Review: Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception Is Challenger for Game of the Year
At a Glance
Here's a not-so-bold declaration: The Uncharted games are our generation's Indiana Jones films. Just as we once recalled scenes when Indiana blew up that tank or escaped that rolling boulder trap, we'll begin to reference Nathan Drake's survival of a train wreck or his blowing up of a Hind or his epic fight from a cargo plane's open door. Make no mistakes -- Drake's Uncharted games have become cultural touchstones.
Now, no longer can we merely say that games are "cinematic" or like "Hollywood blockbusters." With Uncharted 3, games have truly become media events in themselves as Naughty Dog's cinematics and set pieces would bankrupt most film studios and Nathan Drake's character displays more range and depth than most action movie protagonists.
The Uncharted series keeps getting better and better, and at the center of that are characters who become more and more real.
Uncharted 3 is arguably Nathan Drake's best adventure to date, and the overall package -- the stellar single-player campaign, co-op modes, and competitive multiplayer -- should help vault it into Game of the Year discussions.
In Uncharted 3: roguish protagonist Nathan Drake, his mentor Victor Sullivan, ex-girlfriend and fellow adventurer Chloe Frazer, and constant love interest Elena Fisher, all get wrapped up in a conspiracy involving Sir Francis Drake, T.E. Lawrence (aka Lawrence of Arabia) and the legendary "Atlantis of the Sands," Iram of the Pillars. Without giving too much away, the conspiracy and search for treasure sees Drake globe-trot from London to France to the Rub' al Khali desert with stops in pirate waters, the streets of Columbia, and many, many crypts. He'll also confront memories from his past and, like the series itself, show some real maturation.
All of your favorite characters get more screen time and are given plenty of memorable lines, speaking to both the top-notch voice-acting and the incredible script offered to the actors. Sadly, in an effort to give every fan-favorite character their lines and move along the story, both characters and motivations are often given short shrift this time around. The game at times feels like a quick tour of action set pieces, and the explanation for why you're where you are is thin at best.
Personally, I could have done with more explanation in T.E. Lawrence's findings (the supposed impetus for the plot) as well as any background on the villains (who are actually much creepier, and their motivations more ambiguous than previous enemies). There's a really weird "mystical/mind control" aspect to one of the enemies that never gets explained, and, in my opinion, Chloe is somewhat under-utilized. These might sound like minor quibbles, but a game that puts so much emphasis on story needs to be held accountable when tank-sized plot holes appear.
That said, there's very little else to complain about here. In the single-player campaign, the melee combat system is much improved over its predecessors, making it much easier to throw, counter, and brawl against groups of enemies. The new fighting mechanics get an inspired tutorial as part of an opening sequence in a London bar, recalling equal parts Indiana Jones and Guy Ritchie, that's exceptionally well-paced, shot, and written.
Meanwhile, I felt that the game's core shooting mechanics took a slight step backward, as I found it much easier to take down enemies in Uncharted 2, with headshots in particular not registering with the same regularity. This time around, foes too-often turn into bullet sponges (an issue that's always plagued the series), with shots feeling a bit less impactful than they should.
While technically sound and a breeze to play, Uncharted is perhaps best known for taking you to some truly epic places and then letting you climb, shimmy across, and investigate them. The set pieces continue to push the envelope, with memorable encounters in old castles, escapes from burning buildings, and an epic action-sequence involving a cargo plane. With only an interminable mission in a pirate shipyard as a lowlight, every mission features some amazingly fun and varied environments to climb and fight across. There are still plenty of firefights and bottlenecks that will see you die repeatedly, and puzzles that can be quite elaborate but never frustratingly so.
The multiplayer is split into two modes: co-op and competitive, with co-op including a new Adventure campaign where you and up to three friends can play shortened, remixed versions of Drake's past exploits. If you're like me and would pay good money to just see Drake, Sully, Chloe and Elena order coffee, you'll enjoy the small cinematic cut scenes that bookend each co-op mission.
The competitive multiplayer section still has its plunder, deathmatch, and team deathmatch maps, with a full range of unlockable characters, outfits, weapons, and perks. While more frenetic and slapdash than FPS deathmatches, Uncharted 3's multiplayer survives due to a strong mix of skill, luck, and teamwork. Lives are short, perks can quickly turn a battle's tide, and the ability to climb much of the environments means you have no place to hide. Multiplayer matches often take place on a single street or maybe two levels; with Uncharted, you have to look for enemies everywhere.
Overall, the combination of a robust multiplayer, a surprisingly compelling co-op adventure, and a thrilling ten-hour single-player campaign add up to a title that is, quite simply, a must-own. Fans are free to debate whether this tops Uncharted 2's blockbuster moments, but taken as a whole they'd be hard-pressed to find a more worthy sequel, or a more accolade-deserving experience. Uncharted 3 isn't merely as cinematic and fun as the best action films; it's better than that. You don't just witness the epic fights and bare-knuckle brawls; instead, you're smack dab in the middle of one of the best adventures depicted in entertainment media.