the protagonist, whether it’s the swashbuckling adventurer with the heart of gold or the cold and twisted anti-hero who always ends up doing the right thing but may just be willing to get his hands dirty along the way. In Drake’s deception I was intrigued by the fact Drake is constantly questioned, I don’t remember anyone saying “why do you keep going on these adventures Indiana Jones. After the ark of death why don’t you just stay home and have a cuppa?”. I’m sure “Indiana Jones and the Brilliant cup of Tetley” didn’t have quite the same ring to it though…. The character Drake is chasing an object that spans back to the beginning of his life in “Treasure hunting”. A decoder that takes his family ring and leads to some ancient mystery his ancestor tried to hide from the world, his first encounter over 20 years ago with this item is also the same time he met his partner in crime and father figure Victor Sullivan and in fact the same time he first crossed swords with the games villain Marlo (or that’s how it sounds throughout the game I may have heard wrong).

What’s interesting is this is Drakes white whale, “his unrelenting pursuit of evil” to quote my favourite line from Criminal Intent. Better yet it is a clear sign of humans and their want to overreach, the same force driving drake to discover the unknown for the sake of knowing is the same reason we build telescopes to stare at stars and then built rocket ships so we could touch them. The game constantly questions Drakes Intentions, it cites the dangers, near death experiences and momentous f**k ups from their previous escapades and asks why Nathan needs to do it one more time, when there really isn’t anything to gain this time, no pressure to succeed and no need for money. To which at times , Drake has no answer, This journey, this adventure pushes The main character, his friends, his loved ones, their relationships and their actual lives to the edge and the other characters point out the suicidal nature, the recklessness of drake in his pursuit of his white whale and how one time his luck will run out, and for what?

I loved this about the game, it drew me in more and more, even the character expressions, the setting tone and written and spoken dialogue of the characters flows brilliantly, never a word is uttered that doesn’t hold value, even the in-game throw away lines that Drake says while you interact with the world have gravitas or bring a deeper set of immersion, cracking jokes about the fact guards are trying to kill you as the building you are in is burning to the ground pointing out the ridiculous nature of the genre itself at times (in all the mediums it covers especially gaming and cinema). Or better yet questioning “which way is up” as the room turns upside down for the 3rd time in as you clamber out of a sinking cruise liner.

Another theme I noticed throughout playing the game is helplessness. Not only is Nathan Drake fighting a dark brotherhood that is hunting the same thing as him as well as trying to keep all the people he cares about safe, but he is also fighting his own demons and pursuing his white whale. The excellent thing about Uncharted games is almost everything that can go wrong will go wrong for the protagonist, sure you solve puzzles make daring jumps, beat the crap out of bad guys and pull of some BAD ASS set pieces, but the amount of times you as the character are beaten, bruised, fall through buildings, ledges, scenery, pipes. Crash bikes, trains, planes and have to flee burning buildings, sinking ships, exploding fortresses, and navigate lost in the desert with no signs of aid or water is unreal. In fact it makes up almost the whole game, now of course you overcome all these adversities, and rightly so but the key part is the game doesn’t just let the character walk through the story, it’s not a Hollywood Film where everything works out perfect with every decision the hero makes, Drake is flawed, he makes bad decisions like anybody else and he gets punished for it, usually physically and sometimes he only gets out by the skin of his teeth, because of his resilience quick thinking and determination to survive.

*****REAL SPOILER ALERT*****

One of my favourite moments of feeling helpless comes about ¾ of the way through, Drake escapes imprisonment on a boat yard from pirates to only have to escape a sinking cruise liner, washes back up upon shore to board a cargo plane destined to where his friend is being held captured on a travelling caravan in the middle of the desert. Now the real helplessness comes when the cargo plane crashes, Drake has no food, no water and no idea where he is going. You simply have to walk, and I would also like to note the detail and texture in the physics as drakes walks is unbelievable.

even better than the stunning water physics that set the game apart from the rest at the beginning of the PS3’s life span. (see below) The way the sand is whipped up by the wind and how the sand sinks beneath your feet a Drake labours his weight from one leg to the next is truly impressive from not only a performance/technical point of view but just looks simply stunning and realistic.

Anyway, this part of the game makes the player feel truly helpless, there is no goal, no right way to walk, literally just miles and miles of dunes, as you walk the game cuts in and out, fades from night to day, to different angles. You as the character walk slowly, he talks and mutters to himself, even a few delusions of oasis’ and long-lost friends and the such like only to have it turn into dust and sand in your hands. Eventually you hear the words of the villain speaking to you, you crawl under rocks for comfort and finally when all hope feels lost, at a point where I genuinely asked myself if I would Drake get out of this alive or would the desert be his shallow grave? A village appears in the far distance, albeit more disappointment upon reaching it as it turns out to be abandoned but it offers refuge and hope and is a fantastic end to what was a gripping chapter that truly made the player, and the character feel weak and helpless as you had to fight nature itself in a chapter that contained no enemies to kill and no real objective but to try to survive and no visible way to tell if you were doing it right.

Uncharted 3, many have said didn’t reach the highs of past instalments, and I feel this is a little unjust, I really feel the game gives some spectacular moments, the cruise liner escape, the chase scene through the streets of Jordan and the scenes where Drake trips out and finally the trek across the sands being particular high points for myself. I don’t think this iteration of the series was to be as spectacular as previous instalments, I genuinely think this game aimed to challenge the motivations of Drake, show a weaker more helpless side, a more dangerous , reckless and selfish side of our hero, that he is also flawed and that the life he leads isn’t always filled with the good kind of adrenaline pumping, hair-raising moments of danger we all imagine from Hollywood. Behind it all there are people who get hurt, Drake lost a love, endangered his friends and almost dies several times throughout and in the final scenes realises what is important and realises some secrets aren’t meant to be discovered.

I have rambled on for a while now, and I think the point of this post is to show that even triple A titles like Uncharted can be more than lip service to the idea that everything is wonderful and perfect in the life of what is seen as a “Hero”. He is a real person with real issues and real flaws, The game goes out of its way from its setting, story, set pieces and even the actual combat to make your character feel weak, helpless and overwhelmed at times, however Drakes sheer determination, cunning and grit gets him through these situations (with some luck and good friends).

There is always this huge argument about video games becoming art, and how this isn’t possible, how It hasn’t been done yet, simply because art exists simply to be art, and games require input and an end purpose, it has constraints otherwise it wouldn’t function. Now while games like “Dear Esther” are a step in the right direction (a game with no real gameplay merely a meandering into the world of story and spoken world through pure exploration MOST DEFO WORTH CHECKING OUT) http://dear-esther.com/ .Personally I think art is anything that challenges your perceptions, whether that be about your views on life, society or yourself. Uncharted 3 made me think enough about all those things to write a very long and hopefully interesting blog post on just that, now I’m not calling Naughty Dog developers he next Da’Vinci but to claim there isn’t merit in what they set out to do, that there was no love, passion or vision scribed into the polygons, words and world of uncharted 3 is an insult to everything art stands for.

So in short, gaming brings wonder, joy and happiness to millions of people, It has most certainly come along way from the days of two lines and a dot with and a few blip bloop sounds, it certainly isn’t the terrible beast that other media portrays it to be, and it has a long way to go and the industry and the gamers themselves will have to step up their game if they ever want to be taken seriously by a world that slaps gamers as 12-year-old ADD sufferers who do nothing but shoot “sand-people” and teabag each other for fun (on and off the internet).

I’m a gamer, and like many others out their I see the value, depth and believe that games can be used for so much more, in fact they have already I cut my teeth on final fantasy and other brilliant games that had themes and stories that enriched my life, educated me, gave me a moral compass, and challenged me to think about the world around me and left a lasting impact on who I am today. Sometimes I wonder if the depth that came with games like final fantasy 7 is no longer in games as well as the things it can teach. The message conveyed by a game director wanting people to understand the death of a loved one, or to understand the burning rage to destroy the world and everything in it, or how companies are tearing our planet apart with dirty energy and fossil fuels, is lost because publishers want safe games like COD generic shooters. Then I play games like Bioshock and Uncharted and that feeling of wonder and joy comes rushing back, that longing to understand, pick apart, discuss with others and challenge my own beliefs. Restores my faith in the medium.

As long as we exist, as long as there are other people out their following their dreams, then people will always be creating art, exploring the stars and reaching above and beyond what any one person could be, Ideas and dreams are bigger than individuals but that doesn’t stop us somehow making them a reality.

That was most defiantly a meandering long-winded and long overdue blog post. I hope you enjoyed, please feel free to drop me a comment, repost, like or message me. Heres a little gameplay montage of uncharted 3 that I think everyone should check out.

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~ by conorstrife on April 20, 2012.

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