GSY Review: Uncharted 3
What a great responsibility to be asked to review such a highly-anticipated title as Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception. How to remain completely objective when playing the third installment of one of the best franchise of this generation? How not to let myself become overwhelmed by the huge expectations which usually accompany the release of a system seller? Eventually, how to tell you guys about the game without the risk of spoiling too much? There are so many questions I had to deal with before starting this new Gamersyde review and I wouldn't want to give away my verdict too soon, but there is no way I can finish this introduction without saying that, if Uncharted 3 is indeed about deception, the game itself certainly is not.
Update: Bonus video added, short but gorgeous.
Only the penitent man will pass
Uncharted has obviously never tried to hide its "family ties" with the adventures of Indiana Jones, quite the contrary. And once again, it is with great humility that Naughty Dog have paid tribute to one of the best trilogy ever (and yes I insist, there are only 3 Indiana Jones films). A bit too often, some might say, as the game is filled with references to the movies: the father and son relationship between Sully and Drake, the stairway which collapses forcing Drake to climb up, like the bridge sequence of the Temple of Doom, the torch you have to sweep to keep the spiders away, or even the chase on horseback in the middle of the desert (and its very familiar ending). Even the opening sequence is a bit reminiscent of the beginning of the Temple of Doom, minus the Asian setting and the giant gongs.
That being said, Uncharted 3 still keeps its own identity and it can't be denied that the Californian studio has a real talent for creating true-to-life characters. Hearing the now very familiar voices of the main characters will make you feel right at home, with friends you are happy to meet again, just like Metal Gear Solid fans when hearing David Hayter. Nolan North and his fellow actors manage to make the characters as believable as they would be in a movie. But however excellent their work is all through the game, it would not shine as much without the magnificence of the character models. As usual, there is enough pace to the storyline to keep you entertained for about 7 to 8 hours in normal mode.
More than ever, Uncharted 3 uses the same dynamic pace than the previous episode, which means you will visit hidden temples, ancient ruins and of course the indispensable lost city and the promises which go with it. This year though, the scenario gives up the fantastic side of the two first games to become a bit more realistic. You will still have your share of old legends but rest assured that you won't uncover any extraterrestrial conspiracy at the end. One can even go as far as to say that this third installment remains faithful to History as Drake follows the path of T.E Lawrence (aka Lawrence of Arabia), who had always been very interested in the Crusades (sound familiar?).
Looking for the Holy Grail
Uncharted 2 had improved the formula of the first game in almost every department so the question was to know if Naughty Dog would be able to surprise us as much this time around. The answer is no overall. But before everyone gets angry and starts throwing things at me, let me explain myself. Uncharted 3 is undeniably a great game and anyone claiming otherwise would be lying. The thing is that it is also a bit predictable in terms of content and situations. Now I don't believe that it would have been wise to change the whole recipe for this third episode; fans - which includes me - would certainly have cried foul. It is then pretty normal to feel that some situations are a bit deja vu. It goes without saying that there is still a lot of variety and that this really is a game where you can never get bored.
Climbing has always been pretty easy in the Uncharted series and it is no different here. The player is obviously less assisted than in a game like Enslaved (another title I love by the way), but the fast pace necessary to progress requires some accessible mechanics. Of course, Drake still has a knack for getting into trouble so platforms will definitely crumble at some point. As a result, the real surprise comes when they don't. What I have always found a bit disappointing is that you don't even have to have reflexes when it happens. No need to press a button to save Drake, he automatically catches hold of a nearby ledge. It's not a big deal really, but I would love to be in control all the time, it would make the game even more immersive. That being said, the efficiency of the level design and the fact that it is very easy to read your environment (which thankfully does not mean platforms glow so you don't miss them) make these sequences as pleasant as usual.
Uncharted 3 also lets you catch your breath from time to time and what better way to relax than puzzle solving? Again, these are not the most challenging puzzles of all time, especially because your companions will eventually give you a hint should it take you a bit too long to figure out. It is nonetheless very nice to be able to unlock secret mechanisms as it is after all part of the package deal we have all come to expect from the descendant of the famous archaeologist. Some puzzles may remind a bit of Indiana Jones but they are varied and you will never be asked to do the same thing twice. What's more, these sequences allow the player to enjoy nice conversations between the characters as they clearly don't need cutscenes to be chatty.
Gunfights have not been forgotten and they remain pretty much the same in Uncharted 3. Staying behind cover is then of paramount importance for Drake's survival, even in normal mode. I can assure you that you won't last long if an enemy armed with a shotgun gets close enough. However, staying hidden is not always the best option since there are also destructible covers, not to mention "homing" grenades. In the first chapters, I was concerned with the AI which seemed rather weak to me at times. Fortunately, they tend to get smarter - or at least more efficient - as you go. Sure, there are still a few problems here and there but they are rather scarce. Moreover, you will sometimes be thankful for their mistakes when you see the number of assailants in front of you.
Drake will face different types of adversaries, from the mere mercenary to the armored commando guy who takes forever to take down. Also annoying are those carrying a protective shield, as the only way to deal with them is to throw a grenade or to take them from behind. Good news if you didn't appreciate the Avatar-like blue creatures of the second game, there is nothing similar in the reality of Uncharted 3. Enemies are then very much down-to-earth but they offer enough resistance to be worthy opponents. Naughty Dog also added what I will call vertical cover sequences which remind of Dark Void. They are neither too many nor long but they add to the overall variety.
Another gameplay element in Uncharted 3 is the possibility to keep a low profile in certain areas and to resort to stealth. As being spotted will never force you to start again as in the old Splinter Cell games, you must be patient and careful if you want to sneak passed your enemies unnoticed. If you fail, then you have to face massive waves of guards armed to the teeth. Not impossible to overcome but it is clearly less classy than the stealth approach. To keep things under the radar, Drake now has the ability to silently take down enemies from above, Ezio style. A very convenient - and cool - move you will have to agree.
Like I said before, sometimes Drake has to learn how to run to get out of a complicated situation. In the great tradition of the Crash Bandicoot titles (another grand icon of the studio), the camera shows Drake trying to escape, sometimes because he is chased by deadly spiders, other times because a whole castle is collapsing under his feet. But that's not all, as Drake can also be the hunter when he tries to catch up on a foe in a memorable chase sequence.
Not all of these passages are short so you need to stay concentrated in order not to fail - though you should know that there are enough check points to prevent you from going crazy, should you be the awkward type. Unsurprisingly, these sequences are both very cinematic and dynamic and I think Solid Snake's fans will be happy to know that Drake will make an old dream come true, back when the 2001 E3 trailer of Metal Gear Solid 2 was released including an impressive extract that would eventually never appear in the final game. Ten years later, you finally get to play this homage to Titanic.
Drake has always been quite the handy man and he has never hesitated to use his fists to save some precious ammo. The combat system was originally rather basic but was still useful as Drake could knock out an enemy who had gotten too close. There were a few improvements in the sequel but only with the third installment are we given real hand-to-hand combat. Now don't expect Uncharted 3 to compete with Street Fighter IV, it is of course much simpler. As a matter of fact, only three buttons are required here, nothing too complicated, no difficult combo to memorize.
The Square button is assigned to attacking while the Square button allows you to grab an enemy. Much like in Batman Arkham Asylum/City, the game warns you when you are about to be hit so you can counterattack. Two main differences with Rocksteady's title though: one, the Triangle button which appear is way more visible; two, you also have more time to react than in the two Batman games. Also new is the possibility to grab surrounding objects to use them as temporary weapons.
Even though sometimes the link between animations could be smoother, the melee combat is both exciting and immersive and I really liked this addition to the game, especially considering how important such sequences were in the adventure movies of the 80's/90's. My only regret is that these passages are always built in the same way. Indeed, it usually starts with a bunch of regular enemies until you have to face a real bully. Add to that the fact that the characters' skins are often too similar and you lose a bit of the cinematic touch and it feels more like a video game. Ok, it's just a minor detail but I do hope it will be addressed in a sequel if there is ever one.
That belongs in a museum
Uncharted 2 was without a doubt a technical marvel on Playstation 3 and even though the leap is not as high in Uncharted 3, it is hard to find anything worth criticizing in Naughty Dog's work. The environments are extremely varied and offer another great journey in very exotic places, from the streets of a European capital to the small trails of a French forest and many more locations. As stated previously, it is just impossible to feel any kind of boredom when playing the game. Most levels look just gorgeous and while some are maybe a bit less impressive, they remain very nice nonetheless. On a personal note, I would say things take it to the next level as soon as Drake reaches the desert.
Everyone has in mind the snow level of Uncharted 2, a level where the hostile environment, no matter how beautiful it was, seemed even more frightening than the enemies themselves. Uncharted 3 abandons the terrible cold of Tibet for the scorching heat of the desert and believe me when I say this part of the game is just unforgettable. First and foremost, because it follows another action-packed sequence and is in sharp contrast with it. Then, because it renders Drake's despair so well as he endlessly wanders looking for water. Finally, because Naughty Dog decided to make it last about 10 minutes so the player can actually empathize with Drake. To top it all, it looks absolutely amazing, with the sand flowing under Drake's feet as he wearily tries to walk up the dunes.
Does it mean that Uncharted 3 has absolutely no technical flaws? Well, no of course, but that's just because one sometimes needs to be nitpicky for the sake of argument. Generally quite discrete, aliasing is still visible when draw distance is more important. Most textures look great but some of the backgrounds lack some polish at times. Oddly enough, this can also be seen during a few cutscenes. Another ridiculous detail some might say, but I also found the horses to be a bit disappointing compared to those of Red Dead Redemption. There were also a few glitches in the review code we were sent but I am sure they have been corrected in the retail version. Little to say in the end, Uncharted 3 remains one of the best looking game of this generation.
As you have figured out yourself, Uncharted 3 is a sequel much worthy of the series. Just as spectacular, whether technically or in terms of atmosphere, Naughty Dog's new creation is what every Indiana Jones fan has always dreamed of. Those who, like me, started fantasizing about living such adventures when playing Rick Dangerous or the different movie tie-ins of the 8bits/16bits era will be thrilled. Naughty Dog have managed to totally blend video games and movies together, making Uncharted 3 a very cinematic experience, but a game to play nonetheless. In that respect, they have managed to do what Hideo Kojima has failed to do with MGS 4, have the player play as much as live the story. For that, there's only one thing left to say: hats off!
Note: Be advised that this review only focuses on the single player campaign because we could not play online and try the multiplayer and co-op modes.
About the game
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