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Played Out: Uncharted 3: Sonic's Deception?

About a month ago I served my American duty and took advantage of a buy-2-get-1 free offer at Target, with the main target of this patriotic venture being Uncharted 3. The new Batman game was my high #2, and the third was a toss-up until I got to the store. A myriad of new sports games shone at me from the shelves, offering countless hours of entertainment... hours that ultimately turned me away. I simply don’t believe I’m currently in a place where I should be giving video games in general that many hours, so I turned to the hedgehog instead.

That’s right. Despite my recent posts attacking Sega for its complete obliteration of the Sonic series and collateral disillusionment of sexy animal fanfic, I bought the new Sonic Generations. What can I say? The demo convinced me that it would offer something a Sonic game hadn’t offered in a while – a legitimate, tight platformer; and, most importantly, one with minimal story.

I did get stuck with some crappy scenes about Sonic and his friends having a picnic, but otherwise the decision has proven to be one of my best. Note: I make a LOT of good decisions (I ate broccoli tonight). I’ve ended up dedicating a ton of time to this game –- not sports game time but still life-dying time -- , and mostly enjoyed myself doing so. It’s meant to serve as a celebration of Sonic’s 20 years, and there’s a lot of good nostalgia to be had, with every stage an iteration of a previous one, the ability to play old chiptunes over the new, and those sweet red sneakers. Some areas are still messy, with bizarre deaths punishing you for straying even an inch off the directed path, the controls still feel a bit heavier than they did way back in the original Sonic, and the final boss is absolute garbage; yet this appears to at least be the beginning of the evolution that always should’ve happened.

Window dressing. That’s the evolution. Beautiful, relevant, rewarding window dressing that serves to elevate the same gameplay that worked twenty years ago.

On the opposite side, we have Uncharted 3. Oh, I finished the game in three days and generally had a decent time, but this former the apple of my eye far too often succeeded primarily in demonstrating what happens when all the window dressing of so many modern games fades away. What remains is a semi-interactive experience far more dependent on entertaining you through its storytelling than its mechanics.

I didn’t love this new Nathan Drake adventure – it’s all becoming a bit too National Treasure for me, where the characters simply bounce unbelievable historical revelations off each other until they figure out the next place to go – but riding through the amazing set pieces Uncharted delivers is still a treat. Unfortunately, the main attraction is so finely produced that every inadvertent death is a literary disaster, completely removing the player from the adventure as they restart from a checkpoint and try to determine where they should have run slightly left instead of slightly right. In Sonic, everything is very obviously a game, and your remaining life cache is proudly displayed in the corner of the screen. Uncharted has the burden of offering the opportunity for failure without disintegrating the illusion of verisimilitude, and I just don’t think they know how to do it.

Whereas the original Uncharted was a decent Tomb Raider clone – supernatural craziness and all – I feel the series has progressed past the polish of Uncharted 2 and into a zone where the series' primary gameplay mechanic weighs down the game. As confessed by its multiplayer, this game wants to be a shooter, yet every battle ends up a bothersome interruption. I won’t get into the control problems I had this time around, as the developer has already released a huge aiming patch in response to user feedback. However, as I did get myself constantly killed, I found myself exasperated at the logic behind what was happening onscreen. Where are all these enemies coming from? Why do they keep coming? Why is the insane number of guys I’m killing never addressed in a story that still seems to accept a premise that every life is sacred?

I don’t know if this is any more of an issue than it was in previous games or than it is in any product of the James Bond archetype, but the more I had to replay the same shootouts, the more I realized just how silly it all was. And unlike Sonic, silly in Uncharted feels wrong.

There's no grand conclusion to make beyond my own bafflement in preferring one to the other. There's also no grand conclusion to make because I'm going to play the new Zelda now. It's one of those great decisions I make, in absentia of real decisions. Note: I'm going to drink some apple juice, too.

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