If you ask a PlayStation 3 owner what their favourite action adventure game is, chances are high that they’ll yell “Uncharted!” even before you’ve finished the question. Naughty Dog, creators of the Uncharted series have managed to marry the shooting, platforming, and puzzle-solving elements with cinematic action sequences and great storytelling to craft games that leave a lasting impression.
It’s this love both from Naughty Dog and fans of the game that have seen the past two titles, Drake’s Fortune in 2007 and Among Thieves in 2009 pick up many accolades, including game of the year. The game’s protagonist is everyman and treasure hunter Nathan Drake who happens to cause all manner of mayhem wherever he goes. Be it the lush jungles Amazon basin, or the chilling height of the Himalayas the cocky Drake always seems to get the girls and finds the treasure that he seeks. His latest outing, however, is a departure from the norm. Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception is more of a serious affair, with Drake making more personal discoveries as opposed to material ones. Find out more after the jump.
Fire up Uncharted 3 and, if you’ve played the critically acclaimed Uncharted 2: Among Thieves, you’ll instantly recognize the theme tune. It’s such a nostalgic feeling, I found myself humming along to the theme, rearing to get the adventure started. It’s almost like I was getting together with old friends. And I would be. Old faces do make an appearance in Uncharted 3, along with some new, rather villainous ones. Naughty Dog has always excelled in developing character-driven narratives and it’s no different here. The main players in Uncharted 3 all have gravitas to them, although some are a little more fleshed out than others. The relationship between Drake and Sully is at the centre of this caper, from Drake’s adolescent encounters to all the passing comments you hear throughout the game about the many adventures they’ve shared. For those who have played the previous games, that same feeling of camaraderie is easily felt. The dialogue between them is as punchy as ever and it’s always a laugh to hear the witty tête-à-têtes. There are, however, far too many occurrences of “Oh, crap.” for my liking and you’d think the Naughty Dog writers would at least consult a thesaurus for some alternatives.
Plot-wise, Uncharted 3 takes our protagonist and friends back to the story of Sir Francis Drake and without spoiling it, explores the reasoning behind the decisions that he made oh-so-long-ago. As ever, there is immeasurable treasure to be found, enemies to be slain, traps to be sprung, and many a pun to be had along the way. It’s quite the spectacle and Drake’s quest takes our friends to locales such as France, Colombia, Syria, to open waters, and to the unforgiving desert. They are of course, not the only ones in search of answers, and it’s a cat-and-mouse chase all the way to the endgame [Ed: So a lot like the first two games, then?].
Naughty Dog has become very adept at cinematic storytelling and once again, in Uncharted 3, the transition between the gameplay elements and the cutscenes has been handled extremely well. Towards the closing of the game, there was a section of the game that really could have been better told through one long scene without any interaction required from the player, but overall, the flow of the game didn’t falter. And before you know it, Uncharted 3 is finished. Bosses in the Uncharted games have never really proved difficult to dispatch, and history repeats itself here. Thankfully, the events surrounding the boss fight are so huge in scale, that it is enough to distract you from it.
When it comes to the game mechanics, there is little difference in Uncharted 3 as compared to the second game. Drake handles the same and players of the previous game will feel right at home with the classic controls. The standard fare of guns and grenades make their return to the game, and there have been a few minor improvements in the fisticuffs department. Enemy punches can be blocked and countered, and suffocating holds can be wriggled out of with furious button presses. Taps of the square button and Drake is swinging punches at the nearest enemies, and if the scuffle is close enough to any hard objects, he will eagerly smashing an enemy’s head onto it or with it. Or he could pull the pin out of a grenade on an enemy’s belt and watch as they explode. These contextual combat animations can be quite fun to perform, but at times they can get tiresome, especially when you need to fell some of the bigger enemies in the game, where the process of throwing punches and avoiding kickbacks has to be repeated over and over and over and over [Ed: and over] again. The hand-to-hand combat is rather pedestrian when compared to a certain other action adventure title, but it does make for a change from shooting everyone in the face (although that never got old for me). Stealth sections also make a return to the game, and require you to clear an area of enemies in a silent (but deadly) manner. Your route through the level is easy if you are being quiet; if you happen to alert the enemy to your presence, their numbers multiply and you’re in for a protracted fire fight. The shooting becomes so much fun that I actually tripped the alarms on purpose. It’s in these situations where the game tends to get a little more difficult though, and the normally bumbling soldiers now are able to coordinate a surprisingly aggressive, tactical advance on your position [Ed: suddenly, intelligence! Lots of it!].
In Uncharted 3, Naughty Dog really do assault your senses, but in a good way. Be it a derelict château, a gloomy unground labyrinth, or a wrecked ship teetering on its side, the environments in Uncharted 3 are truly a wonder to behold. The level of detail in each of the levels is simply astounding, and game features some of the finest visuals I have seen; not bad for a console that’s five years old. It bears repeating that Uncharted 3 is certainly one of the most beautiful and beautifully crafted games that I’ve yet played. The sound design compliments the epic movements in the game and voice acting is of the highest quality. Old hats Nolan “I-must-be-in-every-game” North, Richard McGonagle, and Emily Rose, along with new members of the voice cast, do a fantastic job of breathing life into the characters.
And after the single-player campaign is over, there is still much to be done online. From having none at all in the original Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune, to a robust first outing in Among Thieves, the multiplayer component in Uncharted 3 sees yet more improvements and additions. The number of game types is increased now to 10, including standard team death (and three player TDM), free for all, plunder, hardcore and a number of co-op modes, more about which later. Competing in any of these matches earns you XP and money, a system similar to a majority of the online shooters available today. Progressing through the different rank unlocks a variety of mods that can be applied to your weapons and your character. A new suite of character customization options enable players are to dress their characters from head to foot and create emblems for them. The top player in the game has their emblem displayed throughout the map, serving as reminder of how awesome they are. It’s also motivation for the others player to catch up and try beat them. Boosters make a return here, as do medals for performing certain actions during the course of the match. Medal kickbacks are a new addition though, and once earn a requisite amount of medals, kickbacks can provide temporary enhancements such as the ability to run faster, or spawn an RPG, or even to vanish in a puff of smoke only to reappear somewhere else on the map.
In addition to the new versus multiplayer modes, Naughty Dog also included a plethora of new co-op modes, namely co-op arena, co-op hunter arena, and co-op adventure. Arena mode tasks a team of two or three players with surviving ten rounds of battle against the game’s A.I. The various rounds have their own objectives to complete as well, beyond simply “kill all the things!”. Arena hunter mode, on the other hand, puts two teams of two players up against each other, one team playing as heroes and one as villains. The heroes must gather as much treasure as they can before being killed by the opposing team, who are trying to stop them. After six minutes, the players switch teams, and the process begins again, with the winners being those who manage to collect the most treasure by the end. The last mode, adventure, is possibly the most awesome of the three co-op modes, and puts you and two friends in a small co-op story that consists of five chapters. It’s brilliant fun, and short enough for a single session with some compadres along for the ride.
Overall Uncharted 3 is beautiful to look at and a pleasure to play. While there isn’t much innovation in the gameplay department, its set of compelling characters and competent storyline, Uncharted 3 provides a cinematic storytelling experience that would put most big budget Hollywood movies to shame. It daisy-chains one explosive sequence to another, one seemingly bigger and more explode-ier than the last. But you expect that kind of high production values from Naughty Dog. And they delivered once again. For the player of the previous Uncharted games, it’s a brave new adventure with a gang of old friends. Those new to it may not necessarily be able to fully appreciate the context of some of the conversations between the characters, but there is always Wikia for reference, or you could buy the previous games: they’ve both reached the PlayStation Platinum range. In any case, like the two epic titles that came before it, Uncharted 3 is a treasure worth keeping and should be one of the shiniest crown jewels in your gaming collection.
Score: 9 epic-as-hell prawns out of 10
Developer: Naughty Dog
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Distributor: Ster Kinekor
Release Date: 2 November 2011
Age rating: 16