The iVideo Game Apple would've Made

Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception Screenshot

HIGH My son telling me to jump back onto my horse after I chased down a moving truck with it, jumped into the back, and took out a bad guy.

LOW You’d think Drake has Wolverine-like healing powers after crashing through the floor for the umpteenth time.

WTF A middle-aged Sully convincing a teenage Drake to stay with him. There has to be some international law against that.

Apple has become one of the most successful and richest companies in the world by taking preexisting gadgets like MP3 players, smartphones and tablet PCs and applying an unparalleled level of industrial design and marketing hype to make them appealing to the mass market. In that sense, if Apple ever decided to develop video games for the current generation of console platforms, I suspect it would look much like the Uncharted series—which has now reached the end of a trilogy with Drake's Deception.

In its two previous iterations, the Uncharted games have taken the third-person action genre to another level by crafting Hollywood-like experiences with remarkably high production values and believable character performances aided by innovative motion-capture technology. Much like Apple, the developers of Uncharted have a keen vision on making that experience accessible to hardcore and casual gamers alike.

For the most part, Drake's Deception predictably follows the Uncharted model to a "T" with its returning cast of underwritten but well-acted (and likable) characters and set-pieces tailor-made for trailers that will blow viewer's minds.

However, my biggest problem with the Uncharted series has always been that the accessibility comes at the expense of any significant progress in terms of game design and interactivity. By being a jack-of-all-trades that derives much from its contemporaries in terms of gameplay design, Drake's Deception is ultimately a master of none. Though polished and streamlined, the end result feels as though the game is trying its darnedest to get out of a gamer's way rather than actually engaging or challenging them. For example, if a player struggles with a puzzle for a few minutes, the game offers up the solution. Climbing pathways are marked with impossible-to-miss colored bricks and/or ledges. The game auto-saves progress and step-by-step checkpoints ensure players will never repeat more than a minute of play upon death.

It's somewhat ironic that the frequent handholding intended to keep up the brisk pace of gameplay only serves to amplify any bumps typical of most other video games. Players don't expect to fail, so when death comes or there's confusion as to which direction to head in a stage, annoyance and frustration sets in faster than one would expect in single-player campaign that takes only around 10 plus hours to complete.

In my opinion, this is what happens when a game doesn't ask much of its players, and actually expects even less. While one can appreciate the level of craftsmanship that drives players towards this universal experience, the pandering degree of guidance replaces any sort of depth for a player to sink their teeth into. Beyond the multiplayer modes, there's very little reason to replay or even remember much of the main campaign.

The one saving grace of gameplay is that after the second half of the game gets underway (with the plot's plausibility firmly in the back seat) players are shoehorned into a series of remarkable stages that feel less like directed experiences and more like playgrounds to be engaged in. It is in these moments that the petty annoyances and frustrations subside in lieu of an exciting blend of platforming, shooting and even horseback riding action that didn't exist in the prior two games. In these stages, I found myself enjoying the game as a game and not as a second-rate Hollywood movie with things exploding and collapsing as I run towards the screen.

Following the hyper-approachable formula used by Apple in the electronics industry, Naughty Dog has crafted another Uncharted game that a majority of players will feel is a welcoming and praiseworthy achievement. However, in comparison to many of its contemporaries, the gameplay ultimately feels stale and doesn't emphasize the more unique and rewarding qualities that separate video games from other media. Uncharted 3 represents the pinnacle of Hollywood mimicry, but I can't help but wonder if we're starting to see diminishing returns in that endeavor. Perhaps games as a whole would be better served to define their sense of value on their own terms. Rating: 7.5 out of 10.

Disclosures: This game was obtained via rental and reviewed on the PS3. Approximately 12 hours of play was devoted to single-player modes (completed 1 time) and 0 hours of play in multiplayer modes due to the requirement of purchasing an online pass.

Parents: According to the ESRB, this game contains blood, language, violence. Despite the game's PG Indiana Jones aspirations, there is a marathon of consistent "shit" talk from nearly all the characters that made me uncomfortable to play around my son. It is unfortunately a huge detraction for what would have been decent family-friendly fair.

Deaf & Hard of Hearing: There are subtitles for all dialogue throughout the game, but they need to be to be turned on in the options menu to display. There are no audio exclusive cues or hints that would make this game unplayable for the deaf and hard of hearing.

Chi Kong Lui

Chi Kong Lui

In the 1980s, Chi grew up in small town on the outskirts of New York City called Jackson Heights. Latino actor, John Leguizamo referred to the town as the "melting pot of the world," and while living there, Chi was exposed to many diverse cultures, as well as a bevy of arcade classics such as Pac-Man, Space Ace, Space Harrier and Double Dragon. Chi's love of videogames only seemed to grow as his parents finally caved and bought him an 8-bit Nintendo Entertainment System (after being the only kid in the block without one). In the 1990s, Chi finagled his way into the prestigious Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School for the Performing Arts.

Somewhere between all the gaming, Chi some how managed to finish high school and get into the New York Institute of Technology. At the same time, Chi also interned at Virtual Frontiers, an Internet software consultancy where he learned the ways of HTML. Soon after acquiring his BFA, Chi went on to become the lead Web designer of the Anti-Defamation League. During his tenure there, Chi was instrumental in redesigning and relaunching the non-profit organization's Web site.

Today, Chi is the webmaster of the American Red Cross in Greater New York and somehow managed to work through the tragic events of September 11th without losing his sanity. Chi considers his life's work and continues to be amazed that the web site is still standing after the recent dotcom fallout. It is his dream that will accomplish two things: 1) Redefine the grammar of videogames much the same way French film critic Andre Bazin did for the art of cinema and 2) bring game criticism to the forefront of mainstream culture much the same way Siskel & Ebert did for film criticism.
Chi Kong Lui

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