Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception (2011), video game review.

Whenever people talk about Xbox vs. Playstation, Uncharted is usually brought up by the Playstation team. Uncharted 2 has widely been cited as the best current-gen game and won numerous awards. Not to say that I haven’t enjoyed the games, but I used to disagree with the immense praise that the series has gotten. The games work, and they are fun, but I never felt that all the pieces fell into place. The stories didn’t feel compelling and a lot of the combat scenarios seemed repetitive and very much like filler.

Everything that I didn’t like about the first two games, Uncharted 3 fixes. No longer is the story interesting solely because of its characters. Gone are the days of being funneled into endless shootouts with endless pirates. And gone are the days of me thinking that the series was overrated.

With each iteration the Uncharted series continues to become more and more like an interactive movie, and Uncharted 3 is no exception. The pacing has improved notably from the last game, as you may notice with more “down time” in between shootouts, and when the bullets start flying the fights rarely feel like meaningless fluff. The game is also forgiving enough so that if you play on “normal” it will challenge you, without killing you and breaking immersion. Never once did I grow bored or want to stop playing thanks to the fact that I was never doing the same thing for too long. The game artfully weaves together combat, platforming, and story until you never know where one started and the other began.

Hypothetically, if someone were to ask me what the plots of the first two Uncharted games were, honestly, I wouldn’t be able to tell them. All I could muster up would be something along the lines of, “It’s about guy trying to find some kind of treasure…” I know that the games had stories, but they were very much forgetful and generic. It used to be that the characters, and not the story, were what kept me going through the games until the end. This is no longer the case.

The new story isn’t flawless but it feels much better put together than previous stories did. Without giving away anything I can say that the game (the first half in particular) deals with the relationship between protagonist Nathan Drake and his long-time mentor, Victor Sullivan. While the latter half of the game still deals with the relationship of the two men, there are bigger things going on that might overshadow this theme a little bit. But it isn’t dropped unceremoniously and what it gives way to is equally interesting, although in completely different ways.

For anyone who thinks that there is no way that Uncharted 3 could best the trains sequences (both from the beginning and middle) of Uncharted 2, fret not.

Myself, I wasn’t all that impressed by the sequence in the middle of Uncharted 2 where you’re riding atop a train. At the outset of this level I thought it was very cool, fun, and something I hadn’t seen before in a game. But as the scene dragged on and on, my enjoyment of the level sunk with every train car filled with pirates, and there were a lot of them. But some of the sequences that appear in the third game blew me away. And as incredible as they were, the best part about them all was how well they had been paced. Never once did I think that that one, or any scene in the game really, should have been shortened.

Uncharted 3 is the best looking console game that I have played this year or any year for that matter. The character models are life-like, environments are stunningly beautiful, and the cinematography is bested by few in gaming. Sunlight shines through cracks and windows, casting shadows and revealing dust motes floating in the air. Sand clings to Drake as he rolls upon the open dunes. And characters seem human thanks to the amazing facial animations done upon them.

I could go on for much longer about how good the graphics are but I won’t, instead I would like to touch upon the first of two gripes I have with the game.

A lot of games these days give the characters separate animations for when you gently nudge the joystick forward, and for when you push it in full tilt. This makes the animations look much smoother as you see the character transition from a walk to a run. Most of the time a lot of people probably won’t even try to walk slowly around, unless it’s a stealth game. Now, Uncharted 3 isn’t a stealth game but it does have a few fights that start off that way, and anyone who plays a lot of video game will know that to move in a stealthy fashion you slowly push the joystick forward. Normally when you would do this you’re character, if you’re playing in third-person, would slow to a crawl in an attempt to stay quiet, but Uncharted 3 doesn’t always do this. During certain sections of the game it allow you to walk slowly, but during parts where stealth wasn’t intended Drake instead uses the same running animation for walking as he did for running only it is slowed down. To put it frankly, this looks ridiculous; it looks like Drake is running in slow-motion, while everyone around him is moving at a normal pace. But to the games credit, having something as small and silly as the walking animation (or lack of) be one of the two complaints with it is very, very good. And for the most part I was able to ignore it and put it out of my mind as it really didn’t affect the gameplay at all.

While having a good story and great pacing is good but it would all be for not if the core gameplay didn’t hold its own. And with the exception of a slight stumble, it does so quiet admirably. Climbing and jumping is still a blast, and hand-to-hand combat has been improved since the last game. Platforming feels as good as it always has, but what really pleased me were the improvements made to melee fighting mechanics. Uncharted 1 had a fairly basic combo system using a mixture of heavy and light attacks, but when with the release of the second game the hand-to-hand combat had been changed to a repetitive one button affair. But once again the system has been tweaked and this time a happy medium has been found. Mechanically it shares a lot with Uncharted 2, it only uses one button for punching, and then there are dodges and grabs. But it’s the little things that make a huge deference. Things like: countering feels more intuitive using a slow-mo effect to tell you when to hit the dodge button, context sensitive attacks are now littered throughout the world, or when you take down an enemy while you’re out of ammo you will automatically grab their gun. Above all though, the biggest improvement of the melee combat is that this time around I didn’t dread using it.

But as the hand-to-hand combat has takes a step forward, the gunplay has takes a small step back.

The shooting is still very much doable but there was a pretty noticeable flaw. When aiming the camera at targets the reticule seemed only to want to move in straight, horizontal and vertical directions. This means that when you aim in a diagonal direction it feels similar to using an Etch a Sketch; the reticule either goes across the screen in a jagged line, or it will simply not move diagonally and instead goes up, down, or to the side. Playing the campaign on “normal” this didn’t affect my playthrough, but playing on a higher difficulty it defiantly factored in on many of my deaths, and I can only imagine what it would be like playing multiplayer.

Closing Comments:

Uncharted 3 is the finest Playstation exclusive of the year, and one of the overall best games of the year. It continues to push strong, movie-like, cinematic experiences in video games. And while doing that it is a great game itself. But it does have a few small snags. While the vast majority of the animations are excellent, Drakes walking animation failed to impress and the shooting took a step down from Uncharted 2.

I was let down by the second game after it was so highly acclaimed, but after playing through Uncharted 3 twice, I can gladly say that it did not disappoint.

Overview:

Presentation:  9.5/10

The game is so well paced it is near awe-inspiring. Easing me into the controls felt smooth and natural, and at the same time it progressed the story. And the story is now entertaining enough to hold me for the story, as well as its characters.

Graphics:  10/10

No game on a console has every looked this good. And you know so when the only complaint about the graphics and animation, is that Drake doesn’t have a walk animation.

Sound: 9.5/10

Having the best voice acting in video games is a feat in it of itself, but when a game also has a damned fine musical score you’ve got to love it for it.

Gameplay: 9/10

Everything that could have been disliked about either of the first two games has been fixed. But alas the shooting does not feel as polished as some of the other games on the market, including its predecessor,  Uncharted 2.

Lasting Appeal: 8.5/10

The core single player campaign is good enough to warrant a handful of playthroughs, and after you’re done there an is offline and online cooperative campaign and online competitive multiplayer.

Final Score:

9.5 out of 10

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Posted on November 29, 2011, in 2011, PS3, Review, Video Game and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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