Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception Review
When I created PSX Extreme alongside my brother 12 years ago, the last thing I imagined was that I'd have something called a Blu-ray disc spinning inside a PlayStation 3, displaying an image that would absolutely surpass the CG sequences I was used to from the likes of Final Fantasy VIII, Final Fantasy IX, Chrono Cross, Legend of Dragoon, and so forth. What action-adventure shooters like Uncharted and Gears of War are for the industry today, is what the above RPGs were for a generation of gamers yesterday. And while many of us have vilified this genre for dumbing gaming down, and with good reason, games like Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception is a core example of what being the very finest exception to a rule is all about.
And it really is the finest exception. While I couldn't have imagined playing something like Uncharted 3 back in 1999, I bet few even imagined playing something like this 5 years ago when the PlayStation 3 debuted. Sure, the original game was superb when it launched, but we didn't think Naughty Dog would make such massive strides with its sequel. And that very same sequel left the inevitable Uncharted 3 with some massive loafers to fill. Not only does Uncharted 3 fill the footwear, but its footprint is sasquatch-esque in size, tearing the very seams of the shoe it's attempting to fill. Playing Uncharted 3 left me with simply one thought: 'how do they do it'? "They" being Naughty Dog, of course.
The moment you boot the game up, you're taken for a ride. You're thrown into a really tense bar scene that quickly escalates into a huge brawl and you're familiarized with the polished and honed fighting mechanics of the game. Where as in Uncharted 2 there was a bit of clunkiness to the hand-to-hand combat, Uncharted 3 deals away with nearly all of that. The next thing you know you're running around pounding everyone in sight, throwin' a bunch of bloody wankers to the floor, beating them until they can no longer stand...and when you're done a cutscene unfolds, the end of which leaves your jaw on the floor and your mind racing at every possible outcome of this "what now?" situation. This is really clever Hollywood-class writing here, folks. To flesh out the characters and to calm you down following the cutscene will be your second chapter, a prequel of sorts...the story of Drake meeting Sully. It's like Harry meeting Sally, without the awkward moaning and with a lot of roof jumping through a lush Columbian backdrop. This is quality stuff, believe me.
Within the first 30 minutes of the game, Uncharted 3 has sunk its teeth into you, and I dare anyone to admit you didn't fight yourself to put the game down. The shooting mechanics have remained largely the same, though collision detection is now flawless as every well aimed bullet will connect and either kill or wound your opponent. Climbing and general control quirks have also been ironed out, which makes the game play even smoother than the last, though I do think things such as jumping over obstacles and certain leaps of faith could've been handled better. But if you happen to fail, the game stores plenty of checkpoints throughout every chapter and chances are you won't have to repeat anymore than 30-60 seconds of gameplay to correct your mistake.
A.I. continues to be one of the finest aspects of the game, ranging from absolutely moronic to tactile and organized. Depending on the difficulty you set your game to also has an affect on the brains of your support - so if you're playing on the easier settings and witness Sully not doing anything about enemies who sneak up behind you, well don't say I didn't warn you. At the very least, play this on the standard difficulty - it's fairly well balanced that way.
Though, as is always the case with this franchise, it's the story and its characters that really grab you. The level of interaction between everyone is simply unparalleled; there's just no other gaming experience that is within miles of what Uncharted 3 offers to the gamer on a scale of immersion. Uncharted 2 was epic in its presentation, and yet somehow Uncharted 3 is able to expand on that. The scenarios are more tense. The writing keeps you on the edge of your seat. The action will have you gasping for air with every leap of faith or wondrous moment. The simple joy you experience completing these epic moments is unlike any feeling you've ever felt in a game. And while I'm aware of how vague I'm being with my descriptions, there's just so much amazement to see in Uncharted 3 that giving even the slightest bit of detail would feel like I'm spoiling something special.
And that's what makes Uncharted 3 so unique, it's how special the game feels; you are part of this interactive journey, you are part of these characters, you want the good guys to succeed not because you want to win, but because you're convinced this character on your screen has a real-life personality. You're convinced that they're real, and you know that you are the key to their success...and it is brilliant feeling. The level of satisfaction one gets from completing some absurd escape is all too high. Though, I must say if I did have one complaint about the game, it's that some of the escapes can feel a little drawn out and farfetched. Though blame it on the game's absolutely flawless execution, because it does such a remarkable job at conveying this sense of realism, that you almost can't forgive it for being just a "videogame". Because Uncharted 3 feels, plays, and looks so life-like, some of the crazy escapes occasionally get to you because of how implausible they can be, all because you've let go of the fact that this is still a videogame at the end of the day. Again, it's one of those scratches that doesn't really scratch the surface...the double-edged sword, if you get what I mean.
Multiplayer was introduced with Uncharted 2, and it returns for Uncharted 3 with enhancements, additions, and fixes. Much of what you loved about last year's game returns, including co-op. While it's early to tell just how fulfilling the multiplayer experience is, I can tell you that it is robust. A number of you have already played the multiplayer beta, which boasted weapon enhancement, rankings, medals, boosters, and so forth. Modes such as Free For All (Deathmatch), Team Deathmatch, Team Objective, Plunder, Hardcore, Co-Op Hunter, Co-Op Arena, and Co-Op Adventure round out the list of available multiplayer modes. We've seen what a great job Naughty Dog did with the last game's multiplayer, and we've witnessed how great Uncharted 3's multiplayer efforts turned out, as well. Granted, because there is virtually no one playing the game online right now aside from us press folk with special access invites, we can't truly gauge the multiplayer because we don't know what its core audience and infrastructure will turn the experience into. Still what we do know is that the game boasts a feature rich and wholly enjoyable multiplayer experience and that the beta was a solid indicator of said audience and infrastructure (matchmaking, woo!). Still, Ben will be providing his own review which will include additional multiplayer details once the game launches worldwide for all.
To wrap things up, I think goes without saying that Uncharted 3 will go down as the best looking game of this generation by a long, blistering, and freezing Antarctic mile. Apart from another Naughty Dog title, I don't see anything getting close. I don't have to spell it out for you, you've seen the HD footage and the high-resolution screens. You've seen the glistening screens that show off those gorgeous landscapes, the textures on the wall, ground, objects and characters, the flawless animation, the surreal lighting, the lack of a jagged edge on the screen, the solid framerate, and those stunning cinematic cutscenes.
So with visuals that clean and practically perfect, it only makes sense the audio matches. As is par for course, Uncharted 3 delivers a deck of aces for the audio. The same way the graphics accomplish everything they possibly can to deliver the most polished picture possible, the audio delivers every punch it can pull off to do the same for your ears (and the audio system you should have taking advantage of this marvelous sonic achievement). The voice acting remains flawless, and it is one of the main principles behind making the game feel so alive and the characters so real. Drake still makes his quips and snide remarks, and the bounce between Sully and Drake remains as effortless as ever. All interactions you experience with the supporting cast will probably upset you once you realize that the chances of the Hollywood movie having dialogue this perfect and natural is slim to none. Of course there is a soundtrack in the background that'll accompany you with every tense moment, and a ton of boomy and rich sound effects to accompany you when those same tense moments get out of control. Home theater guys will have a field day with this.
There's only one last thing that needs to be said, and this is going to be one of the shortest conclusions I'll ever piece together. All that can be remains to be said about Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception is that it both defies and defines everything a videogame is and should be. In that order.
10/24/2011 Arnold Katayev