By Marty Mulrooney
Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception is the latest instalment in the Uncharted series of video games created by Naughty Dog for PlayStation 3. The plot revolves around the ‘Iram of the Pillars’, an ancient city lost in the Rub’ al Khali desert. The complex relationship between Nathan Drake and his mentor Victor Sullivan is further explored as they battle the mysterious Katherine Marlowe and her right-hand man, Talbot. *Warning: due to the story-heavy nature of Uncharted 3, there are minor spoilers present throughout this review.*
“All men dream: but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake in the day to find that it was vanity: but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dream with open eyes, to make it possible. This I did.”
Uncharted 3 wisely doesn’t try to top its predecessor’s breathtaking train-dangling-over-a-cliff opening, instead opting to begin with a relatively low-key brawl in a murky London boozer. Returning partners in crime Nate and Sully, looking rather dapper in their pressed suits, ironed shirts and shiny black shoes, end up getting physical with some hired muscle after a deal gone wrong. Talbot, who wants to buy Nate’s ring – a ring that supposedly belonged to Sir Francis Drake – sneaks away to find his employer as fighting breaks out and continues to escalate.
Naughty Dog has implemented a brand new fist-fighting mechanic in Uncharted 3 that gets put to immediate use. As Nate fights several thugs at once, he dynamically uses his environment to gain the upper hand. A press of the punch button (Square) when near the bar results in a bottle smashed over a goon’s head. Pressing Triangle when prompted results in a counter-attack, ducking a punch before delivering a lethal uppercut. Perhaps it isn’t as elegant as the recently released Arkham City’s fighting system, but it doesn’t need to be. It upgrades the basic punching of the previous games and finally makes using your fists as well as your firepower a viable option.
Drake’s Deception is the most story-centric Uncharted game yet. After the dramatic opening in London, England, we are whisked across the globe – and backwards in time – to Cartegena, Colombia… To say anything more would be far too revealing, but suffice to say that both Drake and Sully are examined in greater detail than they have ever been before. It’s quite simply solid fan service that offers fresh insight into one of gaming’s most memorable partnerships. Sully was criminally underused in Uncharted 2 so it’s great to finally have him centre stage again alongside Drake where he belongs.
The gameplay is largely the same in Uncharted 3 as the previous games, although some new additions help to keep things feeling fresh. The aforementioned upgrades to the fighting system makes running up to an enemy and punching them decidedly less suicidal than it was previously. Also, the gunfights feel much more sprawling and vertical, with Nate often shooting upwards as he climbs a castle exterior or the rusting hulk of a derelict ship. That’s not to mention the horse riding…
The previous games sometimes struggled to blend the ‘exploration’ and ‘combat’ segments into a coherent whole. Uncharted 3 blurs the lines admirably and, with the aid of puzzles that actually make you think and setpieces that often astonish, offers an experience that is constantly changing and always engaging.
This experience is no doubt immeasurably heightened by some of the finest graphics ever created, not just on PlayStation 3, but for any platform. At one point an abandoned chateau goes up in flames as the player desperately tries to escape and you can almost feel the heat. Later, a modern-day pirate ship rises and falls dynamically with the movement of the waves – dynamic, not pre-rendered – as Nate sneaks inside. Later still, that same ship fills with water and the entire level is flipped on its head. The graphics are stunning and the environments they depict directly impact the gameplay – it’s quite simply awe-inspiring just how far Naughty Dog have managed to push the PlayStation 3, which is essentially 5-year-old hardware.
The sound matches the visuals every step of the way. The soundtrack is rousing and evocative, offering remixes of familiar themes alongside fresh new tunes. The sound effects are perfect, but the voice acting takes things to a whole new level. Nolan North as Nathan Drake and Richard McGonagle as Victor Sullivan head an impressive cast that always sound absolutely spot-on. Chloe Frazer (voiced by Claudia Black) returns in a reduced role yet still manages to make a lasting impression – the moment where she does a thumbs down/raspberry fart combo is a true highlight.
Emily Rose as Elena Fisher is another welcome return, her banter with Drake (North) and Sully (McGonagle) by now an essential part of any Uncharted experience. Rosalind Ayres, Robin Atkin Downes (who also did the motion capture work for Tenzin in Uncharted 2) and Graham McTavish as Katherine Marlowe, Talbot and the Jason Statham-esque Cutter respectively round off what will surely be remembered as a classic video game voice ensemble.
Uncharted 3 isn’t a perfect game – if such a thing even exists. There are certainly some minor blemishes to be found if you look hard enough. Drake occasionally clips through the environment and sometimes the animation can look slightly off. Stealth is also only ever offered as a choice to a certain, limited extent. However, despite once again being a strictly linear game, the illusion of vastness and freedom works extremely well. This is the best third-person shooter on the market, marrying the plot depth usually reserved for adventure games with an action experience that is utterly unforgettable.
The addition of mutiplayer and co-op adds further value. The online matches are far greater in scope than they ever were in Uncharted 2’s multiplayer. A match might start upon speeding trains or a steadily rising aeroplane, before suddenly relocating to a more traditional environment such as a cargo area. Naughty Dog have added plenty of customisable settings for players to tinker with and tailor their experience. Another nice touch is that, even if you feel as though you’ve had a bad match, there are enough rewards to collect to make you feel as if you’re advancing no matter what. The inclusion of a sprint button is somewhat questionable and blind-firing seems too accurate at times, but Uncharted 3’s multiplayer is in great shape and things can only get better.
Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception is the quintessential PlayStation 3 game. It has it all: breathtaking graphics, glorious sound, stereoscopic 3D (if you have a TV that supports it), and rock solid gameplay that makes you feel like you are Nathan Drake. What’s more, it has real heart. There are some slight niggles but ultimately, lessons have been learnt: there are no annoying boss battles to be found and endlessly spawning enemies are ancient history. Naughty Dog have perfected the Uncharted formula with Drake’s Deception – the characters are so likeable and real that the player’s emotional investment immediately skyrockets. Without a shadow of a doubt this is the best mainstream game of 2011 – a phenomenal achievement.
10 OUT OF 10