This week on Zero Punctuation, Yahtzee goes treasure hunting with Uncharted.
There are games for all kinds of people: there are games for rappers and games for graffiti artists and games for people who feel up girls on Japanese subway trains, but there have never been any decent games for white supremacists. That is, until Uncharted: Drake's Fortune, a rip-snorting adventure in which a waspish manly man runs around slaughtering everyone who had the poor judgement to not be born white.
Okay, maybe I'm making too much of a big deal of this, but I'm not kidding when I say that every single minority on Earth is represented in the ranks of Uncharted's bad guys: a stream of assorted blacks; Asians; and Latinos brought together by their mutual desire to kill whitey. This is with the exception of the very British main villain, but he gets arbitrarily killed off about ten minutes before the end in favour of a more ethnic final boss. Sorry to spoil that for you, but I assumed you could predict a plot point like "the bad guy dies."
But like George W. Bush, let's forget about the well-being of non-Caucasians and put on our reviewing pants. Uncharted has its sights very firmly on the notion of "cinematic gaming" and plays like a Hollywood movie. Specifically, the Hollywood movie National Treasure, with a big scoop of Raiders of the Lost Ark mixed in. You play Nathan "Indiana Jones as written by Joss Whedon" Drake as he scavenger hunts for the inevitable lost golden treasure in the standard exotic locales while being aided by the troublesome, initially hostile blonde love interest and the elderly mentor-type figure who might as well wear a t-shirt saying "I Will Die or Turn Evil."
Before I twist the hatred valve, I just want to say that the water effects in this game are really good. Water pouring from pipes actually shimmers like real water does, and the main character's got this shirt that looks realistically wet after you've been swimming. But what's cool is that it will only be partly wet if it was only partly immersed in the water, and... well, I think it's interesting! Although it is odd how they put so much work into making his shirt look wet when his hair acts like it's held in place with polymer cement.
Gameplay is divided between puzzle platforming extracted virtually unaltered from the slack, vinegar-scented womb of absolutely any Tomb Raider game and Gears of War style action gunplay based around firing from cover and propagating the master race. Oh yeah, and there's some vehicle sections, but are those really worth mentioning any more? Saying that an action game's got a vehicle section these days carries about as much weight as saying it comes in a box.
Anyway, Uncharted's hybrid gameplay falls into the familiar trap of trying to do everything and just making it bland across the board. A major problem is that it's a very visually busy game, and at any moment the game's stuffed with more greenery than a dope fiend's windowbox, which drops leaves on both the gameplay train tracks. In the platforming, there's sometimes little to differentiate the next ledge you have to jump onto and a meaningless background texture that will lead you only to good old Jagged Rock Junction. And in the combat, it's often hard to tell where an enemy is until they've already shot you (perfect aim at nine hundred yards, naturally), which doesn't strike me as good battlefield strategy. Oh yeah, and there are quick-time events.
(Cut to live footage of Yahtzee)
Let me speak directly for a moment. I sort of understand why developers keep using quicktime events; I suppose an arbitrary reflex test is as good a method as any to get through a cutscene. But if you must use quick-time events, make them a core part of gameplay; don't just throw them in randomly every now and again. Uncharted has got maybe three or four in the entire course of the game. What that basically means is that it's impossible to be ready for them. Quick-time events are fine if it's reasonably possible to get through them on the first go, but otherwise they're just irritating. Jericho did this as well. I know I can't stop developers using quick-time events, but you can stop doing this at least.
(Back to the Land of Yellow)
I'm being overly mean. The gameplay is quite adequate - of course it is! It's been blanketly ripped off. Not a single element of it hasn't been tried and tested in at least three popular previous games. Even the story has been nicked bodily from at least five adventure movies that I can think of - seven, if you let me count all the Indiana Jones films.
Like I said, there's a definitely pretension to being like a Hollywood movie, and like a Hollywood movie it's populated entirely by shallow stock characters whose attempts at witty dialogue just come across as intolerably smug. "Oh great," exclaims Nathan Drake sarcastically whenever a gaggle of gun-wielding darkies show up, rolling his eyes with knowing complacency until you want to reach into the screen and beat him to death with his own hair. If it were a film, it'd be one of those dreadful straight-to-video knockoffs released to wring a few more precious drops of milk from the teats of the Da Vinci Code fad, probably starring Christian Slater.
The word that best sums up Uncharted is "safe." It takes no risks and pushes no envelopes - an envelope would move more if you put it in front of a glacier. It's just insipid, like an unbuttered Jacbo's cream cracker - quite edible but crying out for something more, a certain je ne sais quoi, like a nice piece of Brie. I don't expect every single game to spark a revolution, but you could at least set off a measly, single firework.
The voice on the street (mainly the gutters): Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
It seems I have used two Stevie Wonder songs in a row; clearly this means I am not as good as I used to be
Note the irony in decrying racism while drawing Asians with slitty eyes