There’s a certain feeling when you’re playing (or in this case reviewing) the third game in a series. If the developer has released two solid games in a row, that unless something drastic changes it’s a safe bet that the third game will be fine. With Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception, that’s exactly what we’re looking at. Naughty Dog has given us two of the best action adventure games to grace media (not just games) in the past ten to twenty years, tying together elements of Prince of Persia, Indiana Jones, Tomb Raider and more into something altogether its own being.
For those who want to get to the nuts and bolts of the review early and just want to know if it’s worth purchasing — have no fear, it is. Nathan Drake, Sully, Chloe, Elena and the rest are back, and it’s nothing more than hours of the same enjoyment that we’ve gotten from the series previously, featuring moments so intense that you’ll be staring at your screen in awe as well as some moments that will likely make you want to fling your controller in frustration.
Taking place two to three years after the events of Uncharted 2, Nathan Drake and Victor ‘Sully’ Sullivan as they attempt to sell Nathan’s ring (which should be familiar to those who fondly remember the previous games) to a man named Talbot. As with almost everything in the series, however, nothing goes as planned and very little is as it seems. The storyline traverses 22 chapters and also has a period of time in the past, showing how Nathan and Sully met while Nathan was a boy, which also ties into the overarching storyline. Like the previous games in the series, the story hinges on Nathan trying to prove that Sir Francis Drake’s voyages were hiding more than history ever told. This time, the tie is T.E. Lawrence (as in Lawrence of Arabia). The locales include France and Syria as well as a number of other areas, some of which simply have to be seen to be believed.
Graphically, Uncharted 3 is Naughty Dog at the top of their game. The fact that there’s actually a stat for ‘Time spent standing still’ is both amusing and telling, because they know very well that they’ve crafted a visual experience unlike many others, and they want to prove to you that you’re going to spend time looking at the vistas. (My time, by the way, was 57:29 spent standing still and gaping). The graphical updates also include the motion capturing that was used on the characters. Little touches were added, such as Nathan putting a hand out to brace himself on walls or other items in passing, or all of the characters making various heat-related motions while walking through Syrian streets.
Again, the motion-capturing in the series has always been excellent and it continues with that here. If you didn’t know better, you could really see this being a movie, and the writing shows it with obvious chemistry between all of the actors which definitely goes a long way towards making you feel invested in the story and its characters. When one is facing death, you really are concerned for them, and while the storyline is heavily about Nathan and Sully, seeing Nathan and Elena interact is still a highlight of the game.
The audio in the game is also top-notch. Nothing much has changed with the voice acting other than the addition of two stellar actors for the main villains, so everything you expect from the series is definitely here in spades. The soundtrack is incredible with a heavy Middle Eastern influence. The use of various quips and comments by the characters throughout the game is a testament to the game’s writing as well as how well the characters are voiced, as none of it really sounds horribly cliche or overdone.
That being said, the Uncharted series is not without its flaws. While many of them are minor and some of them are trademarks of the series, it’s also something to note and think that perhaps it may be time for Naughty Dog to let Nathan Drake rest. To paraphrase Nathan Drake himself, Naughty Dog ‘has nothing left to prove’. (Note: The Vita Uncharted game is set prior to the trilogy. I mean more to let Nathan Drake’s story end with Uncharted 3.)
One of the more cliche plot elements that’s followed the series, for example, is that Nathan Drake will constantly go through all these puzzles and stealth segments to get to some hidden ‘something’….only to find that the enemies are either there waiting or show up only a few moments later. While it makes for good drama, after three games of this there comes a point where you really have to sit and think, “Why are we going through all the rigamarole if they’re just going to find us anyway?” There’s a moment in the game where Nathan and party literally stumble across the next area they’re supposed to be, which is in an enclosed building in Syria, leading down underground. After going through all the puzzle things, and going through a daring escape….the bad guys are literally waiting there for you to leave. It’s never explained exactly how they found you as you hadn’t been seen by any of them prior to this point in the area, they just happen to be there waiting with their waves of bad guys.
There’s another plot device that the game uses four times. While in of itself the device isn’t bad, and the first few times it works very well, the final time it’s used it’s done to give a twist to a major plot moment that happens in the last hour or so of the game. It’s a moment that literally should make you stop the game and be very much upset, simply because of how much you invest into the game and its characters. Finding out thirty minutes later that it was this same plot device yet again felt extremely cheap.
The shooting and aiming in the game has been changed, although either I did not notice the change enough to really take a look at it, or the first patch has resolved any major issues with the game. I didn’t need to make any adjustments to the settings to make combat any easier and while I’m not the best marksman, I still managed to make it through the game although with numerous reloads, as I was playing Nathan ‘Dies a Lot’ Drake. The singleplayer portion of the game lasts about 10 hours, but multiple difficulty levels and achievement requirements potentially add to this. For those of you who enjoy multiplayer, Uncharted 3 also features very robust online and co-op modes. It must be noted, however, that Sony has used an ‘online pass’ to enable multiplayer, which means that if you rent or buy used, you’ll have to fork over $10 to enable this mode. Personally, I don’t like this trend, but I also don’t see it going away.
Ultimately the question is ‘Is this worth buying?’, and I have to say yes. The entire Uncharted series should have a place in most PS3 gamer’s collections, as they’re great as both games and experiences. Even with the plot issues the series has, Naughty Dog has done a tremendous job with Uncharted 3 and they should be proud of it. It’s an excellent game, and definitely one of the highlights of 2011.