Sunday Thoughts: Set Pieces

I’ve shot an awful lot of Russians in the past day or so. Not actual Russians you understand, I’m not admitting to being a mass murderer (at least not yet), I’ve just been trying to crank through Modern Warfare’s 3 campaign so I can decide just where I’d rank it on my Game of the Year list. I’m actually enjoying it a lot more than the second entry in the trilogy, mostly because the story seems to actually make some sort of sense.

I mean I haven’t quite worked out why Russia felt that a full scale invasion of the USA was an appropriate response to one terrorist attack, but then again the United States seemed to think it was the correct response in Afghanistan so perhaps the whole series is actually a clever metaphor for the war on terror. On the other hand it might just be an excuse to shoot at Russians who are, inexplicably, evil again even though the Cold War ended 20 years ago.

[drop]That’s not actually what I want to talk about though, it’s actually the controls in Modern Warfare 3. See, it seems to have created a new genre, the ‘point and shoot’ adventure. The auto-aim was present in Modern Warfare 2, but it didn’t seem nearly as pronounced. However I don’t want to criticise it for that, it’s actually a nice bit of a change. Sure, it may be completely lacking in realism or any sense of achievement but it does keep the story moving forward. It really adds a drive and speed to the campaign, along with the other characters constantly nagging at you to push on.

It’s quite a difference from the shooting style of the Uncharted series, which feels nicely satisfying to me. I don’t know if it’s the ease of hitting head shoots that appeals to me or if it’s just the system in general, but it really clicks with me. Sadly the bullet-sponge issues of the series do sort of balance it out, I find the sheer amount of damage that a generic bad guy can take if you can’t hit them smack between the eyes to be intensely frustrating, and the ease with which enemies in Modern Warfare crumple to the floor actually felt pretty refreshing.

Here’s the thing, I like that Modern Warfare 3 has no desire to hide what it is. It knows that’s it’s going big and brash, and it quickly becomes clear that the shooting is dumbed down so much because they just want you to drive on to the next set piece, move forwards to the next explosion or building collapse.

I’m not sure I can say the same for Uncharted 3. There’s no comparing the stories, Uncharted 3’s is a lot better. It’s more refined, more character driven and feels far more thought out. It may not be quite as fast paced or as epic in scale, but so far it trumps Modern Warfare 3 easily.

However, it sometimes seems that the bits in between set pieces in Uncharted 3 are just there to flesh the game out, to try and conceal the fact that Naughty Dog had thought of all these amazing battles and chase sequences, and needed a way to stitch them all together. I never got this feeling in Uncharted 2, and the exceptionally low number of set pieces in the first game sort of discounts it, but it’s really what Uncharted 3 is all about.

That’s not to say it’s a bad thing, but at least Modern Warfare 3 feels like it’s being honest about it. You know that once you’ve auto-aimed at a few guys and easily killed them something’s going to explode and you can look forward to it. There were points in Uncharted 3 where I knew that something would be blowing up pretty soon, but I had to slog my way through these enemies first.

[drop2]I’m not sure which approach I prefer, does increasing the ease with which the player can get between whatever crazy scene Infinity Ward have set up make the game feel too lazy, or does it increase flow? Are Naughty Dog simply padding out the spaces between their set pieces and trying to disguise the game’s true nature, or are they making a more fully realised game by fleshing out the sections in between your last goal and your next one?

I’m not sure I can really say which is the developer’s goal or even which approach is better. Both are enjoyable experiences, and isn’t that really what matters at the end of the day?



  1. I feel the same about Uncharted 3 Vs Uncharted 2, the bits in between the high points seem far ‘lower’ than they did do.

    Whenever I come across a semi-open space and see lots of boxes neatly arranged as cover points I think “oh, god here we go again”.

    So much so I don’t even know if I can be arsed to finish it

    This seems to happen far more often than in U2, U3’s set pieces are amazing, but it feels almost a grind in between them as the narrative practically labours along. I never got this feeling in Uncharted 2.

    With regards to CoD they do set pieces excellently, and like a great summer blockbuster (popcorn movie as opposed to anything highbrow) it’s set piece after set piece, the lull comes in the in between, told in 2 minute bursts in the debriefing bits which serves as the game’s narrative, but when the action starts it’s all action.

    If I was comparing the none stop action and fantastic set pieces of MW3 to expertly told story & also the brilliant action of Uncharted 2, I’d prefer U2 every day of the week, but the up & down pacing of Uncharted 3 feels almost disjointed by Naughty Dog’s high standards, parts of it even feel rushed, I hope Uncharted 4 has time to breathe.

    • I never really looked at it like that, I always felt like I was being pushed forward, hurtling toward another brilliant cutscene which, in turn, would lead to more wonderfully animated gameplay and sublime setpieces.

      Each to their own I guess

  2. I bought both on day one and just kept going back to Uncharted until the plat. An hour or so on MW then back to Uncharted, even though i already completed it by then.

    I dont really think deeply into why i play games and dive deep into the little bits that make it bad or good. I find that pointless as all i really want is to enjoy my time behind my pad. Dont really see why comparing 1 to 2 or 2 to 3 gets you anywhere either… are just looking for the good,the bad and the ugly instead of sitting back and doing what it was designed for….enjoying.

  3. I think that flow is very important and I love set-pieces. Although, story and challenge are also important factors in a game, so I can see how difficult it can be to find the right balance.

  4. Have to admit, I have stopped playing Uncharted 3 because of the bullet-sponge enemies right near the end, and if I keep getting hit with a grenade launcher when behind cover, the disc will end up in next door’s hedge. I will finish it one day, but right now Skyrim is keeping me too engrossed.

    As for MW3, I haven’t even played Black Ops, because I don’t play online and find the story mode (I’ll be damned before I call it a “Campaign”!) seemed to play itself for you on MW2. But it certainly seems refreshing compared to shooting some guy 6 times in the chest before he’ll even drop to one knee.

  5. Wonderful set pieces are truly cinematic but developers need to make sure they don’t lose sight of the actual game itself.

    I’ve just finished Uncharted 3 not five minutes ago and that was wonderful, wonderful fun. If they stop the franchise here that’s fine with me (assuming they take the mature decision when to run with it and when to put it to bed).

    I’d love to see Naughty Dog move on from this regardless.

    Although I’d love to see devs look to Naughty Dog to see what’s possible with the current generation of hardware and how acting, animation and subtly can be handled but just to be careful when they choose free flowing environments and fixed, set pieces. A healthy mix of the two would be lovely for me.

  6. I prefer a Halo/ Red Faction kind of single player where I have more control over the set-pieces.

  7. Finished MW3 last night and playing UC3 now, both single player.

    Thought MW3 was great. Better than BF3 single player. But while I want to love UC3, I’m finding it pretty frustrating. A head shot should be a death. No question.

  8. There’s a feature/video on the U3 extras that has Naughty Dog saying they indeed have ideas for what could be amazing set pieces, and then they kinda adapt the story to put them in. As long as they make sense, they say.

  9. I thought UC3 was crap, to put it simply. The gameplay was terrible and the story was a badly paced, improbable and tacked on failure.

    Yes the production values were superb but even that doesn’t come close to absolving the games numerous other sins.

    That it managed to get a perfect score in this sites review just serves to highlight how broken game reviews really are. Personally I think it deserves a 7 at the very most.

    • May I ask what you thought was a good game this year?
      And we’re any of these games of a similar genre?
      I’ve heard people say that Uncharted wasn’t the type of game they liked before, but nobody I knows has called it crap outright.

      • Skyrim and Deus Ex were the definite favourites, with honourable mentions going to Dark Souls, Killzone 3, Ico + SOTC Collection, and both Dragon Age II and Dead Space 2.

        I liked UC2 a lot (apart from the terrible last boss), I think UC3 is crap because it took the flaws present in the second and waved them around in your face.

        Also, while I said crap, I did say it was worth a 7/10. It’s crap in the context of the expectation that arose from review and Naughty Dog’s previous efforts, purely as a game it’s pretty decent, but no better than that.

    • Just out of curiousity, was that last line a typing error? Every other line in the comment damns the game and then you give it a 7 (albeit at the very most)? That’s not exactly a terrible score – I was expecting to see a 2 or 3 there (for the production values).

      Of course, if it wasn’t an error, then that’d be another good example of how broken game reviews can be when a seven becomes a bad score!

      • If you check Metacritic’s average review score as awarded by this site it’s about a 7. Therefore an average game ,which UC3, in my opinion, is, is now deserving of a 7.

        I’m not saying UC3 is entirely devoid of creative merit or fun, it just really annoys me that a game with such obvious, crippling flaws can be awarded a perfect score. It’s absolutely ridiculous – I just cannot fathom how this can be considered okay.

      • An average for this site is a 5.
        The average awarded is different, because the guys here don’t review every game, presumably because they don’t have the time, money, or maybe just have something better to do with their time than playing every single crap game ever released.

        As for the flaws- I didn’t find any on my playthrough, but I suppose it comes down to taste.
        The only thing that bugged me was one or two of the setpieces were retreads of Uncharted 2, but I loved the gameplay.
        I thought the story of Uncharted 2 was better, but that (in my opinion) Uncharted 3 perfected the gameplay.
        What was so crippling and terrible about the gameplay?

      • According to Metacritic’s database the average score of this site, mathematically speaking, is 7.

        The “average” of 5 really should be changed to mediocre, as that term is actually accurate.

        With UC3 I’m your opposite, I didn’t care some of the set pieces were very similar to UC2 because I thought they were still done very well, I actually had fun with them. It was everything but the set pieces I couldn’t stand. Excepting the cut scenes, they were as always wonderful.

        The combat is the biggest annoyance, I just can’t stand it. Every time I have to shoot something all the atmosphere and my suspension of disbelief goes flying.

        If they just completely reevaluated the ‘bullet spongy-ness’ I’d be satisfied, really. I just don’t agree with it in any way. I mean, hell, the Colossi in SOTC take less killin’ than a regular UC3 grunt later on in the game.

      • Read this
        I’m sick of people calling 7 average, 5 is average. I don’t care what meteoritic says, its crap anyway.

      • Yup, 5 is the score for an average game.
        The thing that’s skewing that is that the team doesn’t review many below average games, as many of them are coming out of their own pockets.
        So while the mean of the review scores may be 7, the score for an average game is 5.

  10. I bought both on day one and just kept going back to Uncharted until the plat. An hour or so on MW then back to Uncharted, even though i already completed it by then.
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