Friday, 24 February 2012

On-rails gaming: Uncharted 3 edition

Over the last several years, as games have been getting bigger and bigger, players have been granted more freedom, whether it was just a case of larger rooms to explore and navigate or entire worlds to cause havoc around. It’s generally been regarded as a great development and met with universal approval. However, a slightly disturbing trend seems to be working against such freedom recently.

I’ve already mentioned in a previous post that Battlefield 3’s campaign seemed to be reversing this sense of open environments. It had all the appearances of large, open areas, but actually funnelled players down an incredibly narrow path, not leaving much need for exploration or navigational puzzles. It was basically an on rails corridor shooter with the appearance of a vast, expansive world.

Uncharted 3 is the latest offender of this, but not because of the seemingly one track path. I’m sure it must have featured in the previous Uncharted titles, but there seems to be far too much hand holding in Nate Drake’s third outing. I’m sure it’s all there to make it a more fluent and cinematic experience, but it really bugs me because so much challenge has been removed.

Leap in the vague direction of the ledge you are meant to jump to and Mr Drake will be inexplicably sucked towards it, like the conveniently placed finger grip holes are magnetised and pulling his belt buckle towards them. This can make for some incredibly weird and off-putting physics mysteries as your jump path is corrected and often extended in mid-air. It also makes it painfully obvious that control is being ripped away from your fingers to make the game easier, even on the ‘normal’ difficulty setting.

Look back to the days of Tomb Raider 2 and this all seems like madness. I remember carefully walking Ms Croft up to the edge of a platform before taking a step back to prepare for a running jump. You needed real precision to clear the majority of gaps and it was a genuine challenge. I appreciate that by today’s standards it might be a little clunky and impractical to careful line up your jumps that much, but for the game to actually correct your flight path to the necessary line seems a bit over the top.

I just hope that the new Uncharted inspired Tomb Raider game out later this year takes more notes from Lara’s previous adventures and actually retains some element of challenge with the jumping puzzles. I’m all for a little bit of assistance in terms of grab detection, but don’t take total control away from us when the perilous jumps are meant to be a challenge.

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