11th December 2011 - The Uncharted series has impressed gamers around the world with its incredibly detailed graphics and lighting effects, spectacular environments and solid mix of platforming, puzzle solving and shooting. What has separated it though and made it really special are the characters and the storytelling. In this area I don’t think Uncharted has an equal. The boffins over at Naughty Dog have some brilliant script writers and have actors who can actually bloody act, making even idle chit chat between characters entertaining. Uncharted 3 further develops the relationships amongst Nathan Drake, Sully and the gang, while also giving us insight into their past. Of course this all takes place while trying to discover some secret treasure - this is uncharted after all. Given the calibre of the first two games I doubt anyone is wondering whether Uncharted 3 will be any good. The real question is just how good is it?
The gameplay is essentially in the same format as previous games - control Nathan through a fairly linear path of amazingly detailed environments while climbing and platforming, get to a puzzle, solve it, move on to an area full of bad guys and take them out. Not exactly ground breaking I know, but it’s a format that works and is the key to the way the story develops and the pacing. Uncharted is a platforming shooter, but this is simply a means to an end. It provides a way for Nathan Drake’s story to be told - to delve into his past, his experience and his relationships. Uncharted 3 tells a rich story and that is always forefront in your mind. The story is never an afterthought and the game shines because of it. The pacing is excellent with peaks and troughs building to the end. The peaks are of course battles with dozens of enemies, intense fire and fistfights. You will probably die several times during these moments as you are often seriously outnumbered and surrounded, with the place falling apart around you. The fighting has been criticised for being monotonous and repetitive in the Uncharted series (particularly in Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune). More variation was added in Uncharted 2: Among Thieves, especially with stealth and hand-to-hand combat. The third instalment has raised the bar again, much to the relief of fans and critics alike I suspect. Hand-to-hand combat has been expanded to include a comprehensive list of attacks, dodges, grapples, stealth take-downs and environmental context moves. An example of this - if you grab a guy and throw him up against a bar the attack button will automatically make Nate grab one of the bottles sitting there and smash it against the bad guy’s noggin, knocking him out. There is also greater variation in enemy types and tactics. Notable additions are the larger brutes. They involve lengthy fist fights where you need to frequently dodge and counterattack or be taken out rather quickly. The shooting still isn’t quite right though. I can’t quite put my finger on what it is exactly; perhaps it feels a bit artificial or something along those lines. Overall fighting isn’t as tiresome as it once was which is a huge plus for the franchise.
Part of that is also due to the locations in which Uncharted 3 is set. Streets, jungles, desserts, caves, ruins, boats and buildings are all created with cinematic in mind. Some just look fantastic and others impact on your fighting and the story. Without wanting to spoil any of them, one example which was demoed earlier in the year is a fight which occurs on a large ship that is taking on water, and it ends up rolling and sinking. As you can imagine fighting through that process and trying to escape is the stuff Hollywood is made of.
The lulls after these big fights and events allow you to explore and progress the story and bring the characters into their own. Every intonation, inside joke, mannerism and facial expression is used (as it always has been) to endear the group to you and make you care and be intrigued about what happens next. The game takes you deep into the human psyche in a way that few other titles do, and fewer still do convincingly. It’s a combination of brilliant writing, acting and attention to detail that draws you in as a player and keeps you wanting to know more.
The puzzles are a bit on the light side - you certainly won’t need an IQ of 150 to figure out what to do. To ensure you don’t get too frustrated in an area and keep the game moving along, after a few minutes a hint option comes up on the screen to help out.
Multiplayer comes in the format of co-op and competitive, but Uncharted is a game that stands out as a single player campaign experience in my opinion. It’s nice to have the option there though to extend the life of the game. An increasing trend among games is that multiplayer requires an online code. Once the code that comes with the game is registered to an account it can’t be used again. So if you buy the game second hand or hire it out you need to purchase codes off the PSN for $15.95, a price which may prove a little steep for some.
Some would argue that few developers know the PS3 architecture as well as Naughty Dog. Every game in Uncharted has pushed the graphics to a new level. The level of detail in everything including facial expressions, vast backdrops, colours, lighting effects, explosions, fire and water are some of the best you will see. I was particularly impressed with the water - the ocean and running water look incredible. I don’t know what they did with the physics, but whatever they did - it works. The movement with waves and the sense of mass is really believable and testament to the hard work Naughty Dog have put in with the PS3 system.
So I’ve said it about the other two Uncharted games and this just reinforces it really. The voice acting in Uncharted is the best I’ve ever heard. It helps to have a good script without any cheesy lines, but the team who have worked on this throughout are good at their craft and contribute to the game being the immensely enjoyable experience it is. The sound effects and music is all top notch too - satisfying gunfire and explosions and epic music that paces well or disappears with the goings-on onscreen.
Uncharted 3 is a comprehensive experience and well worth paying full price to play. The main campaign is a bit short at around 10 hours but what you get is quality over quantity. There are of course different difficulties and scattered treasure throughout the game to collect that makes it worth playing more than once. The multiplayer will certainly add more game time and is a very different experience to the campaign, but it still isn’t likely you will be playing a few months from now.
The Uncharted series has always delivered one of the best cinematic gaming experiences and Uncharted 3 is no exception. Your senses get spoilt with beautiful scenery, intense fights, likeable well fleshed-out characters and an engaging story. This is what electronic entertainment is all about. The weaker areas from the past (such as the fighting) have been substantially improved but are still not perfect, and the puzzles aren’t exactly going to star in a MENSA meeting. Some may complain the journey is a little short but this is about telling a story, not just racking up gaming hours. Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception is a game that will not disappoint. You will find yourself stopping and just looking around at the beautiful scenery, feel your heart pounding as you desperately try to escape one of the many volatile set pieces, and not blink as you watch unexpected events take place. Uncharted 3 is a very worthy successor and if you have played the first two and not picked this up yet, grab a copy. You won’t be disappointed.
+ Some of the best characters to grace videogames
+ Great story
+ Fighting much improved with more depth
- Shooting still not 100%
- Not a very long main campaign by some standards
- Puzzles not very complicated
Written and reviewed by Khye Davey