Uncharted 3 - Review



Probably no other this-generation-debuted franchise has evoked such high hopes and praise from nearly everyone like Naughty Dog's "Uncharted" series. Perfectly blurring the lines between movies and games, "Uncharted 1" and especially "Uncharted 2" made not only playing the game incredibly fun but even just watching somebody play it.
With each game, Naughty Dog was raising the bar of what was graphically possible on consoles and now most probably became to be Sony's most valuable gaming franchise.
Keeping up the tradition of a new entry in the franchise every 2 years, Naughty Dog releases its third installment "Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception". The sheer thought of trying to make a sequel and top one of the greatest games in existence "Uncharted 2" seems like an instant fail. The ridiculously gigantic hype and expectations for "Uncharted 3" are obvious and most notably comprehensible, but has Naughty Dog learned some new tricks and is it still able to amaze us without the "surprise factor", that was so useful to "Uncharted 2" becoming "The Game of the Year 2009"? Or has the franchise already reached its pure perfection with the second installment?




Story

Nathan "Nate" Drake and partner Victor "Sully" Sullivan hunt for the lost city of Iram, on a journey that leads them to various locations around the world, including the Arabian Peninsula, Rub' al Khali desert and London. They are pitted against the occult treachery of a shadowy clandestine organization and its ruthless leader, Katherine Marlowe. When the terrible secrets of the lost city are unearthed, Drake's quest descends into a desperate bid for survival that strains the limits of his endurance and forces him to "confront his deepest fears...

Let's get the most obvious thing out of the way first: Drake's third adventure owes a lot to the third Indiana Jones movie "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade". There are many parallels and similar narrative structures in "Uncharted 3", which are handled quite well, considering that those similarities appear more in form of "tribute paying" than "ripping-off".
"Uncharted 3" does a great job differenciating itself storywise from its predecessors by having a main theme, which the game holds on to and pursues throughout the entire experience: Nate's and Sully's relationship. Again, it reminds one of Indiana Jones' relation to his father in "Last Crusade". In the course of the story, the backstory of Nate meeting Sully for the first time gets revealed. We get a more intense and emotional view at the bond between them, which helps making the characters in the game incredibly lively, complex and three-dimensional, even more than they were before.
Additionally, the game's story gains great depth by having the protagonists doubt their beliefs and asking questions like: "Is it worth risking my life and the ones i love for yet another treasure? What is it that keeps me going? Is it pride or something else?".
Rarely such questions get brought up even in modern adventure movies. Cinematic character aside, it adds a whole lot of realism and new facettes to Drake's adventures.
Also, Sir Francis Drake again plays an elementary role in the story, or to be more specific, Sir Drake's Ring, which leads the heroes to various places, following the path of Drake's voyage to Arabia.

Although the story is overall very well written, one of the few downsides is the recycled pursuit of yet another lost city: Iram of the Pillars, which evokes quite some memories to "Shimbala" in "Uncharted 2". But this is just a minor complaint considering that the important and fun thing in any "Uncharted" game is the journey rather than the treasure itself.

For the first time, Drake's new antagonist comes in the form of a woman: Katherine Marlowe, who is a leader of a secret society, and assisted by her right-hand man Talbot (next to a ton of henchmen).
Though they do well as the "bad guys" in the game, i struggled to feel that exact same hatred that i felt for Lazarevic in "Uncharted 2". I was kind of missing the violence that those two would do to innocent people, that would fuel your will to defeat them. First i was pretty disappointed with Marlowe and Talbot, i felt they were blande and uninteresting.
It was only later, about half way through the game, that i realized that Naughty Dog tried to give us a new kind of villain rather than recycling Lazarevic's character. Marlowe and Talbot appear more in form an evil team, in which Talbot needs Marlowe and vice versa. While Marlowe is more like the planning mastermind, Talbot is the one who executes her orders. It gets even more interesting when more backstory about the antagonists gets revealed during the game.
Although i have to say that the build-up to the final showdown is great, the payoff itself is quite a bit underwhelming.

Of course there's a couple of nice plot twists and turns coming your way. Though they are nothing that will make you go "OMFG!", they are pretty much unpredictable and make the story as a whole well written and entertaining.



Gameplay

After "Uncharted 2" it's hard to imagine how Naughty Dog could improve the great overall gameplay in "Uncharted 3". Basically everything fans from the previous installment know from Drake's controls is still present here, but just with some additions that make the gameplay even more fluid.

The first chapter in "Uncharted 3" will introduce the player to the new melee combat controls of the game. Now, attacking and counter-attacking are back, but new additions like breaking enemy attacks and even using objects in the room in fights is possible. Not only is the melee combat fun, but it also appeals to the player's reflexes. It reminded me a lot of the fluid combat system from "Batman: Arkham City".
Getting used to those changes is very easy and essential due to the fact that hand-to-hand combat gets a far bigger role this time, with various special segments entirely based on you melee fighting your way out of the situation.

Gun combat is basically the same but of course with a whole lot of new weapons to choose from, next to some old classics like the AK-47. However, this time, Drake is also able to throw grenades back to the enemy before they explodes (which i honestly was missing in "Uncharted 2").
Stealth works the same way as in the previous games, although i had the feeling that this time there are a lot more opportunities in which the player is able to choose between a full frontal gun-fight or stealth.

But what would "Uncharted 3" be without it's setpiece moments and mix of gameplay elements.
The game has various parts which don't just include getting into cover and shoot:
Especially chase sequences are plenty in the game and not as easy as one would think. Enemys are always right behind you and can manage the environment just as fast as you can. It get's your heart pumping.
At other times, you are the one who has to chase somebody through the streets of an Arabian city.
Rarely have i seen chase sequences that were so engaging and well thought out like in this game.

Aside from chase sequences, of course Nate has to tackle a few puzzles on his journey.
While "Uncharted 3" itself starts pretty puzzle heavy, those segments more and more dissappear after a while and are more or less gone after half way through the game. Yet still, the puzzles are a bit more tricky than in "Uncharted 2". Admitted, those puzzles won't melt your brain, but they are pretty imaginatively thought out and give you a nice awarding feel after figuring one out.

Regarding the action segments, "Uncharted 3" it would be a lie to say that "Uncharted 3" wouldn't be full of them. But comparing it with its predecessor, it has less "WTF-action moments". Drake's third adventure focuses more exploring the characters psyche and spends much more time establishing certain facettes of their personalties. With that said, "Uncharted 3" is no boring game, but rather than blowing you away with constant gun fight chapters over and over, it centers around building up atmosphere like segments entirely devoted to Nate desperately walking through the giant Arabian desert.
Again, compared to "Uncharted 2", those "atmosphere-building-moments" appear more frequently this time around and give the game a slower pace (and darker tone) than the rushing one of the second installment, but they have a much bigger impact on the player's relation to Nate.
Anyway, this doesn't mean that Naughty Dog got old. "Uncharted 3" OF COURSE features setpiece moments and levels that are out of this world packed with action (with my favorites being the chateau chapter and the pirates chapters).
Qualitywise those "action chapters" are at least exactly as good as we expected and are worthy of the name "Uncharted" (but quantitywise they are not as frequent as in "Uncharted 2").

Of course platforming is also involved in the game, but it's exactly the same climbing control scheme like in the previous games. Although the climbing feels so automatic and fluid that you sometimes get the feel that the game is playing itself, it's still fun. So if it ain't broken, why fix it. Notably climbing and gunning on vertical levels is a lot of fun and keeps you on your toes arguably often.

One thing that i found a tiny bit disappointing was that i got the feeling that the game's difficulty got toned down a whole step. "Uncharted 2" had gun fight segments that were "pull-your-hair-out-difficult" ON NORMAL! Sure, "Uncharted 3" has quite some moments which were....hm....tricky. But there was never a single confrontation in which i was desperately trying to beat it and just couldn't figure out how. I basically was breezing through the chapters (much faster than in "Uncharted 2"). That may be due to the fact that the number of enemies that you have to deal with at once has been toned down a little but anyway. The difficulty difference is not that big of a deal, for which reason you can take this complaint as my very personal one.

The game is completely linear with only some bonus treasures distracting you on your way. No upgrades, no nothing just a pure linear very entertaining story.

My biggest complaint probably goes out to the ONLY thing that Naughty Dog seems to have removed from the game, that was once established in the previous titles: NO EXTRAS AND TWEAKS (or at least i didn't find any.)!
The reasons why Naughty Dog came to this conclusion are a freaking mistery to me. Maybe it was because trophies were to easy to achieve or cheating was too easy. I don't know. However, fact is, they offer nothing in return (unless you count co-op or muliplayer)! They just erased the whole tweaks and skins section for the singleplayer. Concept art is still available and that's great, but in "Uncharted 2", I had plenty of fun playing through the story with another skin or with specific weapons etc.. Getting rid of the tweaks, was probably your only big bad move Naughty Dog.


Multiplayer


"Uncharted 3"'s multiplayer is back with a few nice tweaks here and there: "Boosters" are the game's version of perks and can be upgraded by frequent use. The game has awesome dynamic constantly changing maps like the train map or desert maps with upcoming sandstorms ever so often, changing the way you play the round. It definitely twists things around and makes for a great time online.
The game modes are pretty standard though and are nothing entirely new that we haven't seen from other games before (like Team Deathmatch, objective based rounds, etc.).
You constantly get the feel achieving something and leveling up in a way. It's surprisingly easy to get hooked and it's most probably one of the best third-person multiplayer shooters out there.

Following the obvious trend of co-op nowadays, "Uncharted 3" offers some nice co-op missions. Those missions are a great addition to the game, keeping you busy and curious of what's to happen, after you finished the main story.
It's incredibly fun and the best part is: it's even playable via splitscreen (couch co-op) AND online.
Co-op is one of the biggest new features in the game and is at least just as fun as its multiplayer counterpart.



Graphics

What can you say about the graphics? They are phenomenal. It's almost creepy how detailed the environment and the physics are: Nate touching nearby walls if you are too close, gravity physics (especially in connection with water), waves, lighting effects, fluid character movements, the wide landscapes,sand physics...there are just WAY too many things to name here that are jawdroppingly well made. And yet still, the game keeps a certain (art-)style, avoiding making it too realistic while at the same time...it IS realistic. It's an act of pure genius.
It's still a mystery to me how something like this can be done on the PS3's nearly 6 year old hardware.
Without disrespecting any other great games, this is simply the best looking console game yet.


Sound

The big star here is undoubtedly the voice acting. The cast does a fantastic job yet again giving live and realism to the characters. The dialogue is written very well, balancing emotional moments but also fun jokes with superb finesse, while also sounding very natural.
The sound effects are also top notch, from top to bottom: gun sounds, explosions, sounds in set pieces, and just everything makes you feel like playing a movie.
And let's not forget the awesome soundtrack, which uses the great Uncharted theme music but also adds some new musical scores to the game, distinguishing its music from the previous games. Great!


The Verdict

All in all, Naughty Dog yet again did an awesome job with "Uncharted 3". While "Uncharted 2" is still my favorite game of the trilogy, it's hard to say that "Uncharted 3" is a worse game. It's different. Deciding which of the two is the better game, is a question of taste. It's like choosing your favorite "Star Wars" movie: episode IV, V or VI.
Sure, "Uncharted 3" might feel a bit short considering the length and the action for some, but the game's few shortcomings are mainly made up for with a deeper and emotional story and an even better atmosphere build-up. "Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception" is a great new addition to the franchise full of smart one-liners, jokes, action, puzzles, and a killer multiplayer and co-op missions to boot.
If Naughty Dog manages to keep this their standard for the "Uncharted" series, i am totally okay with them making as many entries to the franchise as they want.


Final Verdict: 9 out of 10

Status: Amazing!

 

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