Matthew Riley bio photo

Matthew Riley

Software Craftsman, Video Game Enthusiast, Critic


I’ll be honest, I came to Uncharted with extremely high expectations. For some reason, I had in my head the notion that this was one of those games that helped legitimize the games as art argument. I remember arguing with [Mark Jacobs]( about why the games industry needed to take piracy more seriously – using Uncharted as an argument (the games Jacobs produces don’t tend to have issues with piracy due to their always-online nature; Uncharted doesn’t have that luxury). Turns out, I was probably thinking of the wrong game. While Uncharted has it sights set on being cinema-quality, I don’t think it ultimately manages to deliver on the full experience.

That’s not to say the game is bad. It has its moments, but it doesn’t live up to the massive hype in my head, and it certainly doesn’t feel like it’s doing anything noteworthy for games. Watching the making-of featurettes, it seems Naughty Dog wanted to put their distinctive Naughty Dog stamp on the game. Paraphrasing one of the presidents, that meant lots of water and lush environments – i.e, the visual. So, it’s no surprise that the game does truly look amazing. The character animations are solid and lifelike, the action moves are superb, and the voice acting is top-notch. They did their best to make the multimedia experience as close to a movie as possible.

However, Naughty Dog also said that they were trying to do something new. If that’s true, I’d have to say they failed. Most of the things that Uncharted tries to do, Resident Evil 4 did better. The lead game programmer mentioned that most of the mechanics had been reworked ‘100 times’ to make sure they were fun, but perhaps it was for a different audience. I can only speak for myself, but the gameplay at times felt more like a chore than fun.

The good

  • Hints. To me as a programmer, at least, this was a really cool feature. There were areas that weren’t completely straight-forward, and I appreciated that instead of just holding my hand, the designers wanted to let me try my own solutions for a while before offering their help.

  • Graphics. Obviously. Not much to say here, the game looks great.

  • Personality? It’s unfortunate, but a lot of games have very plastic or nondescript characters. I didn’t have full backstory on Uncharted’s characters or anything, but I did feel like they were actual characters. Drakes’ grunts, in-combat exclamations, etc, were also just a very nice touch to make him feel more real.

  • The health system. I’m used to some kind of HUD that lets me visualize my health, but the fading screen was a clean and unobtrusive way to achieve the same effect.

The not-so-good

  • Uneven flow. At its best, there were sequences like the escape on a hummer, or the fights against the hordes of ‘Abominations’ (not sure what they’re actually called), where the action was so seamless that you could get sucked into the game and have your blood pressure follow the pace of the action. At its worst were the Jet-ski sequences. I was really excited when I first saw the Jet-ski, because in every other game I’ve played, these segments have been the most amusing. Here, however, the action was so clunky that I dreaded them. The biggest issue with it? The inability to shoot while moving on your Jet-ski. The whole ‘fun’ of a Jet-ski is blazing ahead at full speed, dodging obstacles (which Resident Evil 4 did superbly). Uncharted turns that on its head and makes you grind to a halt to explode barrels and kill enemies that aren’t meant to be dodged. What’s the fun with a Jet-ski that has to full-on brake every other second?

  • The weaponry system. You can only hold three weapons – one pistol, one ‘power’ gun, and a set of grenades. First, it should be noted that the game doesn’t give much encouragement on why you’d want to use one weapon over another. At least for my playthrough, I preferred the pistol for almost every situation, which I’ve heard is normal. I ended up classifying the 9mm as my general purpose weapon for almost everything, the machine gun for the rare situations where I had a lot of enemies in front of me and had to run-and-gun in, and the grenades for situations where I was holed in and didn’t know what else to do. I never really got a handle on the purpose behind the low-ammo power pistols, the rapid-fire pistols, the shotgun (apart from the Abom sequences), or the grenade-launcher thingie(?). I think the game design is unfortunately responsible for this. Because of the insistence on that 3 weapon system, I felt highly discouraged to try a new weapon, especially the low ammo ones. Say I pick up the power pistol; I now have 9 shots to kill all the enemies, instead of the 40+ that was possible for a 9mm. How is that worth the risk? The same was true for that grenade launcher – I’d go from the 90ish shots of a machine gun to 3(!) shots. Why the tradeoff? As a player, I want to feel empowered, not restricted, and I feel like they left a lot of fun on the table by making me abandon my old weapons for the new ones. Yes, you abandon some of the realism, but many other games have gone this route ( Resident Evil 4) with good success.

  • Ammo pickups. Very close to the weaponry system, the pickup system was needlessly frustrating. For understandable reasons, all ammo and guns appear on the ground as shiny blips (which is nice, since the treasures are also shiny). The problem with this approach is that there’s no distinction for what you’re trying to pick up. In a hectic scenario, I’m just trying to run forward and pick up anything in my path. I do not want to drop my machine gun for the shotgun, for example. And if I’m done with a scene, the completionist in me wants to clear the ground of the shinies before moving on. This shiny approach really prevents both of these scenarios. To ease this, I think they could have at least gone with color-coded shinies, or the pickup icon changing color. For example, if I hovered over ammo for my current guns, I would still see the button outline in white, but perhaps for weapon swaps, that color would be red.

  • Combat? The behind-the-scenes said that they tried to mesh together 3 distinct elements – platforming, gunplay, and brawling. I think the platforming was generally executed well, but the meshing of the gunplay and brawling felt forced. I’m still not sure when/how I’m supposed to go in and brawl. In Resident Evil 4, you’d generally shoot them in the knee, in order to run in and finish them off – and this felt natural, because most of the enemies were slow moving and melee. Provided I could get in and out before the bulk of the mob caught up to me, I wasn’t doing anything crazy. In contrast, combat never feels like the right choice in Uncharted. All the enemies that you’d want to fight use guns, and most of them appear in groups. While I do try to brawl occasionally, it mostly feels like I’m cheating – running in, hoping I don’t get shot by the guy I’m charging, and then punching him to death and assuming his allies won’t kill me in the battle sequence. None of that would really be a logical thing to do.

  • Story pacing. I get exhausted playing from chapter to chapter. I would personally prefer a breather in between, something like Resident Evil had, where it popped up a stat screen at the end of every chapter. It lets me absorb what just happened and make the decision of whether to dive back in. I’m sure this will be controversial, but I’d also really like the game to give me some indication of how far in I am, and how much I have remaining. You can always check a movie’s running time, and if you’re reading a novel, you know roughly how many pages are left. While that does kind of limit what can surprise you, I personally would find the mental ‘comfort’ it provides to be worth it.

  • The Story? It’s a loose term, but the action in this game was so unbelievable that it broke any sense of immersion that their art, music, or ‘realistic’ gameplaye were trying to create. Drake is stupidly reckless. At one point he and Sullivan duck under a door that collapses behind them and joke “I hope there’s another way out.” Or, Drake will jump down off a rope into a pit that he’d presumably have no way of knowing if he’d be able to get out of. Or he’ll leap from breaking pipe to breaking pipe, assuming that there actually is a working route from point A to point B, and that that path won’t just collapse on him and kill him. It’s all ridiculously contrived, and the fact that enemies lurk in these random locations, or that Elena has somehow already traversed this collapsing path before Drake, just make it worse. I’m ok with these kinds of things being used in desperate scenarios, but having the whole game rely on this kind of stuff is a mistake, IMO.

  • Minor platforming issues. I liked the platforming, but it wasn’t always obvious what I was supposed to do. There are many scaffoldings that look like they should be scalable, but aren’t. There are objects that look breakable, but aren’t, and there are cliffs that look reachable, but aren’t. Ultimately, what this means is I go and jump for something that isn’t possible, dying in the process. Maybe this is fine. However, I think a cleaner solution would be to assign a key to temporarily highlight the interactive elements in the scenery – Drake would be able to identify this information anyway, and Naughty Dog is essentially making a similar concession anyway with its Hint system.

  • Treasures. What’s the point. Ok, I’m a treasure hunter, but that’s not reason enough for me as a player to care about going out of my way to pick up these items that give me no benefit and don’t even have lore behind them. I know some players will still do it, but I felt like this aspect of the game was never fully fleshed out.

All that said, I’m comparing it to a very high bar – if it wasn’t obvious, I loved Resident Evil 4, so it’s not a huge knock that this game comes up short. While I can’t see myself ever playing the original again, I’m definitely going to charge ahead and hope the sequel corrects the issues that frustrated me.

Possible tech projects

  • Hint system
  • Better ammo pickup
  • Interactive object highlighting