Drake's Reception: "Uncharted 3" and Video Game Criticism

[Editor's Note: 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.]

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 criticizing 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, colorful:

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 realize how fucking 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 favorite 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.

More top stories from Matt Singer at IFC.com

Why I don't like the new rules for TV spoilers "Even people who don't care about spoilers don't care about them passionately."
Five more directors who should act more "We call 'em "diractors." We're weird like that."
The Miami Heatification of the Action Genre "A spirit of competition has been replaced by a spirit of merger and acquisition."

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).

Drake's Reception: "Uncharted 3" and Video Game Criticism

"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 recognize 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.