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Released: Nov 1 2012 US, Nov 2 2012 EU
Developer: Naughty Dog
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
I’m uneasy. Uncharted 3 lies on my floor, bloodied and beaten. I scaled the side of an ancient home and exited at speed when it was set ablaze by evil dudes. I ran through market streets in pursuit of a man with seemingly magical powers. After being kidnapped, I escaped from a rotting shipyard festering with pirates. I killed a hundred thousand men, most of whom were probably bad guys. Probably. But I feel empty. Something is very wrong.
Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception once again follows the world’s most poorly tucked treasure hunter, Nathan Drake, on another quest to steal priceless artifacts from exotic locations. Sorry, find. Find artifacts. New big bad Katherine Marlowe is after Sir Francis Drake’s ring - conveniently kept around Nathan Drake’s neck - so that she can find a special thing that leads her to another thing for very important reasons. Drake and perpetual father figure Sully need to stop them because of other important reasons. Like money. Honestly, the plot is a huge mess of chase scenes and blatant plot holes that feels more like an excuse to make pretty levels and cool action sequences than ever.
But so what, right? That’s exactly what Uncharted games are about. Overblown cinematic action-adventures with explosions and shooting and punching. Well yes, actually. Uncharted 2 is one of the best movies I ever played, and the witty banter between characters in the series is a big selling point. Someone should tell the writers that, though, because Uncharted 3 is full of clumsy, half-formed attempts at character development. If it isn’t a flashback to Nathan Drake’s youthful escapades as an irritating teenager, it’s awkwardly romantic interludes between Nathan and Elena, or mopey scenes hitting us over the head with a big, fat piece of wood that says “Sully is Nathan’s father, metaphorically”.
Come on, Naughty Dog. Nobody asked for Uncharted to become all deep and meaningful. And certainly not if you’re going to be shit at it.
Uncharted 3’s gameplay is more or less the same as it was in previous games, with the player guiding Drake around pre-programmed (yet still compelling) platforming sections and getting into gun and fist fights with all manner of goon and henchman. The platforming parts are still as solid as ever, although there is a little fatigue setting in if you’ve clocked the other games.
Shooting is also competent enough, mechanically, although there are some aiming issues that were mitigated slightly by a subsequent patch. The big problem with the shooting is how much of it there is. Every combat area is so saturated with enemies that making it through all of them will eat away at your time and patience. There are only so many faceless, nameless flunkies I can gun down before I start to feel like a very bored homicidal maniac. It’s bad enough that the game still forces you to shoot ordinary men half a dozen times before they fall. Making you do it a hundred times every hour is a nightmare. And then there are the ones wearing armour, who can take several rockets to the face before they go down. Oh, and they added brutes. Gaming’s dirty great big excuse to make combat harder without improving AI.
The melee system has been tweaked and added to for close combat situations, but it’s hardly worth it. Attacking characters from stealth is still satisfying and useful, but the inability to cancel melee moves mid-animation and the sheer number of opponents punishing you means trying to punch that guy in front of you with a shotgun will mean taking 35 bullets and tonguing the game over screen.
Production values are predictably high, and still represent Uncharted’s greatest achievement. All the environments look amazing, from secluded villas in France to Colombian villages and sand-strewn Middle Eastern towns. As noted, Uncharted 3 makes a lot of ridiculous excuses to get you around the world, but when you arrive it’s a sight to behold. The level of detail in the visuals and character animations is sort of an embarrassment for other games. In a perfect world everything would look so pretty. That said, some of the redesigns for established characters are strange - such as Elena Fisher’s new “come to bed” eyes. Sound design is superb and the voice acting is the highest quality stuff in the business. Nolan North is again delivering as Drake and other characters also brilliantly voiced. Shame they have to spout such drivel.
Since this is possibly the only game series which could legitimately count set pieces as a vital feature, they are worth a look. Some grand scenes are dropped into the plot as you play, including a particularly memorable shipyard scene most people have seen footage of anyway. That said, nothing really sticks in the mind as much as the scenes from Uncharted 2, and it seems the developers didn’t up the ante so much as put the ante in a comfy chair and tell it not to work very hard. A few of them actually sound great on paper - such as chasing a convoy of enemy trucks across the desert on horseback, or escaping from a burning building full of thugs - but in practice become dull quickly and feel contrived from the start. They also often become a reason for you to fight and kill another hundred human beings.
There is a multiplayer mode, which is worth checking out if you tire of executing thief justice on computerised opponents. Without the overwhelming number of dudes to shoot, multiplayer actually feels quite relaxed and fun. There are plenty of unlockable items and characters to mark your progression along the way, and teaming up with or against friends is a fun way to pass the afternoon.
Uncharted 3 is an action game that bizarrely wants you to focus on its plot, and then the plot isn’t any good. It wants you to enjoy the combat, but forces you to kill so many people - and die so much in the process - that you’re bored by the end. It wants you to care about the characters, but gives them nothing interesting to say. When I finished the game, I found I had no thoughts about it at all, which is somehow worse than thinking it was awful. It isn’t a terrible video game, it’s just kind of okay. She has a nice face, though.