Also available on: N/A
Developer: Naughty Dog
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Nathan Drake has returned in what not only promises to be his greatest adventure, but also developer Naughty Dog's biggest challenge. The studio had the unenviable task of topping 2009's Uncharted 2: Among Thieves, a game that pushed boundaries of PS3 hardware and set new standards for the third-person adventure. You might wonder what ground was left to tread for a series that has taken gamers all over the globe, but Naughty Dog delivers surprises by the barrelful in this epic masterpiece.
Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception had a herculean job on its hands beating its predecessor's opening sequence. Scaling train wreckage overhanging a cliff is about as good as introductory stages get, so Naughty Dog went with a relatively subtle kick-off this time around, having Drake become entangled in a good old-fashioned barroom brawl at a backstreet London pub. This stage serves as an introduction to melee combat, and showcases how it's been built on this time around.
Drake has at least a dozen new moves in his repertoire. You can now grab and throw enemies (useful when your back's against the wall or when there's a cliff edge nearby) and take them out by dropping down from above. In addition to this, all of Drake's old moves have been refined. You can still perform single-button stealth takedowns and poleaxe foes with deft counters, but there are numerous new ways to do this, from pulling the pin on an enemy's grenade, to swinging them headfirst into a wall.
The storyline plays out through cinematic cutscenes worthy of the big screen. Drake and his companions are searching for the legendary lost city known as the Iram of the Pillars, or the Atlantis of the Sands. It's your usual mix of globe-trekking adventure, romance and, of course, deception, but there are a host of plot twists you'll never see coming.
The relationship between Drake and his mentor Sully is the focal point here, and we learn a great deal about both adventurers. Chloe Frazer and Elena Fisher are recurring characters from the previous games, while hardboiled cockney thug Charlie Cutter and new villainess Katherine Marlowe make their debuts.
There is no shortage of epic setpieces as the story unfolds. You'll race through an ancient temple while a swarm of deadly spiders encircles around you, engage in a gun fight on a sinking ship with the water rising up around Drake, and take on one of Marlowe's cronies on board an airplane with the cargo hold springing open in mid-flight. These are just a few of the Uncharted 3's most memorable stages, sequences that will likely go down in history as defining moments of the current hardware generation.
Core gameplay still involves platforming, puzzle-solving and gunplay, yet it feels like the developers have perfected that formula here by throwing out what didn't work before and building on what did. The awkward stealth moments are gone, replaced by the element of choice. If you want to creep around the levels and surreptitiously pick off guards you can, though the all-guns-blazing approach can be just as effective.
The new mechanics also give you more freedom. The ability to hurl back enemy grenades before they blow, or catch a floored foe's weapon and reel off a round of fire before it hits the ground, enhance the combat, lending it more flow.
Platforming still feels linear, in the sense that your paths are a good as marked out. When scaling ledges, you can always tell which way you should be heading based on the direction that Drake is willing to lean in. It still has that aerodynamic feel to it, and the ability to hit the player with a surge of adrenaline through strategically-placed crumbling platforms and well-timed explosions. Puzzles haven't changed much either. They still involve referring to Drake's notebook for clues, and the handy optional 'hints' function is still in place, which helps a great deal.
Uncharted 2 provided one of the best multiplayer experiences on the PS3, so naturally Naughty Dog continues to support the community with extensive co-op and competitive options. Co-op has now been expanded with additional game types, and the best of these is Adventure. Here, you can team up with a couple of friends and blast through modified maps from Drake's Deception and Among Thieves. Platforming and puzzle segments have been removed, so it's all about how long you can hold out against waves of enemies through teamwork.
The other co-op modes include an arena-based affair, in which the object is to reach a certain kill count or plunder treasure amid the onslaught, and a two-versus-two version of flag capture involving treasures and AI teammates, which will no doubt help further the game's longevity once a dedicated community builds up around them.
Competitive play remains a big hook, and all of the modes from Among Thieves make a comeback. With the new combat mechanics and gameplay refinements in place, deathmatch and flag capture are better than ever. There's a real sense of speed and flow to these encounters, much more so than in the single player campaign, so competitive multiplayer offers something entirely different.
New rewards and power-ups sweeten the deal further. Even if the other players wipe the floor with you during in match, you can see the points you accumulated being invested in your future. There's even a split-screen option so two can play using a pair of PSN accounts on one machine.
Graphically, Uncharted 3 is one of the best-looking games we've seen this generation. Its predecessor was visually stunning, but this pushes the boat out even further. The character models look more realistic, and the lighting and water effects more polished.
It's the attention to detail that makes it look as though you could reach out and touch the in-game world. From the coating of sand on Drake's skin in the desert, to the sunlight that breaks through the trees when he's exploring the French wilderness. It left us wondering just how much better graphics are ever going to get.
For all of its triumphs, Uncharted 3 isn't a flawless game. The linear platforming might feel restrictive to players who favour creativity, and the game dictates its pace throughout. It decides whether you should be running or walking in each level, which compromises freedom somewhat. The issue with Drake becoming overly clingy with the scenery when you enter cover mode remains. It doesn't crop up often, but when it does it usually means you'll be peppered with bullets.
Despite these minor gripes, Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception is a masterpiece and a strong contender for game of the year. Like its predecessors, it pushes the boundaries of what's cinematically possible in the medium of video games, and is a thrill ride from start to finish. This is everything Uncharted fans have come to expect for the series, and much more.
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