Developer: Naughty Dog / Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment America / Price: $59.99 / Rating: Teen [Blood, Violence, Language] / Played on: PlayStation 3
Uncharted is most often described as the videogame industry’s equivalent of a popcorn summer blockbuster film. But I can’t tell you the last time any film had as much to offer to so many people as Uncharted 3. Chances are that even if you don’t know a PlayStation 3 from a Game Boy, you can still appreciate tales of high adventure with lovable characters and adrenaline-pumping action presented through stunning cinematography. And chances are that if you are among the most elite and hardcore of gamers, Uncharted 3’s technical accomplishments and tightly designed gameplay will impress. Hell, even the game’s multiplayer will turn some heads this fall. Let me put it this way: if you are a human being and you like things, you should probably check out Uncharted 3.
Whenever I describe Uncharted to someone unfamiliar with the franchise, I usually say “it’s basically a modern day Indiana Jones,” and Uncharted 3 reinforces that position. Nathan Drake and crew once again find themselves following the trail of Sir Francis Drake. The details of five months of the legendary explorer’s life that he spent on a mission for John Dee, Queen Elizabeth I’s closest consultant, are almost completely unaccounted for. What happened during that time is a mystery that T.E. Lawrence (better known as Lawrence of Arabia) spent his life as an archaeologist investigating before his suspicious and untimely death. The journey to continue to uncover his work leads Drake and crew in search of Ubur, the Atlantis of the Sand, an abandoned city of “immeasurable wealth” hidden somewhere in the Rub’ Al Khali desert.
But as you’d probably expect, the real appeal of Uncharted 3 comes less from its pseudo-historical fiction and more from the endearing cast of characters that has keep the franchise in the hearts and minds of its players. These games have always been a character-driven experience for me, and no one really embodies everything awesome about Uncharted like Nathan Drake. For better or worse, the quick-witted, reckless adventurer hogs the spotlight of Uncharted 3, even more so than in previous games. Through the unfolding plot and the characters around him, it is slowly revealed that Drake is much more complex than the previous games in the series have let on. It’s nice that those of us invested in his adventures see some payoff with Drake in this one.
All this time spent on Drake has some adverse effects, however. It’s great to see Sully, Elena, and Chloe return but their appearances are disappointingly one-dimensional: a quick pop in to say “Hey! Remember us from the last game? Here we are again.” It’s especially a bummer considering how great and well-established these characters are and unfortunate that their inclusion feels a bit more like an afterthought.
If you were expecting Uncharted 3 to have an “end of the trilogy” vibe to it then you might be disappointed. This game feels very much like another story in the Continuing Adventures of Nathan Drake and Pals. Some questions are answered and some questions emerge that you didn’t even consider. Some interesting backstory is hinted at but never fully explained. It might be unsatisfying for some, but all this probably means we can expect an Uncharted 4. And that’s totally okay with me.
If one aspect has come to define the Uncharted series it’s the over-the-top action sequences. Uncharted 3 not only one-ups the other games in the franchise but also continuously takes its own sequences a step further. Throughout the campaign you platform through burning buildings, shoot dudes while on a capsizing freighter at sea and dangle outside a crashing cargo plane. It’s been a long time since I’ve played a game chocked full of as many memorable moments as Uncharted 3 delivers.
But Uncharted 3 never falls into the trap of being a one-note experience. All of these high-octane events are offset almost jarringly by touching, tranquil sequences. Some of the game’s more muted moments (which were surely inspired by the success Naughty Dog found with the infamous village segment in Uncharted 2) include Drake strolling through a Yemen square with Sully and Elena or crawling across the Rub’ Al Khali desert on the brink of death. It’s interesting because these levels, in a lot of ways, invoke as much impact as the “holy crap I’m shooting rockets at another moving car” moments.
Of course, all this serves Uncharted 3’s core experience, which is broken into three main components: climbing, shooting, and puzzle-solving. The overall feel and effectiveness of each element remains perfectly intact from Uncharted 2: the shooting feels great, the climbing is fun, and the puzzle solving provides a welcome reprieve from the other two. The game’s new melee combat system has a greater focus, and it seems Naughty Dog wanted you to be aware of the shift on a regular basis. The problem is that this combat is both largely unsatisfying (as it’s half a step more enjoyable than quick-time events) and because being forced into a melee battle while in the middle of a gun fight tends to disrupt the flow of the otherwise really great gunplay.
The Uncharted series has a well-deserved reputation for pushing technical boundaries so I hope you realize that this next statement is not hyperbolic: Uncharted 3 is the best looking console game ever. Sentence over. Claims that Naughty Dog had maxed out the power of the PS3 with Uncharted 2 were clearly unfounded because Uncharted 3 looks notably better than its predecessor.
Despite how each camera movement is meticulously scripted, it all feels dynamic. The framing of shots not only adds tension and drama but also acts as a clever way to guide you through obstacles. And I couldn’t talk about the look of Uncharted 3 without mentioning the animation. It seems like no matter what you’re doing Drake’s moves work in context. Even subtle actions like putting his hand up when walking near a wall or slamming an enemy’s face into a nearby monument bring a level of realism to the character and world that’s unprecedented.
All around, the audio in Uncharted 3 is impressive. The emotional and exotic soundtrack really underscores the game’s epic moments, and as always, the cast of voice actors deliver great performances across the board with Nolan North taking the cake. It’s surprising to me that every studio doesn’t use Naughty Dog’s “everyone recording in the same room at the same time” philosophy.
If you’re anything like me, you initially scoffed when Naughty Dog introduced multiplayer in Uncharted 2. What I assumed would be a largely unnecessary mode was surprising when I found that the verticality and cinematic nature of the Uncharted single-player translated organically into competitive multiplayer. The core of this multiplayer remains mostly intact in Uncharted 3 while much of the surrounding unlockables, which were arguably pretty sparse in Uncharted 2, are made more robust.
As you’d expect with any modern shooter progression and customization is a big focus in Uncharted 3’s competitive multiplayer. Along with a crap ton of cosmetic options to unlock for your multiplayer avatars, you can tweak loadouts. Both primary and secondary weapons can be modded with attachments such as a larger clip size or better zoom, from example. Additionally, you can purchase boosters and kickbacks for your character as you level up and earn money. Boosters are Uncharted’s version of perks. Two can be activated at any one time to provide a specific benefit, like faster climbing speeds or better sprint recovery. Kickbacks, on the other hand, are similar to kill streaks. Kickbacks can be activated during matches once you’ve earned the appropriate amount of medals through performing certain actions (like killing opponents and capturing objectives). The difference is that the in-match medals persist through death. So, for example, one of the kickbacks allows you to spawn a rocket launcher in your hands once you’ve earned 10 medals in that match. Of course, all of this depth is a moot point if the moment-to-moment action isn’t solid.
Uncharted 3’s competitive modes are broken into variations on Team Deathmatch and objective-based game types. Some impressive map design really helps highlight how much fun and, in some cases more strategic, the mobility of Uncharted can make the multiplayer. You guys remember that train level from the campaign of Uncharted 2? Yeah, they made that into a friggin’ multiplayer map with two trains, one team spawning on each. It’s awesome.
The game’s cooperative modes include some more story-driven content and the familiar wave-based survival game type. Adventure mode consists of basically repurposed sections of the single-player campaigns from Uncharted 2 and 3 that you can play through with friends. This is in addition to the Arena game type where you and your co-op partners survive onslaughts of enemies while completing ever-changing objectives.
If Uncharted 3 proves anything, it’s that Naughty Dog may be the most versatile studio in videogames. Their ability to craft tightly paced cinematic action, lighthearted narratives, endearing characters, and paint it with technical wizardry is unparalleled. Every single aspect of Uncharted 3, including its surprisingly robust multiplayer, is staggeringly well-executed. If you love videogames, Uncharted 3 is a game that needs to be part of your vocabulary. And if you don’t really play videogames, there’s still a lot here for you to appreciate anyway.