“Never a dull moment, eh Sully?”
Taking advantage of the annual post-Christmas industry downtime, I’m diving into my backlog to complete what I can before 2013’s ridiculous spring expands my collection even more. I started with Uncharted 3, last year’s masterpiece that somehow passed me by until Black Friday advertised an offer I couldn’t refuse. As expected from public- and press-side praise along with my previous experience with the series, I enjoyed Nathan Drake’s final (?) journey more than most other adventures I’ve had this generation. And yet, only hours in, I began to notice something bothersome.
I was growing bored of the excitement.
When every ladder breaks and every unsteady floor falls away at the last second, everything becomes predictable, no more gripping than if none of these near-death-but-not-really instances happened in the first place. Moment-to-moment, edge-of-your-seat sensations shrink as these occurrences are compounded around every turn. By this third chapter, you never actually fear for Drake’s livelihood, never consider death as a true possibility. Eventually, these harrowing situations — the cliff-hanging leaps of faith and seemingly endless stumblings through desert sands — totally lose their thrill. We know how video games work. We know that Naughty Dog wouldn’t dare kill off the main character within the first five hours, if at all.
We know that Nate will be okay.
Hanging onto a truck that’s hanging out of a plane while I’m hanging hundreds of feet above a barren desert? No big deal.
In response, we could play ruthlessly, accepting our demise as it comes during gameplay and assuming our story stops there. But deep down, we’d always know that this game-ending event isn’t canon. The “real” Nathan Drake didn’t die in that gunfight, and nor do I believe that he should. Sudden death is not the answer. If Drake discovered his ultimate end as a result of an ill-timed jump just a few chapters into any Uncharted, I would undoubtedly be more unhappy than I am now (which, mind you, isn’t too unhappy at all). A bold move, to be sure, yet not the right one to escape these tired sentiments.
So what do we do? Rather, what do they do? Them. The developers of story-driven adventures. Should they shift focus from physical fights to emotional options? Deal in actions with repercussions involving relationships instead of explosions? They could — and some do — but we can’t cut out physical feats and still tell an action-packed tale with the level of interactivity desired by the gaming community at large.
Speaking of that community, does it even care about my admittedly minor nitpicks? Or are most content enough as it is, deriving their fun from actual gameplay without the exceptional (and unusual) emphasis I place on storytelling? Is everyone else okay with such a pervasive sense of invulnerability? I honestly don’t know, but could use your help if you’re willing to offer the input.
“Never a dull moment, eh Sully?”
After a quick and characteristic rough smoker’s chuckle, Nathan Drake’s lifelong partner chimes in with a hearty, “Why change now?” It’s a response that’s stated rhetorically, but maybe that question could use an actual answer.
Maybe a dull moment would be nice for a change.