Uncharted 3 Review -
An Adrenaline Fueled
Exercise in Linearity
Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception is undoubtedly one of the best games to come out in 2011. As one of the premier PS3 exclusives, it should come as no surprise to anyone that Uncharted 3 is a great big bag of thrilling excitement. Since his 2007 debut in Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune, titular character Nathan Drake has been the Playstation 3’s golden boy. In essence, Drake represents the console version of Indiana Jones. And people really like Indiana Jones. Nathan runs and guns, survives by some quick thinking and a heap of luck, and some physical strength. Most importantly, Nathan sells.
One of the biggest draws of Uncharted 3 is its arresting visual presentation. There are moments where you just stop playing and let your jaw drop. Ancient cities gleaming in the setting sun; mansions glowing in the warm light of ravenous flames; rocket launcher smoke dispersing across battles on stormy seas; all of these sights are gorgeous and look amazing. I cannot stress this enough, you could probably take a still frame of just about any moment from Uncharted 3 and make a terrific poster. Lighting is hyper realistic, causing the colors to pop and draw your eye. Character animations are lifelike and natural, with only a few rare moments where I muttered about how the movements were vaguely robotic and even the robotic motions look good. Uncharted 3 is one of the first titles I have seen to harness the full power of the PS3.
The first thing you will notice about the game when you initially put it into the machine is the music. Uncharted 3 has one of the best and most memorable soundtracks in recent memory. I actually found myself staying on the title screen when beginning my gaming sessions just to listen to the music. The score is written by Greg Edmonson (who incidentally also worked on Uncharted 2 and a little show called Firefly). There is a strong original theme that repeats and feels identifiable with the franchise. It is an iconic sound.
The action of Uncharted 3 is simple and yet wildly fun. Taking cover is as simple as pressing a button and leaving cover is just moving away from it. Being able to blind-fire from cover is a useful and sometimes life-saving feature that I appreciated in my time with Naughty Dog’s blockbuster. There are a wide variety of weapons and they all seem to be well-balanced with more powerful weapons having different tradeoffs from lowering mobility to having severely limited ammo. Some parts of the environment, including cover, are destructible or move around during battles. You can use this to your advantage to come into close quarter combat with your enemies. Hand to hand combat is a simple and effective means to finish off baddies. Square throws punches and if you get your opponent against a wall or a countertop you can bash them repeatedly. Circle shoves
your opponent around and can even throw them off of ledges. Triangle is reserved for counters and dodges. At times you will be called upon to tap circle wildly to end a chokehold or stop a dagger thrust. If you are undetected youcan perform a silent insta-kill move. The animations for these hand to hand combat sequences are truly remarkable. Many animations I only saw once, like the sliding groin kick and head bash. If you dislike the hand to hand sequences, then you are a bit out of luck several boss sequences are comprised of lumbering hulks that you must fist fight.
This same great gunplay is on display in the multiplayer and co-op portions of Uncharted 3 as well. Multiplayer takes a lot of cues from Call of Duty. There are perks, different rewards for kill streaks, and money to purchase new clothing, character models, weapons, etc. There are several different modes you can tackle including: survival against hordes of enemies, races to complete objectives, traditional deathmatch, and many others. Co-op features several missions that you can play together with a friend either locally or online. If truth be told, I didn't have a great opportunity to review this portion of Uncharted 3, but I did have time to play a few rounds of most of the modes and look at the co-op missions.
Nathan Drake enjoys traversing the various environments that he finds himself in with the most complicated and physically demanding methods. While it makes for fun games, it does beg the question: Does this guy ever use an elevator that isn’t in a centuries old ruin? (For the record, he does use a modern elevator in Uncharted 3. It is sideways at the time. I don’t think that counts.) That issue aside, Drake moves with the assurance of a trained free-running expert. He leaps straight into brick walls and manages to gain a handhold on crumbling bricks on the side of buildings. There are chase scenes throughout Uncharted 3 that go at a breakneck pace and play more like interactive cutscenes than part of a video game. As cool as these sections are, it can lead to some rather easy thrills. What do I mean by that?
When platforming through chase segments, there will be moments where you mistimed a jump and by all rights should have died. Instead, the game gives Drake a boost of air and he seems to magically float to where he was supposed to land and then continues to run. While this didn’t mar my experience with Uncharted 3, it gave me the sense that I wasn’t playing a game. It felt more like I was getting in the way of the movie that Uncharted 3 wanted to be. Don’t get me wrong, I loved these segments, they were amazing set pieces and they made me feel like a beast. But I also feel like there was something very ungamelike about them.
There is a system at work in Uncharted 3 that keeps you stuck in a very well defined path. It is very subtle and never tries to draw attention to itself. Sometimes, it comes to light and reveals its name: linearity. There are some games that are linear and other games that are really linear. Uncharted 3 is so linear that it makes you feel guilty for trying to veer off the beaten path even if it is accidentally. There was a time or two that I tried to explore outside of where the game wanted me to go and I fell to a lower ledge only to crumple and die. Magic, invisible hands guide Nathan’s jumps and time slows down to allow you to make those timed button presses as they appear on the screen. While these undoubtedly make the game easier, they result in the player feeling slightly superfluous.
One of the biggest let downs of Uncharted 3 is the story. While it is clear that the writers were going for an action adventure game, they leave so many loose ends that I was left scratching my head at the end of the game. To begin with Uncharted 3 blatantly rips off Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Tell me if this sounds familiar: an intrepid adventurer and acquirer of ancient artifacts begins his adventure in a location that will be seen for the opening twenty minutes and then going to various exotic locations where most of the plot will unfold. These locations include an old castle and ruins in the desert. It even includes an attack on horseback against a caravan of bad guys in the desert and a flashback to the childhood origins of the hero. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing (I mean, if you are going to take inspiration from something, it might as well be from something good), but at times I had the feeling that I was watching a slightly different version of the third installment of the Indiana Jones series.
The other major gripe I had were the numerous plot holes that cropped up at times. At several points in the storyline, people are drugged with a hallucinogenic substance. It is strong enough to turn friends against each other and make them fight to the death. After fighting, the character somehow forces his/her self to be fine and is no longer drugged? I’m no doctor, but I am pretty sure that’s not how drugs work. This happens several times. One of the villains appears to have magic powers that are never really explained. Multiple other plot points are never explained either, but I can’t go into greater detail without spoilers. There are several points in Uncharted 3 where I found my suspension of disbelief to be severely strained. A great example of this is the point at which Drake is stranded in a desert for days, finds a puddle of mud, takes a sip, and is suddenly healthy enough to fight through waves of enemies. Naughty Dog, if you want to portray realistic human characters you can’t suddenly turn him/her into an indestructible deity. Characters besides the main combo of Nathan Drake and his father figure/friend, Sully, seem to be on the screen to serve the story and then disappear, never to return. Notable for this is a certain person toward the end of the game who magically appears to save our hero, disappears, and then does the EXACT SAME THING.
It might seem like I am ragging on Uncharted 3 a bit more than it deserves, so here is the skinny: Uncharted 3 is an adventure in every sense of the word and very beautiful to both listen to and watch. It just can’t seem to make up its mind whether it wants to be a game or a movie. As a game, it is incredibly fun, fast paced, and has tons of awesome moments, so long as you stay on task. As a movie, it is a generic summer action flick; it looks pretty, but it is not going to win any Oscars. Overall, I had a lot of fun with Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception and anyone who plays it probably will, too.
Is It Fun?:
Drake goes after treasure and finds adventure
One of the best looking games in years
The fully orchestrated soundtrack is amazing
Very responsive, great cover system and gunplay
People who like games. Period.
Review originally appeared on www.gameinformer.com 1/14/12