Dying for a Dull Moment

“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.

Uncharted 3 ChateauExpect the fire to burn what’s beneath you just after soaring to safer grounds.

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.

Uncharted 3 Drake Sully

“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.

Written by: Luke Frazier

Gaming industry addict. Twitter fiend. Unabashed lover of Kingdom Hearts. Other favorites include The Legend of Zelda, Portal, Bioshock, Journey, and peanut butter & banana sandwiches. Also, oatmeal. Let's be friends. @LukeAFrazier – Steam/PSN: GodAlliz

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  • Jay Curtis

    Interesting opinions, I’ve never viewed this quality as a flaw of the series. I’ve always felt like Uncharted was the feel-good action movie of the industry. You know the main character will be ok, but its still fun and compelling, kind of like the Avengers.

  • Hmmm. A dying main character seems ot be a no-no. Perhaps that’s why rogue-likes are picking up steam. Because one death and – BOOM – it’s all over.

    Regarding UC, I never-ever-ever thought Drake was going to die. However, not one to point out exceptions, the entire dessert scene was simply holding forward and watching Drake dehydrate. It was by far my favorite moment. No guns, no other characters. That is one dull moment.

    • I agree. The dessert scene was delicious.

    • Agreed, misseur. The term “dull” doesn’t exactly do my feelings justice. Definitely enjoyed the des(s)ert bit, but by then I could no longer feel…engrossed. My wandering didn’t really matter, because I knew Drake would find something or something would find him. He was never in any real danger.

      And realize I’m only calling out Uncharted 3 because I just finished it. In reality, this probably almost to almost every game out there.

  • This sort of goes back to my first article, when I said that dull moments are critical to the game’s narrative pacing. Excitement all the time can be exhausting and boring. If BioShock is an example of how to do it, the Uncharted series is one of how not to do it. Great piece.

    • Thanks bud, appreciate it. I’ve been feeling uninspired for features lately, but these thoughts just hit me after booting up Uncharted today.

      BioShock…yeah, BioShock did nice things. Maybe because the hero of BioShock was really a nobody and I wouldn’t have put it past Irrational to kill him off. But moreso, BioShock was about discovery. I wanted to see Rapture and wanted to know what happened to it. With Uncharted 3, I’d seen enough. I knew I’d end up in another set of ancient ruins with a vaguely fantastical mystique that may or may not be supernatural. And I knew Nathan Drake would survive.