Video Game Awards 2017: The ‘Secret of Mana’ Award

Okay, this is the award category where I have to give a little bit of backstory. Secret of Mana, originally released in 1993 on the SNES, is one of my favorite RPGs. But I didn’t actually play it until 2012, via the Wii’s Virtual Console service.

This particular award is named after Secret of Mana because it gives the spotlight to a game I didn’t play during its original release, but caught up on in the previous calendar year (in this case, 2016), as kind of a “better late than never” kind of thing.

So without further ado, here is 2016’s Secret of Mana Award recipient.

 

Winner: The Uncharted Series

Yeah, I didn’t fully play the Uncharted games until early last year, when I bought the Nathan Drake Collection on the PS4. Though the games are flawed (particularly the first and third entries), they really are something great, and I regret not playing them during their original releases. In fact, I like them so much, that I would retroactively hail Uncharted 2 as my favorite game of 2009. Their fast-paced action, and replication of Indiana

Originally, I was going to give this award to Undertale, which was released in September 2015, but I didn’t play until January of 2016. But I feel that was a close enough window that it was inconsequential. Meanwhile, the original Uncharted trilogy was released in 2007, 2009 and 2011. So catching up on three great games a good number of years after their original release was too much to pass up. Plus, I named Undertale as my overall Game of the Year for 2015, so it wasn’t exactly shorthanded.

Anyway, Uncharted is great. I understand its power now.

Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception Review

*Review based on the remastered PS4 version as part of Uncharted: The Nathan Drake Collection*

Uncharted 3

Video games have a much better track record in regards to sequels than most mediums, though threequels can still be a bit of a mixed bag. In the video game world, the second entry of a series usually learns from its predecessor’s missteps, rectifies them, and expands on the merits of the original. The third entry can either enhance a series even further and bring it to new heights, or be the point where things start feeling a bit repetitious. Naughty Dog’s 2011 title, Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception, falls somewhere in between. It’s a stellar experience that lives up to the heights of Uncharted 2 in many ways, but still suffers from some of the shortcomings of being third in line.

In terms of gameplay, Uncharted 3 is pretty much identical to Uncharted 2. Nathan Drake still wields two weapons at a time (a pistol and a larger weapon) to partake in third-person shooting action, while combining that run-and-gun nature with platforming and Indiana Jones style puzzle solving. There have been some small additions to the experience, with a notably greater emphasis on melee combat (this title introduces “Brute” enemies, that can be fought in bouts similar to the recurring fights Indiana Jones had against big men). But overall the gameplay remains largely the same.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing, since Uncharted 2 is a tremendously fun game, and that same sense of fun carries over to Nathan Drake’s third outing.

This time, Nathan Drake, Victor Sullivan, Elena Fisher and Chloe Frazer are on a quest to find the lost city of Iram of the Pillars. Naturally, an evil organization, lead by Katherine Marlowe – a former acquaintance of Drake and Sully – is also trying to find this lost city.

The good thing about the plot is that it’s a lot more character-driven this time around, with a particular emphasis on the relationship between Drake and Sully (perhaps as a means to rectify Sully’s questionably limited role in the second game). The story takes a number of cues to Lawrence of Arabia, but might also need to cite Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade as an equal in inspiration. There are even segments that see players in the role of a young Nathan Drake in a way not dissimilar to how Last Crusade gave us a glimpse of Indiana Jones’ earliest adventure.

On the downside, the very setup of finding a lost city, and the way it plays out, almost mirrors the plot of the second game. They more or less just dropped the snowy mountains in favor of the deserts of the Middle-East (personally, I find the snowy setting to be both more unique and aesthetically pleasing). Additionally, the main plot takes a detour midway through, with a few chapters serving as little more than padding (albeit one of the game’s finest set pieces is included among them).

Uncharted 3Where Uncharted 3 shines brightest is in the action itself. There are a number of instances where the set pieces and action scenarios of Uncharted 3 match those of the second game. The adventure opens with an extensive bar fight. Later in the game Drake has to escape a burning building, run from countless deadly spiders, jump from horse to truck and back again in yet another nod to Last Crusade, and in one of the game’s best moments (the aforementioned one that takes place during the dip in the plot), Nathan Drake must navigate his way out of a sinking cruise ship, with the overturned ship changing up the platforming of the series in inventive ways.

These set pieces are Uncharted 3’s greatest strength, but the title also benefits from its terrific implementation of the series’ overall mechanics for much of the game. Along with better utilized melee fights, many of the puzzles found in the game rank as the best and most clever in the series. The game even continues what Uncharted 2 accomplished with more compact and focused gunfight segments. At least it does all this until the last few chapters.

It’s a shame to admit that, although Uncharted 3 recreates the spectacle of the second entry, the last few chapters ensure that it never consistently captures the quality of its predecessor. Though the majority of the game is on equal footing with Uncharted 2, the last few chapters bafflingly resurrect the greatest misstep from the first Uncharted.

Like the first game, the final few segments feature overly-long gunfights against enemies that seemingly eat bullets, and once you’ve finally managed to finish them off, they are followed by reinforcements who do the same. The puzzles and set pieces all but disappear by the third act, and they are replaced by seemingly endless fights against armies of enemies that grow more and more repetitious.

Uncharted 3This means that Uncharted 3 ends on a more disappointing note than it begins. Coupled with the familiarity in gameplay and plot, and unfavorable comparisons to Uncharted 2 were bound to happen (and they still do today). But don’t think that Uncharted 3 is a failure by any means. Its predecessor is simply a landmark title. One that Uncharted 3 couldn’t quite live up to. But by its own merits it’s still a pretty remarkable game.

Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception is a great game filled with fantastic action and fun gameplay that lives up to the series’ reputation, as well as that of its inspiration, Indiana Jones. The visuals are terrific, the music is appropriately epic, and much of the game displays a great sense of variety. It’s a thrilling experience.

The problem is that it fails to improve upon its predecessor. Instead it simply goes through the same motions, but throwing different obstacles in Nathan Drake’s way. And by the end, the game’s genius devolves into something of a monotony.

A great game under most criteria, but perhaps not quite the spectacle that Uncharted 2 is.

 

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