The lights are on
Out of all the blockbuster games that came out in 2011, Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception, stands tall as one of my favorite action experiences of that year’s line-up. After having recently platinumed the game and hearing some renewed discussion of Uncharted from Game Informer Online’s blogging community, I was inspired to revisit this classic entry myself and rekindle my love for the gun-toting, explosive adventures of Nathan Drake. Playing through it once more, I was happy to find that my appreciation for Naughty Dog’s flair for jaw-dropping action and cinematic storytelling is still unshaken and remains one of the role-models that I believe action games to live up to.
Like all things Uncharted, Uncharted 3 has our hero of Nathan Drake pursuing yet another of his ancestor’s treasures, this time the ancient city of Ubar as researched by T.E. Lawrence (fact!). To find it, Nate enlists the aid of pal Victor “Sully” Sullivan, former flame Chloe Frasier of Uncharted 2 fame, and newbie character Charles Cutter to track down clues of Sir Francis Drake’s across Europe and the Middle East. He quickly draws the attention of the scheming Catherine Marlowe and her minion, Talbot, bringing up more than a few memories of his past and bringing him to face his own worst fears. Surviving one outrageous situation to the next, Drake is finally moved to come terms with his estranged girlfriend, Elena Fisher, and the discovery of a lifetime may at last put and end in sight to his globe-trotting ways.
In strict adherence to its series’ aim for “real-world” action, Uncharted 3 sports some of the best graphics ever to be featured on the PS3 and its stunning beauty can be challenged by few games on the market today. The sheer environmental detail that Uncharted 3 boasts is nothing short of stunning, from its spectacular lighting effects to the tiniest detail of dust on Drake’s hair. Using an “evolved” version of Uncharted 2‘s engine, Uncharted 3 showcases the best water, fire, sand, and smoke dynamics and effects that elevate the intensity and mood of each of its levels. Almost as successful are the character animations. Some minor eye and facial touches go as far as to make some, namely Elena, appear to have changed ethnicities with a few odd facial tweaks, but otherwise, these characters look like they're straight out of the movies. Such technological accomplishments speak volumes in how far the system has come in graphic capability since its early days of 2006.
Similar to the rest of the game’s graphical standards, Uncharted 3‘s characters are incredible to watch in the realism of their movement and facial textures, both of which lend a fantastic amount of emotion to the game’s dramatic story sequences. Voice actors Nolan North, Emily Rose, and Richard McGonagle all deliver superb voice work and motion capture to their characters and it shows through in Drake and company’s enhanced sense of movement and reactive capabilities. It may be worth noting, however, that characters’ likenesses to their previous versions do display some inconsistencies. In addition, Uncharted 3‘s attempts at more surreal, abstract level sequences like Drake’s desert hallucinations, though popular with many, never felt that exciting or engaging to me. While I felt they merely took up time, they were, at the very least, refreshing to see as part of the game's ambitiously original direction.
The only time when Uncharted 3 partially failed me was in its story. While I always loved the characters, I often failed to fully grasp their motivations, including main villainess Catherine Marlowe, and was left unaware of a bigger picture to Drake’s struggles. Here and there, plot holes and vague inside references kept me scratching my head at times to understand some of the meandering twists and turns of Drake’s journey. Similarly, Drake and Elena’s relationship, which I believe is what helped push Uncharted 2’s story over the top to perfection, seemed just as underdeveloped. Their mutual break-up felt like it came out of nowhere within the bounds of Uncharted 3’s plot and only made the game’s finale seem pointless since I never knew what personal issues were being resolved in the first place. Nevertheless, Drake’s slew of jokes and quips flung across any number of outrageously action-packed fights never ceased to make me chuckle and appreciate his unique sense of humor rarely found in the video-game universe. It was a pleasure to watch the touching chemistry between him and his friends over the course of the story and reminded me why I fell in love with Uncharted 2 back in the day. It didn't lack in heartfelt moments either, perhaps best captured in Drake collapsing in Elena’s lap after abandoning their bond for so long, simply saying, “I’m sorry.”
Not content to rely on looks alone, Uncharted dishes out some of the meanest and most intense combat of the series thus far. Gun fights are much the same as before, using the same cover and blind-fire systems, but not without some improvements in its enhanced stealth mechanics and greater weapon selection. Drake can hide behind a wider variety of corners and walls this time, enabling him to efficiently and quietly clear a room of enemies, which comes in handy for both your success and enjoyment. Some of the new weapons added to Drake’s arsenal, like the Tau sniper pistol and the monstrous PAK 80 machine gun, further add diversity to the gunplay and the game’s larger areas brilliantly complicate enemies’ firing positions. Uncharted 3‘s gun battles are comparably easier than its predecessors but feel nonetheless satisfying in their potential for long kill streaks, especially in the amusing guns-a-blazing strategy that you’ll be able to pull off in Very Easy mode.
The enemy AI, on the other hand, is frequently unpredictable and can at times seem like a constant annoyance. Particularly on Crushing mode, enemies may instantly sight you or possibly pay no attention at all until you’re right in their faces, making for a more finicky level of difficulty.
More remarkable, however, is the game’s greater focus on hand-to-hand combat. They’re faster, trickier, and definitely more brutal than previous entries and with impressively deeper melee attacks. No longer limiting himself to just kicks and punches, Drake can also fully use the environment around him in fights this time while facing crowds of enemies at times, grabbing everything from bottles to frying pans in the area to wield. This is particularly fun to watch unfold and makes for some highly entertaining moments such as watching a tough bruiser get his just deserts with a giant fish to the face.
Chase sequences are also more frequent this time around and though often suffering from slightly sticky controls, remain entertaining overall. These levels themselves are the pinnacle of success for Uncharted 3, presenting players with one chaotic plane crash or road chase after another to keep you on the edge of your seat. Uncharted 3’s epic Plane Crash and sinking ship are both ones for the series’ history books and will probably remain one of 2011’s greatest gaming moments for all their wonderfully destructive joy.
Uncharted’s trademark puzzle solving and platforming also make their return to Uncharted 3 with mixed results. In contrast to the first two Uncharteds, puzzles are more of a frustration rather than a real enjoyment in their complexity and frequency than I think most would appreciate. Puzzles like those of the French Chateau and Yemen proved especially difficult, almost seeming more like trick puzzles rather than legitimately solvable. Solutions are provided in Drake’s in-game journal, but I felt they were helpful only half the time. Although the game is not totally unmerciful, granting you hints and tips from characters if you get stuck for an unreasonably long time, I was often annoyed enough to look up most of them on-line (yeah, I cheated).
In contrast, Uncharted’s platforming was much more fulfilling. As always, Drake’s diverse travel destinations has him monkeying around just about every nook and cranny of various ruins and wilderness. Uncharted 3’s platforming feels as fluid and enjoyable as ever, granting Drake a number of acrobatic actions to undertake across countless chasms and perilous ledges. With the game’s improved physics, Drake’s running, jumping, and swimming is even more impressive to watch and the fiery level of Uncharted 3‘s French Chateau and the hectic finale in the city of Ubar is even greater to behold.
Like Uncharted 2, Uncharted 3 features its own multi-player component and on-line network play on the PSN with various forms competitive and cooperative modes to join in. With a good deal of extra cash on hand, player profiles are highly customizable, allowing you to choose from any of the in-game characters as well as downloadable ones from previous games such as Harry Flynn, Lazaravich, and Navarro, along with plenty of character skins and ability boosters. Uncharted’s traditional free-for-all modes like deathmatch, team elimination, and treasure hunting are all there and feel fun and engaging. Firefights and punch-out brawls are as much a pleasure in multiplayer as they are in the main story, with the addition of bigger arenas and even more nooks and crannies for goodies. You’ll face some wildly skilled competitors and probably develop some great rivalries with Uncharted’s addictive amount of multiplayer trophies and weapons rewards, so be prepared to spend many an hour in the field shooting away the day. Players can create custom games too if you can’t find just what you’re looking for. You can customize a variety of situations and there are plenty of weapons at your disposal. The game’s buddy system also allows for random friends to drop in or out of matches on a whim in split-screen mode, giving out a handful of advantages like free respawns and makes multiplayer seem significantly more accessible.
Uncharted 3, for all its glory, may not be immune to some tidbits of imperfection, but it more than makes up for it with the kind of visual polish and crazy stunts that you can expect of the best action titles available. You may not find yourself understanding why you should be hanging from the ramp of a flying plane or dashing through a sinking ship, it won’t matter as fun as it all is. With Uncharted 3, Naughty Dog proves that action and trend-setting technology is not their only expertise, creating a uniquely cinematic experience and lovable and unforgettable characters to boot. As our wait for Uncharted 4 will most likely have to wait for the PS4, Uncharted 3 is still a great title to keep your adventuring itch scratched or dive into the series for the first time. Uncharted 3 is certainly worth another tour for the Drake veteran and a worthy title for any newcomer looking for money to spend on one of the PS3’s finest games.
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