Coming off the heels of 2009’s Uncharted 2: Among Thieves, developer Naughty Dog’s latest entry in the franchise, Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception, has some pretty big shoes to fill. Having garnered multiple awards for Game of the Year in 2009, expectations were set pretty high for Drake’s newest adventure. Could Naughty Dog match the quality of their last game? Furthermore, could they do it in just two years?
Uncharted 2 did a lot of things right, but, it’s perhaps most heralded for how it raised the bar for storytelling in games. Previously, we had all seen many titles mimic cinematic presentation, and some were more successful than others, but, Naughty Dog mastered the recipe, and stunned most of us with U2. From there on, we were pretty well-assured, that there was little possibility that Naughty Dog were capable of producing a bad game, and, it’s of this reviewer’s opinion, that no-one has matched that game’s success yet.
So, then, it’s with great relief that I can actually type the words: yes, Uncharted 3 is a more than worthy successor to Uncharted 2. If U2 proved that Naughty Dog were forces to be reckoned with, U3 is here to prove that they are still at the top of their game.
Sure enough, Uncharted 3 finds our hero, Nathan Drake, and his mentor, Victor “Sully” Sullivan on yet another globe-trotting adventure, this time chasing Nathan’s ancestor, Sir Francis Drake’s journeys, to find yet another lost city – the fabled Iram of the Pillars. Old friends and lovers from the previous games make brief returns, but, it should be known that this game is all about the the relationship between Nate and Sully. We get some wonderful backstory on these two, how they met, and the people they were before we met them. Suffice to say, there are surprises to be had in every chapter. With Uncharted 3, it’s clear that Naughty Dog stands alone in terms of character development. I’ve never been so attached to a group of characters in a video game as I am with the heroes of these stories. Writer/creative director Amy Hennig has shown some serious chops over the past two games, but, it’s obvious in this one, that she has grown, exponentially, as a storyteller. Amongst all the loud bangs, gunfire, explosions, and absolutely brilliant action setpieces, it’s the subtle touches of things these characters say, how they look at and interact with each other, that make Uncharted 3 a game that needs to be witnessed to be appreciated.
Visually, the game is stunning, and, in my opinion, the single best looking game on home consoles. Naughty Dog’s motion capture technology makes the simple act of watching Drake trudge and stomp his way through the Rub’ Al Khali desert, a pleasure to watch. From the opening shots of London at night, to tight, dark caves, to the brightly lit and populated streets of Yemen’s market district, Uncharted 3 is a remarkably colorful and beautiful game. We’ve seen a lot of graphical advancements in 2011, but, none impressed me as much as they did in Uncharted 3.
Yet, the stories, and visuals, are nothing without good performances to back them up, and Uncharted 3 delivers in spades. Industry favorite Nolan North proves, once again, why he’s the best at what he does. North’s performance in this game gives us more than just the cocksure Drake we’ve always known. During this adventure, we see some vulnerable sides of Drake, and North sells it, wholeheartedly. Likewise, Emily Rose (Elena) and Richard McGonagle (Sully) turn in outstanding supporting performances. Rosalind Aryes and Robin Atkin Downes chew up the dialogue as the game’s main villains, and, Graham McTavish provides us with an excellent new addition to the series with his performance as Charlie Cutter.
Gameplay-wise, Naughty Dog mostly sticks to the formula they’ve had with the previous games in the series, albeit with some slight twists. Fast-paced firefights and cinematic platforming both make returns, mostly unchanged. The major change, which is immediately apparent once you start the game, is to the melee combat. Taking a clear inspiration from this generation’s Batman games, melee in Uncharted 3 now revolves around some punches, and well-timed counter attacks. It’s not as fluid and free-flowing as the combat in the Batman games, but, it’s satisfying, fun to watch, and a welcome change from Uncharted’s previous, rather lame, attempts at melee.
One bit of gameplay that might take some getting used to is the 3rd person shooting. The game’s original aiming settings are very sticky, and, unfortunately, make the game harder and more frustrating than it needs to be. Under these settings, you’ll run into a few firefights that you know you could have handled better if the controls were more responsive. Thankfully, Naughty Dog has released a fix to the game that includes the option to change to “alternate aim settings” and these settings come highly recommended. Aiming, and landing headshots is a much smoother experience, now.
One comment you’ll often hear about the Uncharted series is “I only play it for the story” which is a crying shame, considering how excellent the multiplayer component is in this game. Some competitive and cooperative modes make returns from Uncharted 2, but, the addition of three Team Deathmatch, and co-op adventure missions, make the game a more robust package. The addition of perks, and kickbacks (extra temporary advantages) keep the competitive modes more balanced, and I’ve yet to play a match where one team has completely blown away the other team. It’s loads of fun, and absolutely worth putting some time into, if you enjoy online multiplayer.
Minor gameplay issues aside, Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception is a wonderful action game. This is Nathan Drake’s most personal and heartfelt story yet, with some genuine surprises that you won’t see coming. Unlike it’s predecessor, it doesn’t quite break new ground, but, the fact that it can even reach the same level of quality of Uncharted 2, and occasionally surpass it, is no small feat.