It’s been quite a year for Sony. While it has been rough because of the PSN hacking and subsequent outage this past April, Sony also put on a heckuva showing at E3, made themselves a serious competitor in the handheld gaming market with the PlayStation Vita and released some of their biggest exclusives. Everything from a new LittleBigPlanet, inFamous, Killzone, Ratchet and Clank, Resistance and of course Uncharted.
What can be said about the Uncharted games that nobody knows already? The first two games had rocked the very gaming industry to the core with a delivery of intense, action-packed, cinematic-focused gameplay. With gameplay reminiscent of the old Tomb Raider games and a story akin to that of the Indiana Jones films, it’s easy to see why the previous game in the series, Uncharted 2: Among Thieves, has claimed more than 100 Game of the Year awards.
Easy, that is, for everyone except me. But we’ll deal with that in a minute.
Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception is the tale of a young(?) treasure hunter named Nathan Drake. His previous escapades have brought him to the Himalayan Mountains to South America. This time around, Drake and his mentor, Sully, are searching for Iram of the Pillars, the “Atlantis of the Sands.”
Here’s the problem. One of Sully’s old girlfriends and a former business partner, Katherine Marlowe, is also interested in finding “The Pillars” for some unknown reason. Being the noble and slightly cocky person that he is, Drake takes it upon himself to stop Marlowe in her plot while trying to find any possible riches for himself. And of course, he’s following the notes of his ancestor, Sir Francis Drake.
The story is exactly what you’d expect from an Uncharted game. It mixes bits of the aforementioned Indiana Jones with a bit of National Treasure and just a touch of The Mummy in order to provide a wildly entertaining and engaging plot.
From there, the big focus with Uncharted 3 is on presentation. Naughty Dog accomplishes this by focusing on two huge aspects.
The first, and easiest to notice, are the graphics. While it’s an interesting choice that Naughty Dog didn’t want to use facial motion capture for a game that’s meant to be so much like a night at the movie theater, absolutely everything visually about the game is breathtaking. Environments feel alive as you’ll traverse through a small village and hear all the hustle and bustle of the locals. The danger that’s felt as Drake traverses a series of wrecked ships while a hurricane blows in creates such an intense feeling of desperation and peril.
Uncharted 3 also has the best water and sand effects I’ve seen in a video game to date. There are two specific levels which show these off incredibly well. Earlier on, I mentioned a level where Drake is traversing a series of wrecked ships. Needless to say, there are swimming sections here. Waves crash and, when enemies fall in, there’s an eerily realistic splash.
Many of the later levels take place in (surprise, surprise) a desert. While there isn’t anything overly interesting about the desert itself, it’s how the sand moves and shifts that entranced me. Realistic footprints form wherever Drake happens to wander. Walk near the top of a sandy dune and you’ll see the sand kick up in a cloud of dust as it falls off the side. It’s an incredible thing to see, and an absolute technical marvel.
Although it’s worth a mention that there’s something different about Elena that I can’t quite put my finger on. Something is just….odd.
The other thing that Uncharted does incredibly well is movie-style presentation of dialogue and other scenes. The voice acting is top notch, and features some of the most convincing character interactions of any game out there. While many plot elements will play out during cutscenes, the game truly shines when the story plays out during regular gameplay, not unlike Half-Life or Bioshock. Characters will yell at each other during an intense gun fight about needing to get out of there, or make jokes about something that led up to being surrounded by enemies.
This kind of thing even happens during platforming sections where Drake will be running across the rooftops while being chased by a series of baddies, or one of the few annoying stealth sections where Drake and Sully will be whispering teasing insults at each other.
The high quality of the overall acting just adds to the feeling that Uncharted is supposed to be an older adventure movie, which is not a bad thing by any means.
It’s also worth nothing that the melee combat has been entirely redone. While gun-play remains mostly the same as it was in Uncharted 2, melee combat has taken on a more focused style, similar to the Batman games. Drake will find himself surrounded by enemies and will take up a fighting stance to swing a few punches. If Drake finds himself being attacked by more than one enemy, the player can easily tilt the stick towards a different enemy to focus on that one instead. This goes for countering incoming attacks as well.
While the new melee system works well for the most part, it can get in the way too. It would have been a better idea if there were only certain sections set aside for this melee style. Instead, should you melee someone in the field during a gunfight, you’ll enter a fistfight as bullets are wizzing past your head, without the option to escape easily. I found this particularly annoying when the later enemies would get a little grenade happy, and I’d struggle to pull away from a fistfight in time to get away from a grenade that had just landed at my feet.
The controls get even more annoying with some of the puzzles presented. I’m reminded specifically of a puzzle halfway through the game which requires gears with a certain pattern painted on the top need to be put in a certain order for whatever reason. Six gears of various sizes need to be placed on the wall right next to each other. I had to wrestle with the controls for much longer than I needed to because I either kept picking up the wrong gear or couldn’t put my correct gear on the peg that I wanted to.
Besides this, the only complaints I can come up with are that it’s too short, clocking in at just about 10 hours at a relaxed pace, and the multiplayer still feels unnecessary.
This is the part where I get all philosophical about the game. I don’t see why Uncharted 3 is so highly praised.
Truth, Uncharted 3 is a great game and does a lot of things right, but I’m far from being convinced that it’s the next coming of the video game messiah. I was the same way about Uncharted 2 when it won all those Game of the Year awards.
I think one of the reasons Uncharted is so universally praised is because it doesn’t do anything wrong that completely breaks the game. Most reviewers have chalked up little flaws I’ve mentioned as “Well, every game has its flaws.” This is true, but we shouldn’t be giving a game top marks just because it doesn’t do anything wrong. We should be giving a game top marks if it does something revolutionary, if the game manages to change the entire perspective of professionals in the industry. Uncharted hasn’t done that for me.
Part of that might come from this feeling I can’t get over; that Uncharted doesn’t have as much originality to it as it could. If you read this entire review up to this point again, you’ll see that I’ve compared Uncharted 3 to Indiana Jones, Tomb Raider and the Batman games. How can I be changed so dramatically by a game when I’ve experienced bits and pieces of it before in other mediums?
I think a bit more of this personal negativity towards Uncharted comes from a slight grudge with the hypocrisy of a lot of Uncharted’s biggest fans. One of my favorite game franchises, Metal Gear Solid, is often criticized for being too much like a movie and not being very immersive. “I don’t want to watch a movie, I want to play a game!” is what most people say. Why is it then that a game specifically built to feel like a movie like Uncharted is given a pass in this situation?
I guess it all adds up to whether you’re a fan of the series in general. If you’re a fan, then you’ll love it. If you’ve yet to be fully convinced like me, then Uncharted 3 won’t change your mind. While Uncharted 3 has a great plot, amazing graphics and a presentation style that’s incredibly enjoyable and easy to get attached to, I still can’t get over the feeling that I’d rather be buying a $20 blu-ray movie of Uncharted than a $60 game.
This review is based on the PS3 exclusive which was provided to us for review purposes.
Uncharted 3 has a great plot, amazing graphics and a presentation style that’s incredibly enjoyable and easy to get attached to.