Ever since Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception launched in November 2011, its single player campaign has been declared by many as weaker than 2009’s Uncharted 2: Among Thieves. Although Uncharted 3 did launch with high critical acclaim by most media outlets, if you ask anyone about if you should play Uncharted 3 you’ll often be greeted with the answer: “No, skip it. Just play Uncharted 2 or play both Drake’s Fortune and Among Thieves.” This is then followed up with the question. “Why?”
And that question simply can’t be answered with just one reason. There are several reasons but in particular there are three big ones that are often brought up, which are: the narrative is unfinished, the pacing of the story is all off, and the gameplay and combat design is worse. As a result, Uncharted 3 comes off as a much weaker entry than Uncharted 2 among gaming enthusiasts and Uncharted fans alike.
1. The Narrative is Clearly Unfinished
The narrative in Uncharted 3 is unfinished, as evidenced by how many questions fans have at the end of the game. Naughty Dog had pegged a release date a full year in advance at Spike’s Video Game Awards in 2010. There’s no denying the super early release date confirmation affected the team’s ability to cram the entirety of the planned narrative into the game. They had to make cuts somewhere and these cuts happened to be story bits and as the game goes on questions about why or how keep piling and piling all the way until the end of the game.
For example, much of Talbot is never explained. While he is Marlowe’s right-hand man, much like Flynn is to Lazarevic in Uncharted 2, there’s some air of mystery around him. The clearest point in the game this can be shown is when Talbot mysteriously disappears just before Chapter 8. There’s no explanation given to how he was able to disappear. Then, just a few chapters later, Talbot gets “shot” and magically he is fine with no bullet hole in his suit. And while one can argue he was wearing body armor underneath his clothes, there’s no hint of this in the game so you may as well just throw any theory at the wall and hope it sticks to explain away that sequence.
Additionally, Talbot’s character as a whole is completely missing any background story. He runs away from Drake at some point in the game just so there is a chasing set piece. It goes completely against the context of the situation (Drake is captured, all the guards and even Marlowe are around to restrain Drake from running after him, Talbot has the upper hand, Talbot would never run away, etc). Yet the narrative is completely thrown out the window in the name of a set piece; while fun, it should have been either cut or placed more appropriately.
Furthermore, this isn’t even touching on Marlowe being completely underutilized as a villain. She barely gets any screen time and she’s never an active threat to the player. She also gets a very anti-climatic death at the end of the game; the player doesn’t even get to fight her! Instead, the player fights Talbot at the end. It almost seems like the roles for Talbot and Marlowe should have been switched around.
In any case, there’s many issues with the narrative. Including the unnecessary cruise ship segment of the game. Yet another part of the game that was created solely for a set piece and nothing more.
As a result, it boils down to the fact the game starts out pretty well but about mid-way through narrative issues begin to creep up. Right when Chloe and Cutter are axed from the story completely. This happened because the actors had other obligations but still, it’s an issue that goes all the way back to the initial release date they pegged. If they had another year, the narrative would have been fully realized.
2. The Pacing of the Story
It’s amazing the second game got this so right yet the third game got it so, so wrong. Uncharted 3 just doesn’t give the player enough time to soak in a single location. First you start in a bar in London and before you know it, you find yourself in France. You’re only ever in a given location for less than five chapters. While yes it’s a globetrotting adventure, Uncharted 2 does this aspect so much better.
It’s simple: Naughty Dog planned for too many locations for Drake to go. Uncharted 2 is very clean in the sense there’s only two major transitions: from the museum heist to Borneo, and then Borneo to Nepal. Everything that occurs in Nepal has the player go straight to the train, from the train to the Tibetan village, the Tibetan village to the Monastery and then finally Shambahla. The player feels like they’ve made this journey with Drake because the game funnels them through these environments; hardly taking control away from them (barring cutscenes, of course). It really feels like an adventure the whole way through with tons of action packed into it and some quiet moments to mix it up.
Uncharted 3, on the other hand, has you hopping from location to location without you actually going through the places in between those locations. Basically, the way Naughty Dog had this narrative structured was far too focused on going to locations without thinking about how important it is to make it so the player feels like they traveled to these locations. Instead, it’s just Drake and Sully taking planes or driving somewhere off-screen. There’s no control given to the player in the same way Drake goes through Nepal to Shambahla in Uncharted 2. Uncharted 3 simply does not funnel the player the same way.
However, the only instance where this occurs in Uncharted 3 is when Drake crashes from the airplane in the desert and he finds himself at the desert village. Then, Salim finds him and they travel to Iram of the Pillars after rescuing Sully. But it’s more that they stumble on it by luck. And there’s still lots of transitions in there. Which isn’t inherently a bad thing but again it just shows there wasn’t much thought put into how the player was supposed to end up at the lost city in Uncharted 3. It’s just another mark of how Naughty Dog was too focused on outdoing Uncharted 2 in spectacle (more locations = more amazing visuals to see) rather than thinking about what actually made Uncharted 2 so good.
3. The Gameplay and Combat Design is Worse
Finally, the gameplay and combat design is worse and though it can be hard to notice upon multiple playthroughs it becomes much clearer how much worse Uncharted 3 plays than Uncharted 2. Especially when you look at the encounters, level design, and the overall state the PS3 version launched in. In the original PS3 release of the game, the aiming was flat out inferior to Uncharted 2. Naughty Dog had to gather up some people from NeoGAF to their studio to pinpoint exactly what was wrong and then patch it with an option called “Alternate Aiming.” The mere fact this happened is enough to show the game was being rushed to market when it wasn’t ready. Thankfully, in the Nathan Drake Collection the aiming problems for Uncharted 3 are completely fixed and the result is the aiming is exactly like Uncharted 2; as it should have been in 2011.
But that’s not all, the combat design is worse in a lot of places in Uncharted 3. The only silver lining is the amazing Shipyard combat arena, but that’s only one out of a dozen of combat arenas in the game. The worst offender is the desert sandstorm combat arena just before Drake and Sully find the entrance to Iram of the Pillars. The AI can see you through the raging sandstorm but you can’t see them. They have perfect accuracy and there’s very little well placed cover in the area. While it is partially explained away with the henchmen having night vision goggles and Tau pistols (the only scoped pistol in the game) that still isn’t good enough of an excuse for having AI that knows exactly where you are 100% of the time in a desert sandstorm.
This is in complete contrast to the blizzard combat arena just after the train wreckage in Uncharted 2. In Uncharted 2, there’s a lot more cleverly placed cover and it’s actually possible to stealth through this entire sequence. The enemies have clearly defined patrol patterns and the cover is placed in such a way that there’s multiple ways to stealth knockout a single enemy. That isn’t possible with the desert sandstorm in Uncharted 3, the player is forced to go into the offensive and alert all the enemies in the area. They set it up for stealth but it’s actually not possible to stealth the entire segment; only the first area Drake and Sully enter. Cover is placed to push the player forward rather than going in any direction the player likes and tackling the arena how they please.
Once again, this is more evidence of Uncharted 2 overall being a much better designed game. A sequence that was nearly copied over to Uncharted 3 is somehow done worse than Uncharted 2. It just doesn’t make sense. There’s more problematic arenas in Uncharted 3, such as two of the arenas on the cruise ship and the arenas where you fight the Djinn, which aren’t designed very well either.
In addition, there’s questionable decisions with the controls by having grab, roll, and taking cover all on the same button. And don’t forget about how aggressive the AI is, much to the game’s detriment, causing extremely silly situations to occur when in close quarter combat.
As a result of these reasons, Uncharted 3 overall is considered a much weaker game when compared to Uncharted 2. By itself, it does some things well such as the direction of the story in its attempt to explore Nate’s character and his relationship with Sully. However, the story elements are not enough to elevate the game above its problems. And it’s these reasons that keep it from being a stronger game than Uncharted 2 and why most people suggest to skip it.
PAX South 2020 Hands-On: ‘Ghostrunner,’ ‘Everspace 2,’ and ‘Wrath: Aeon of Ruin’
We’ve already covered a wide variety of the games on display at PAX South this year, from retro revivals to unorthodox romances to everything in between – and we’re not done yet! In this next roundup article, we cover three more ambitious, action-packed games: Ghostrunner, Everspace 2, and Wrath: Aeon of Ruin.
Ghostrunner was one of the most in-demand games at PAX, and after playing it, it’s easy to see why. This first-person action slasher, developed by One More Level and produced by 3D Realms, lets players dash through the air, run across walls, and slash through enemies at blistering speed all while exploring a dystopian cyberpunk world. It’s gorgeous, lightning fast, and feels amazing to play.
Ghostrunner begins in a broken future, where the remnants of humanity have hidden away in a single condensed tower. Naturally enough, you’re put in the role of the one rebel who dares to rise up against the forces oppressing humanity. As you begin your uprising, you’ll also encounter a grand mystery – why is humanity the way it is now? Just what happened to the rest of the world? And what’s that voice you hear in your head?
My demo didn’t offer much illumination to these mysteries, but the 3D Realms team assured me that the story plays a significant role in the main campaign. What my demo did offer, however, was a look into the fast-paced, brutal gameplay that defines the game. Combat is so dynamic in Ghostrunner. Your arsenal of moves is massive and varied – of course you can run, jump, and slash with your katana, but you can also run along walls, dash over chasms, slow down time to dodge bullets, and more.
When all the moving pieces flow together, Ghostrunner achieves a visceral, almost hypnotic flow of battle. There are a few obstacles to this feeling. The controls took a bit of getting used to on my end, but that would be because, console peasant that I am, I’m not used to playing 3D games on a keyboard instead of a controller. Also, this may be an action game, but at many times it feels more like a puzzle game. With bloodthirsty enemies scattered around each environment, you’ll often need to take a step back and methodically evaluate which abilities to use in each situation. This can take some trial and error – it might have taken me more than a few tries to clear out the final wave of enemies. But when the solution works out, it’s a beautifully exhilarating feeling, and that’s what sets Ghostrunner apart.
Wrath: Aeon of Ruin
PAX featured plenty of retro-styled games, but not many quite like Wrath: Aeon of Ruin. This retro-style FPS is a throwback to the simpler, faster days of shooters, built entirely in the same engine as the original Quake. It was even based off the work of Quake community modders. If you’ve played any classic FPS like the original DOOM or Wolfenstein, then you should have a good idea of how Wrath plays: it’s brutal, lightning fast, and action packed.
My demo got straight to the point. After teleporting me to a distant hellscape, I was faced with a horde of demons, ranging from simple skeletons to more aggressive ogre-like enemies and flying laser monsters. Thankfully, I was also given an assortment of weapons to take these creatures down with, including a simple handgun, a powerful blade arm, and my personal favorite, a shotgun. Each one of these felt good to control, and like any good old-fashioned shooter, they gave me a great feeling of power.
Like any good, brutal FPS in the vein of Quake, Wrath features an insane amount of mobility. Movement is extremely fast and fluid, allowing you to zip across and above stages with reckless abandon. This extra speed will be necessary, especially considering that enemies can slaughter on with reckless, overwhelming abandon.
Of course, being built in the original Quake engine, Wrath is a delightfully retro treat to behold. It features all the signature hard polygonal edges of PC shooters from that bygone era, but with the added smoothness and fluidity of modern hardware. The game feels great to play and is a unique treat to behold. Wrath is currently available on Steam Early Access, and there’s plenty of new content that can be expected throughout the year, including new levels, enemies, and even a full online multiplayer mode. Stuffed with violent retro action, Wrath: Aeon of Ruin is absolutely worth watching out for.
Space is the final frontier, offering limitless exploration This’s the exact feeling that Everspace 2 captures. This sandbox open world space shooter dumps you in outer space and leaves you to figure out the rest, allowing you to fight, scavenge, and explore as you will, all with an incredible amount of freedom.
It’s a remarkably beautiful game too, boasting of extremely detailed 3D graphics that wouldn’t look out of place in a full 3D AAA experience. It’s extremely ambitious, offering a wealth of customization options through parts that can be scavenged from fallen space craft or space debris. There’s alien life to discover and a wealth of locations to explore, with the full game apparently featuring more than 80 unique environments.
These environments will always be interesting to explore thanks to a mix between handcrafted worlds and randomization. The original Everspace was a pure roguelike, and as developer Rockfish Games told me, this constantly changing design has often been fundamental to previous great space shooters. Although Rockfish opted for an intentionally designed open world for the sequel, they want to maintain some of those same roguelike elements. That’s why whenever you venture through the many galaxies of Everspace 2, the galaxies and planets will be the same, but the items you find or enemies you encounter within them may change each time.
It took me some time to get used to Everspace. It immediately offers a great amount of freedom, with the demo simply dumping me in space and only requiring that I take down some enemy units and pick up some loot. Yet once I got the hang of the controls and the environment, it became extremely fluid and natural to zip through space, upgrade different components, and experience all the free-flowing action that it has to offer. Space is the ultimate freedom, and Everspace 2 is set to represent that.
PAX South 2020 Hands-On: ‘Windjammers 2,’ ‘KUNAI,’ and ‘Young Souls’
PAX South 2020 attracted tons of exciting publishers to San Antonio, and even with such a crowded lineup, the DotEmu and Arcade Crew booth easily stood out as some of the show’s very best exhibitors. Streets of Rage 4 might have been their standout demo, but the French boutique publisher and developers brought a fantastic selection of games to the show, including their signature retro revivals and some promising original indie games of their own.
Sequel to the much-beloved arcade classic, Windjammers 2 takes all the hectic frisbee-throwing action of the original and updates it for the modern generation. For those unfamiliar with the art of windjamming, it’s effectively pong, but instead of balls, you toss discs back and forth across the court. It pits two players against each other on opposite sides of the court, tasking you with mercilessly hurling your disc back and forth until it gets into your opponent’s goal.
You can just throw the disc directly at your opponent, but Windjammers 2 gives you many more options besides that. To really excel at the game, you’ll have to make use of the most extravagant moves you can, dashing across the court, leaping into the air, tossing the disc above you before slamming it down into your opponent, to list only a few of the uber-athletic abilities at your disposal. The game can move extremely quickly when both players take advantage of these capabilities, yet things never feel overwhelming. I always felt in control of the action, even when my quickest reflexes were put to the test. It’s fast-paced disc throwing insanity, and I couldn’t get enough of it.
Just like the rest of DotEmu’s catalogue, Windjammers 2 combines classic gameplay with gorgeous modern aesthetics. It has the same hand-drawn style that makes other DotEmu titles stand out, like Wonderboy: The Dragon’s Trap. The original Windjammers was a time capsule of garish 90s style, and that design is retained for the new release, with characters looking even more colorful and absurd than ever thanks to the revitalized art and animations. Hectic to play and beautiful to behold, Windjammers 2 is already set to be a multiplayer hit.
Streets of Rage 4 was certainly the premier beat ‘em up on display at DotEmu’s booth, but it wasn’t the only one. Alongside this retro revival was an all-new take on the genre: Young Souls, an extremely stylish action game that blends fast-paced fighting with deep RPG customization and a charming, emotional narrative.
Beat ‘em ups might not be known for deep storylines, but Young Souls aspires to something more. Along with its satisfying combat mechanics and plentiful flexibility for character builds, it also boasts of having “a profound story with unforgettable characters.” While my demo didn’t give me much of a look at this deep narrative, it’s reasonable to assume that the story will at least be quality, since it’s penned by none other than the author of the Walking Dead games, Matthew Ritter.
However, I did get a substantial feel for combat. Young Souls features more than 70 monster-filled dungeons, and I got to venture into two of them in my demo. The action feels weighty and solid when going up against enemies, yet precise at the same time. Like any classic beat ‘em up, there’s a mixture of light and heavy attacks, along with blocks and powerful special moves, along with items and spells to exploit during combat as well. In between battles, you’re able to deck your character out in equipment and items, allowing for an element of roleplaying depth that isn’t typically associated with action games like this. In my short time with the game, it was fun to experiment with different character builds, which could determine the speed and abilities of my fighter, promising combat for the final game.
I played the demo both solo and co-op; in single-player, you’re able to switch between the two twins at will, while two players can each take control of a sibling. In both playstyles, the gameplay was just as visceral and satisfying as one would expect from a classic-style beat ‘em up like this, but the addition of a deep story and RPG mechanics put a unique spin on this entry. That’s not to mention that, like every other game at the DotEmu and Arcade Crew booth, it’s visually beautiful, featuring stylish 2D characters in 3D environments that are all rendered in gentle, washed-out colors. Young Souls might not have a release date or even any confirmed platforms as of now, but it’s absolutely worth keeping an eye on in the meantime.
KUNAI takes the typical metroidvania formula and boosts it to hyperspeed. It has all the hidden secrets and massively interconnected world exploration that you’d expect from the genre, and it gives you the ability to speed through that faster and more dynamically than ever. Its main gimmick is right in the name – by giving you two kunai hookshots, you’re able to traverse up and down your environments with speed and freedom, making for a uniquely vertical method to explore.
KUNAI starts out with the end of the world. In a dystopian future where technology has taken over, you control Tabby, a sentient and heroic tablet that’s dead set on liberating the planet. This serious plot is filled with plenty of personality, however, from the silly faces that Tabby makes in action to the charming dialogue and quirky character designs. This personality is rendered in appealing detail thanks to the game’s simple yet effective pixel art.
It’s in the gameplay where KUNAI truly shines. With the eponymous kunai, you’re able to latch onto vertical surfaces. Combine this with the additional abilities to dash, bounce off enemies, or wall jump, and it provides for a uniquely dynamic method of exploring the world. Using the kunai feels easy and intuitive, fast enough to gain speed but never too floaty. It’s a balanced approach to speed and movement that never gets out of control, resulting in what it is perhaps the best-feeling movement of any metroidvania I’ve played recently. My demo was brief, and ended very soon after first getting the kunai, but the gameplay felt so smooth and natural that I can’t wait to experience more of it. Thankfully, it’s not long to wait, since KUNAI hits Switch and PC on February 6.
PAX South Hands-On: ‘Streets of Rage 4’ Balances Legacy and Innovation
Streets of Rage 4 embodies the original series’ elegant, action-packed design and revives it for a new generation.
From the moment I began my demo with Streets of Rage 4 at PAX South, it felt like coming home. It might have been more than two decades since the first three games in the Streets of Rage series perfected the beat ‘em up formula on the Sega Genesis, but courtesy of developers Lizardcube, DotEmu, and Guard Crush, this legendary series is back and in good hands. This brand new entry aims to recapture all the style and balance of the originals, while introducing innovations of its own. If my demo is any indication, the game is set to achieve that.
Streets of Rage 4 uses the same elegant level design that set the original trilogy apart back on the Genesis. The gameplay is simple: keep walking to the right, taking out every enemy in front of you with all the jabs, kicks, jumps, and special moves at your disposal. If anything, the controls feel better than ever before, with an added level of precision and fluidity that simply wasn’t possible on older hardware.
That’s not to mention the new move sets. Beat ’em ups might not be the most complex genre around, but Streets of Rage 4 adds the perfect level of depth to the combat. It has the same simple jabs and kicks found in the original games, but spiced up with the potential for new combos and even a handful of extravagant new special moves. With new and old fighting mechanics, this new entry features plenty of room to experiment with combat but never loses the simple, arcade-like charm of the originals.
Streets of Rage 4 revives the series’ rage-filled and action-packed style for the twenty-first century
The demo included series staple characters like Axel and Blaze, yet I opted to play as an all-new character: Cherry Hunter, a guitar-wielding fighter whose move set felt very distinct from classic characters. Her movement is speedy, certainly faster than Axel but slower than Blaze, and her guitar provided for some unique melee moves. Like the new mechanics, her addition to the character roster helps shake up the Streets of Rage formula just enough, while maintaining the core beat ’em up simplicity that made the series special in the first place.
Streets of Rage 4 might innovate in a few areas, but one thing that’s clearly remained true to form is the difficulty. It boasts of the same old school difficulty that characterized the original games. The classic and brand new enemies are just as ruthless as ever, mercilessly crowding in around you and can easily overwhelm you if you’re not careful. However, just like the originals, the fighting feels so satisfying that it’s easy to keep coming back for more action.
Amid all these changes and additions, perhaps the most obvious (and controversial) change is the visual style. While the original series used detailed pixel art, Streets of Rage 4 instead boasts of an extremely detailed handcrafted art style, in which every frame of character animation is painstakingly drawn by hand and environments are colorful and painterly. Thousands of frames of animation go into each character, and the effort certainly shows, making every punch, kick, and other acts of violence a breathtaking sight to behold.
Streets of Rage 4 reimagines this classic series for a new generation, reintroducing the best of the beat ’em up genre for players of all backgrounds and experiences.
Some fans have complained that the game loses the series’ spirit without pixel art, but DotEmu marketing director Arnaud De Sousa insisted to me that this simply isn’t the case. Pixel art wasn’t an artistic choice back then – it was a matter of necessity. If the developers could have designed the game to look exactly as they wanted, regardless of technical limitations, then it likely would have looked just like the luscious hand-drawn visuals of the current Streets of Rage 4.
That’s not to mention that, as De Sousa emphasized, the Streets of Rage games are defined by looking different from one another. The third game looks different from the second, which looked different from the first – and now this new entry has twenty years of change to catch up on. Thus, it only makes sense for this new entry to adopt a radically new graphical style after all this time.
Streets of Rage 4 reimagines this classic series for a new generation, reintroducing the best of the beat ’em up genre for players of all backgrounds and experiences. The difference between De Sousa and myself is perfect evidence of that. He grew up playing the games in the 90s, whereas I wasn’t even born when the original trilogy became such a phenomenon and only played them years later in subsequent re-releases. Yet here we were, standing in the middle of a crowded convention and gushing about decades-old games. We might have had extremely different experiences with the series, but that didn’t stop us from appreciating the joys of stylish beat ’em up action.
“A good game is a good game,” De Sousa told me, “no matter how old.” That’s the attitude that Streets of Rage 4 exemplifies. It revives the series’ rage-filled and action-packed design for the twenty-first century. And with a release on all modern platforms, more players than ever will be able to rediscover the simple pleasure of wielding your bare knuckles against thugs of all types. Between the new art style and the solid gameplay, Streets of Rage 4 is looking like an incredibly welcome return for this iconic franchise.
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