Review: Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception
At long last. I don’t know about you, but the last 2 years of my gaming life can be summarized by ‘A build up to Uncharted 3’. Naughty Dog was faced with developing a sequel to one of the most critically acclaimed video games of all time, and they delivered. I’ve been known to play games ONLY for the story, putting up with some of the worst gameplay in the world for the sake of having a story told to me (i.e. at least 2 dozen nearly nameless PSOne RPGs). With the arrival of the Uncharted series, I could both have a story worthy of a book or movie AND gameplay that keeps me coming back for more.
The Backstory: Uncharted 3. Where does one begin? 2007 (Uncharted: Drake's Fortune) and 2009 (Uncharted 2: Among Thieves) saw Uncharted’s first two games, both of which received near universal acclaim or at least approval, they received many, MANY awards, and, at the time, were both considered the best games the PS3 could offer. Naughty Dog has been quoted, saying that they all asked themselves: ‘Should we leave it there? With over 100 awards for our last game, 100 of which being Game of Year Awards? Never, we keep it rolling.’ They showed us that they do have the tenacity of Nathan Drake, and the craziness of Crash Bandicoot.
Story (5 out of 5): Can’t believe that this rating system here only goes until 5. Having had a brief glimpse into the life and mind of Nathan Drake in the first two games of the series, Uncharted 3 focuses more on his past, and relationship with Victor Sullivan (Sully), his mentor and father figure. Drake has always been seen with a ring around his neck as part of a necklace, which in the first game had the coordinates to his ancestor’s, Sir Francis Drake, apparently empty coffin which was left at sea. Drake’s Deception removes more layers of history from the ring, delving into the past, explaining how Drake came into ownership of said ring.
Minutes into the game, we learn that Drake isn’t the only one who knows the importance of this ring. Drake and Sully are seen negotiating with a man only known as Talbot for the ring, and, after close inspection with the cash being offered for it, Sully finds that Talbot is screwing them over with fakes, and a huge bar-room brawl starts. While not as epic as the opening sequence of Uncharted 2, this one gives you a more human feel which is where the game wants us to head. We later find out that Talbot works for Katherine Marlowe, Uncharted 3’s main antagonist. While previous villains were only hellbent on their treasure, and killing Drake, we find out that Marlowe doesn’t want to necessarily kill Drake, but kill his spirit. Their journey takes them on a quest to find the Atlantis of the Sands in the Rub ‘al Khali desert, an abandoned villa in France, a cruise ship, a castle in Yemen, and a few other locations.
There is a moment in this game with so little text and dialogue, but provide profound story telling that are worth at LEAST 2 or 3 points out of 5 itself. This moment is in the middle of the Rub ‘al Khali desert, and is almost worth the price of admission right there. Drake follows the footsteps of T.E. Lawrence/Lawrence of Arabia, and Drake’s ancestor Francis, with subtle tie-ins to real history, the result of which is a story that most of us wish was true (similar to Assassin’s Creed’s story). Our dear friends Elena and Chloe are back again, and new character, Charlie Cutter, round out the main cast. The only downside to this story is that Naughty Dog has to somehow top it.
Gameplay (5 out of 5): This is MY gameplay system. If there were ever a perfect game for me to play (aside from side-scrollers, my personal favourite), this is it. I love the gunplay, the parkour elements, the game’s new ability to pull the pin off of a grenade that is on the enemy’s belt, and kick him away, only to be blown up a second later. There are moments while scaling buildings and broken-down ships where the enemies decide to shoot down at you from the top, so you have to hide behind air-conditioners and other objects as you try to pick them off. This added so much intensity, mostly because we never see them coming. The pacing of this game is spot on, and is something that many other games will immediately envy. There are moments so frantic that I swear I didn’t breathe during for almost twenty minutes, then slow moments that make you think you can catch your breath a little, only to be lead into another crazy sprint. The puzzles in the game aren’t quite as difficult as seen in the other games as a whole, but there were quite a few where I had to switch between the puzzle and Drake’s journal every few seconds.
Naughty Dog has realized that melee combat is something that even the most testosterone-filled shooters need, and they stepped up their game in this one. The bar room brawl at the beginning of the game shows all of the new mechanics in bare-knuckle brawling, including grapples, throws, solid counter attacks, and the ability to use your environment to your advantage, using bar stools, beer bottles, and, at one point, the solid ceramic lid from the top of a toilet. There were a few moments that weren’t flaws really, but saw Drake magically move 3 feet in the speed of light to connect a punch, and other moments where a path was temporarily blocked because a chair from the very animated environment fell over and into the way. Minor nitpicking of events that hardly ever occur, and only happened once or twice in my own play through, but were still enough that I remembered them.
Sound/Music (5 out of 5): From a man most known for doing the music for TV’s King of the Hill, the soundtrack is, once again, a pure work of art. At $10 for the soundtrack on the Playstation Network store, it is a must have. The timing is perfect, and dialogue is spot-on. Using the tried and true method of having voice actors act out the scenes wearing motion capture suits and microphones, we once again encounter conversations that would happen in real life and the way they would happen in real life, if you were a fortune hunter that is. New characters add dialogue that is both interesting, and real, with a hint of comedy (Charlie Cutter most notably).
Visuals (5 out of 5): If you didn’t have a TV with 1080p visuals, here is your excuse to get one. Using an updated version of the graphics engine used in Uncharted 2, we are shown an experience that is both realistic, and video game-like, without either of the two overlapping. Visuals are pushed and pushed to look more realistic, and while this does occur in this game, we never forget that we are looking at art (like how many paintings by the greats are beautifully drawn, but still stop just short of being lifelike). The new engine provides many new textures and environments a life not seen in many other games. Upon beating the game, and unlocking some videos concerning the making of Uncharted 3, you’ll find that the developers actually moved around in sand hills and dunes to see how it moves, and it’s precisely how it plays out in the game. The fire in one level is biting at our heels, looking just like what it portrays, and the water effects on a certain cruise ship are unbelievable. While they could have faked a rocking boat, they actually created an environment that contained digital water and waves in the way we would see out in the ocean, and didn’t cheat where many other studios may have.
Other touches made to the game that weren’t necessary at first, but paid off in the end, were tweaks made to the character movement. No longer can you sprint down a corridor at full speed, and gracefully glide around the sharp corners, not bumping into a thing. In Uncharted 3, you’ll find yourself at a full sprint, seeing a corner coming up, and having to use the wall to slow you down and take the corner with precision, rather than running straight into it, as you see the enemy doing the same. It’s in mere touches like this that give us more of an experience than just your average game, and almost caused Naughty Dog to have to use 2 Blu-ray discs (which contain 50GB of space), as they, at several points, had over 50GB of game to put onto the disc. While the graphical jump between 2 and 3 will not be as wide as 1 and 2, this isn’t for lack of trying. These guys pushed the Cell processor and Blu-ray capabilities to its’ current limit, and have said that the PS3 simply cannot handle better graphics beyond this. I have only had a few moments to see the game in 3D, but trust me, it’s an experience we should all see at least once. Some may complain about the need for 3D glasses, but what you see with them on is breath-taking.
Replayability (5 out of 5): Just a reminder that my scores are based on my opinion, and not taking other opinions into account. That said, I have to give Replayability a 5 out of 5. Uncharted 3 doesn’t have a new game plus feature like the previous installments, which saw us earning in-game cash to buy tweaks, like alternate costumes and the ability to equip any gun we want at almost any point in the game, but the story drove me to play it another 2 times after beating the game. In less than a week, I was so compelled by the story that I have played it straight through 3 times, with no signs of stopping. Beating the game earns you concept art and videos detailing how the game was made, which is quite cool.
Once again, treasures make their way into the fold. While some are quite tough, I found a lot of them were head smackers when you did find them, and half of the time while looking for them, I smacked myself because I didn’t go to that spot the first time around. While this isn’t necessary, this is just fodder for completionists like me who want the story, and just some perks here and there, without a bunch of side quests that aren’t necessary.
Several times in this review, I have referred to Uncharted 3 as an experience, and that is exactly what this is. I was on vacation when the game came out, and had every opportunity to lie on the couch and nap the day away, drink some beers, watch hockey, and not have a care in the world. Instead, I was taken on a roller coaster ride, NEEDING to get Drake through this predicament, and defeat Marlowe once and for all. I was taken on a cinematic experience, and often forgot that I was holding a controller. The controls are so intuitive that I don’t remember looking at them once, and that, to me, is an experience. Games like Limbo and Okami challenge the idea of games not being art by the visual representation, Uncharted 3 is art by the way it moves you, and it will, just don’t go into the game expecting a giant leap from Uncharted 2.
Overall: 10 out of 10. What other rating within 1 and 10 can I give this?