Drake's Reception: 'Uncharted 3' And Video Game Criticism

There's been some outrage at some of the reviews that Uncharted 3's been getting. IFC film critic Matt Singer noticed the backlash and penned this essay about why fans need their beloved games to notch perfect 10 all across the board. Singer's analysis of critic critiques follows -- Ed.

Here's a riddle for you puzzle fans out there: How do 372 little words generate over 1200 responses in 24 hours?

Answer: By being 372 largely negative words about "Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception," one of the most anticipated PlayStation games of the year. Yesterday, The A.V. Club's Scott Jones gave "Uncharted 3" a grade of C while criticising the "woefully faulty" single player gameplay and "superfluous" multiplayer mode. Jones' review lit up the A.V. Club comments section like a pinball machine on free play. Here is a brief but fairly representative sampler of the outrage. Some of the language is, shall we say, colourful:

Witch "Is this really an oficial site? i mean, are you serious? O_O

i was so curious about this review when i saw that 50/100 on metacritic so, here i am and still, i can't believe it..... If u are gonna be that obvious, u could actually grade this game with a 0/100 or F or whatever to inflict more "damage" =/"

ace002 "This was supposed to be a review? This sounds more like a fucking rant from a frustrated 'gamer'. You're just saying how bad the controls are FOR YOU and how predictable the game is FOR YOU, and worst of all...you actually put the names of Halo and Call of Duty on the same sentence as Uncharted? They're not even the same genre, for God's sake. You are the only person that actually said that the Multiplayer is "superfluous". All the other reviews that i read so far said that the Multiplayer actually has improved a lot compared to its predecessor's Multiplayer Mode. Maybe the game is bad for you because you're a mentally retarded asshole who can't play a game that has more than two dimensions. When i go to Metacritic and look at this C on the bottom of the page, followed by 8s,9s and 10s, i realise how f**king misleading your review is...did i already mention that you are an asshole?"

Bramaster "The reviewer at IGN.com said it may be his new favourite game of all time, it's a 93 on Metacritic, and this reviewer is just like "eh"?... it's cool that he's honest, but I don't feel any one that really has a passion for video games could find so much fault with the Uncharted series. This series has the best voice overs and cut scenes of any game to date, the graphics are beautiful, and the multiplayer is rock solid. It's time to get a new reviewer and get serious about this medium, or just don't do it at all. :)"

These reactions are representative of a strange and pervasive hypocrisy in gaming culture. Gamers want video games taken serious as a mature art form but they express that desire only in immature terms. Mister, uh, Bramaster believes Jones is giving his honest opinion (others in the thread accuse him of being a shill for PS3 competitor Microsoft) but still feels that in order to "get serious" about video game criticism, The A.V. Club aught to find someone who loves "Uncharted" to write their review. So thoughtful, insightful, but completely and utterly positive? That's a pretty warped definition of "serious criticism."

Jones' review isn't the only writer to draw the ire of gamers. Simon Parkin of Eurogamer received hundreds of contentious comments on his review of the game (e.g. "eurogamer thinks its cool to give 8 to the best game the industry produces. arrogant and self indulgent pseudojournalism," --ulov3) even though his was far more positive than Jones'. Keep in mind these reactions were left before the game's release, hence these folks were anointing "Uncharted 3" the best game ever before they'd actually played it.

I have played "Uncharted 3" and I do think it's one of the best games the industry's produced recently. But that doesn't mean it's perfect or beyond reproach. Is it art? God, who the hell knows. Would you call the word "OOF" painted on a blue canvas art? The Museum of Modern Art would; they've got a piece just like that by Edward Rusha in their collection. Would you call an intricately designed interactive world that required hundreds or thousands of man hours from dozens of artists and technicians art? Some would say no, because a video game is something you play rather than experience. Art will always be in the eye of the beholder.

In the eye of this beholder, "Uncharted 3" isn't perfect, but it is awesome. On an emotional level, it represents a real achievement for video games. After three "Uncharted"s, the characters of Nathan Drake and Victor "Sully" Sullivan have evolved into an unforgettable buddy combo. Actors Nolan North and Richard McGonagle deliver creative director Amy Hennig's witty dialogue with brilliant timing and charm. It is a little weird to care about the fates of two characters who are not only fictional but immortal -- since you have unlimited lives in the "Uncharted" games, there's no way to lose -- but I genuinely do. "Uncharted 3" pays particular attention to Drake and Sully's relationship, how it began and developed, and it pays off in an ending that is about as poignant as any in any game I've ever played (or, for that matter, any movie I've seen in the last couple months).

"Uncharted 3" also gives players the same palpable buzz as a good action movie. Freed from the restrictions of physics and logistics, "Uncharted 3" can send players through wild, over-the-top chases and escapes that would never be possible in live-action. The game features several set pieces, including an escape from a fiery French chateau and a fight aboard a cargo plane, that made my palms sweat. Drake's endless supply of do-overs dulls the rush a little -- you kind of have to trick yourself into thinking the stakes are high -- but at its best "Uncharted 3" literally had me applauding (author's note: applauding when you should be holding a controller is not the best recipe for video game success).

The stuff that didn't have me applauding was the intellectual side of the game. "Uncharted 3" is clever, but it's not exactly smart. Gameplay varies between gunfights and environmental puzzle solving, neither of which are overly challenging or stimulating, especially after three largely similar entries in the series. All the "Uncharted"s are best enjoyed with your brain in the off position. Otherwise you'd have to wonder how enormous desert cities remain hidden in the age of geosynchronous satellites or fathom the moral implications of a hero who literally kills hundreds upon hundreds of men in each of his adventures.

So "Uncharted 3" doesn't reinvent the wheel, but it is a super fun ride. Why isn't that enough? Why do gamers get so worked up about any break in the consensus or low Metacritic score? I think it has to do with the nature of games. Gaming is about achievement and competition. You play "Uncharted 3"'s campaign to win; you play its -- sorry Scott Jones -- insanely addictive multiplayer mode to level up your player, to buy more weapons and boosters for your character, to be the best and look the coolest while you're doing it. That's the same impulse that drives these overly sensitive reactions. It's not enough to get good reviews, you have to get the best reviews. And then it's not enough to get the best reviews; you have to get perfect reviews. So when Scott Jones gave "Uncharted 3" a C, he didn't just give it a harsh critique; he screwed up gamers' quest for ever-elusive 100% complete.

Until gamers recognise that mindset has its place in the games themselves but not in the discussion around them, comment section freakouts will continue to be the norm. "Uncharted 3" shows how far video games -- and the people who play them -- have come, and how far they still have to go.

Matt Singer has been the on air host of IFC News and a writer for its website, IFC.com, since 2005. His criticism has also appeared in print in The Village Voice and Spin Magazine, and on NPR, E!, MTV and Ebert Presents at the Movies. He lives in Brooklyn with his wife, dog and a prop sword from the film Gymkata.

Republished with permission.


Comments

    A few things. Firstly, I agree with every word of this article. It is indeed a sad indictment on the industry that numerical scores are being disputed BEFORE the game's release.

    Second, I read the review being flamed, and it has some good points. They aren't necessarily things that bother me about the series, but they are legitimate gameplay concerns:

    "Impressive setpieces punctuate the game—most memorably, Drake must escape from a sinking ocean liner. Yet these moments somehow always feel shoehorned into the experience, as if developer Naughty Dog concocted them in advance, then built the rest of the game around them."

    This one has been well and truly the case in previous Uncharted games. Doesn't bother me, because for me, the point is the set pieces, but that could certainly grate the wrong way for someone.

    If it were up to me, there would be no more numerical scores for fanboys to gripe over and compare endlessly. I like the Kotaku approach, that gives a yes/no good/bad analysis and leaves it at that.

      I think even a big bold "YES BUY THIS GAME" or "DON'T BUY THIS GAME" is too much. It still makes it too easy for people to complain about a review with out reading it.

      I agree with you agreeing with this article.

      I also like the sentence you pulled because it's the perfect explanation as to why some people don't like Uncharted and I think a valid reason, if you personally don't like this factor in the game, to grade it more negatively.

      People really dont like seeing their games get graded badly.

    Anyone else think the A/B/C/D system is better then the numbers setup?

    It seems cleaner, yet not near as unwavering as the tradition 'out of 100' method.

    I have fond memories (I use the word 'fond' loosely) of getting a high school essay back with a big fat B-, of which I took to the head of the facualty and had it up'ed to a B. Which taught me that marking is subjective to who's doing the marking (To a degree).

    There is a fair bit of wiggle room between a C and a B, the '+' '-' seems to fall more on the individual marker/reviewer. Which, in my eye's, is a fair sight better then getting into an argument of the difference between 85 and 87 out of a hundred.

    Also, I swear to god I've read this same story at least once a week over the past two months. Between this and sexism in games. Both serious issues for sure, but is there really nothing else to talk about?

    There's only so many times you can say "The reviewing system is flawed".

      I take that last bit back.

      It could be worse. Instead of articles on out-of-step reviews of uncharted/BF3/Insert AAA title here and articles on gamer's being a bunch of misogonistic manchildren, we could be getting articles on "The best 25 X out of Y".

        *Misogynistic

        Mark. Buddy. Pal. An edit button'ed be great.

    There is undeniably a world of trouble in gaming reviews and journalism. Criticising the criticisers is a well trodden path, but there are many more steps to be taken yet before gaming has it’s own Dave and Margaret. This review is one of them.

    It is unfortunate that Scott's review reads a little like it was written after watching some pre-release trailers, or E3 footage of Uncharted, rather than after extensive playing but that may be a side effect of the constraints he was working within (time and or words). The brevity given to some of his major concerns, '...targeting is as twitchy as ever..." and '...if the gameplay weren’t so woefully faulty...' come across less as overt criticism and more like a mismatch of expectations, similar to saying I wish Ratchet would platform like Mario. Though that doesn’t excuse twitchy aiming or Ratchet’s inertia!

    In short, Scott is on point. The criticisms he levels at UC3 are things I’m sure the designers at Naughty Dog were aware of – and quiet likely were disappointed and annoyed that they couldn’t or weren’t able to work around during production or were comprises made for the game to come together (bullet sponge enemies, though that is hardly exclusive to the UC series).

    And yet despite all that, if all reviews were written in such a concise and almost cold fashion that addressed all game’s faults similarly, we would be in a better position. For all the high scores given to CoD, nary a review mentioned – much less criticised - the waypointing system of enemy spawns (enemies constantly spawn from points on map until you pass a waypoint), something which I hate. And there are many other things for which CoD (and any other genre defining game you care to think of) ought to have been criticised over the years for in a way that Scott so succinctly did here with Uncharted.

    His review is antithesis to the glowing praise of a fan of the series review which can be found easily elsewhere on the net.

    And of course, that is to say nothing of the fact that had Scott not put a linear grade at the end of his article there would have been no storm in a tea cup.

    I've been thinking about reviews a bit lately. I'm not sure that a reviewer needs to be unbiased, they just need to give their honest opinion and readers need to stop criticising them for that.

    A reviewer will likely attract repeat readers who have a similar taste to them. They build trust with their audience by presenting an opinion that is inline with what their audience wants to hear.

    So if a reviewer doesn't like a particular game, and they can expect their usual audience to feel the same way, they're doing their job well by saying "These are the problems I had, I didn't like the game". It's up to the reader to check out previous reviews and determine whether or not their taste aligns with that of the author.

    Yeah I read both of those reviews & the comments in both were just terrible. It makes me feel good that i'm not a fruit like those, its embarrassing to gamers everywhere.

    I think the main problem is that "reviewers" think of themselvs as journalists, when in fact all they are are product assessers. Sure there is no such thing as an objective review, but it should be the role of a product reviewer to provide usefull information to their reader, and to help make purchasing decisions.

    If Matt Singer has opinions that are so far removed from the norm, and makes no apologies for writing a personal opinion piece on this game rather than provide a useful review for the general public, then that is fine. But he should make this clear to everyine, should remove his "grade" form metacritic, and avoid scoring in general.

    Also, I now know that Matt Singer has opinions that vary widely from the average, and mine (Assuming UC3 is as good as UC2), so I wil automatically distrust any review from him in the future.

      *My apologies, I meant to say "Scott Jones", and not Matt Singer.

    It would be easier to take negative reviews more seriously if there was no such thing as link bait and the growing trend of reviewers hating for the sake of hate.

    If Uncharted: Reception is exactly the same as Uncharted: Drakes Ballroom and Amonkey Grieves then IMO the only valid complaint is the Eurogamer "same crap different wrapper" from a week ago. Liking the previous games controls/narrative then writing off the new game which has the same controls/similar narrative seems a little attention seeking.

    Movie and game critics are the most useless job in the world. Who listeners to them? It's only THEIR opinion in the end.

    I still feel like this series is suronded by sort of 'pro ps3' pyhco babble. Its like there just has to be an iconic system selling series on the ps3 and for lack of anything else this is it (and yes I own a ps3).

    Although I completely disagree with Scott Jones, I have no problem with his giving a ‘C’ to Uncharted 3, if that's his genuine opinion. The problem is it’s completely inconsistent with other ratings on the site. Gears of War 3 was stamped with an ‘A’ according to a different reviewer on the AV Club –fair enough, too. I have both games and think they’re both great, although Uncharted in my opinion is definitely superior in terms of graphics, story, characters, diversified gameplay, wow moments, etc.
    If Scott Jones had his own site called scottjones.com or notorietyreviews.com or whatever, and gave these inconsistent and incomparable ratings, that would be fine, but when he’s writing for the AV Club or any review site, he should have some obligation to juxtapose his ratings against others on the site. All he’s managed to do is tag the AV Club as an inconsistent, unreliable mess when it comes to game ratings.

    Why can't a game just get 10 everywhere because it deserves it? The set pieces are not the focus, this coming from someone who played the game but even if they were what's wrong with that? The whole purpose of a review is to tell people what you think about a game, the numerical score matters the least yet we have sites built around them. This may be the most absurdly useless thing that the human race has to offer. This would not be so if there were people who are willing to give credit where it is due rather than use their creditals to incite outrage. It is so pathetic to see games used to actually be appreciated by everyone, take ocorina of time, a near perfect 99% on meta critic and still holds up nicely today. Uncharted 3 will be that kind of game yet people don't want to commend talent anymore, a lot of them just want to take a piss on it and coat it with preposterous angles such as, are you looking close enough to really appreciate the game along with it's flaws? To that I say, you do relies that you are paid to talk out of your ass right? Know your boundaries and how far you can go before you begin to reek of manure 'Simon Parkin' and 'screw ball from A.V club'.
    P.S. That has got to be the worst name for a website I have ever come across. I look forward to never going to your site [AV club] ever again you self righteous yanks.

    His review doesn't bother me. But I will be interested to see what score he gives to MW3 given this precedent.

    Uncharted 3 is an absolutely fantastic interactive movie,probably the best of all time. But it's not an absolutely fantastic video 'game'.

    You could almost ship 70% of the entire series with a one button controller to complete the game. And actually I really don't even need to press that one button as what Drake does next is completely hard coded into the game.

    Sure other games do this , but the greatest of games that deserve to be called a video game gives players the tools to actually PLAY THE GAME and not let the game dictate everything , everywhere, all the time.

    I feel like the game plays itself more than I play with it. I simply manipulate one cut-scene,that's disguised as gameplay ,after the next with the most basic of controller commands.

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