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Review: Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception
by Andrew Testerman

Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception
Naughty Dog
Sony Computer Entertainment
PlayStation 3
Action-adventure, third-person shooter
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One of the PlayStation 3’s first killer apps, the Uncharted series has wowed players with its deft blend of platforming, shooting, and some of the most enthralling cinematic moments in gaming.

Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception shows developer Naughty Dog knocking it out of the park once again, with perhaps the best entry in the series yet. Though it sports a few legacy weaknesses that gave previous entries trouble, Uncharted 3 still delivers an expertly-paced and ultimately satisfying adventure that ranks it amongst the cream of 2011's gaming crop.

Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception reintroduces players to protagonist Nathan Drake, adventure capitalist (read: treasure hunter) who claims to be the long-lost descendant of Sir Francis Drake, famed British explorer. Drake’s Deception sees Drake chasing after the fabled Atlantis of the Sands, a city of immeasurable wealth hidden somewhere in the Arabian Desert. Joining him are Victor 'Sully' Sullivan, Drake’s long-time partner in crime; Chloe Frazer, an Australian thief who has history with Drake, and newcomer Charlie Cutter, a muscle-man whose bald head and dialect make him powerfully reminiscent of actor Jason Statham. Opposing him is Katherine Marlowe, an elderly woman chasing after the same treasure, and whose cropped, blonde hair and restrained, dignified manner is to Helen Mirren what Charlie’s Cockney-isms are to Statham.

Story has constantly been the best aspect of the Uncharted series, and Drake's Deception is arguably the strongest yet, taking Nathan from Northern France, to merry old England, to the Rub’ al Khali desert, with many other locations waiting in the wings. In addition to following Drake in his pursuit of the lost city, players are also invited to explore Nathan’s history with Sully, detailing their past, and delving slightly into their relationship together. The adventure is impeccably well-voiced and acted, with returning performers Nolan North, Richard McGonagle and Claudia Black sounding comfortable in their established roles, whilst newcomers Graham McTavish and Rosalind Ayres easily keep pace with the veterans. Additionally, the writing is solid, the motion capture work and facial animations in the cutscenes have never looked better, and Naughty Dog has taken every possible step to ensure that Uncharted 3 stands toe-to-toe with the best adventure stories in cinema.

The Uncharted series has always sported great heroes, but lacked a great villain. That is, until Katherine Marlowe.

Previous Uncharted titles have boasted a wealth of memorable set piece moments, from discovering a German U-Boat in the first game to fighting one's way to the front of a moving train in the second. Uncharted 3 has perhaps more and better set pieces than either of the previous entries, including a harrowing escape from a burning manor and a heated pursuit of a convoy travelling through the desert, with the highlight being a combination platforming/shooting trek through a massive ship graveyard. Not only are the explosive, exciting parts well-worth remembering, but the game’s slower, more deliberate moments consistently feel engaging as well, with one scene near the end vying for the standout sequence of the entire game. The puzzles are greatly improved as well, with much greater variety, and are far more deft when it comes to making the player feel smart for solving them.

In terms of presentation, Uncharted 3 is outstanding. Character models look and move in more convincing, realistic ways, and some of the lighting effects need to be seen to be believed. But the game undoubtedly shines brightest in its art direction. Every location feels distinct and immaculately detailed, from the general look of the area to the minute details of each nook and cranny. Uncharted’s musical score is once again provided by Firefly composer Greg Edmondson, who effortlessly combines Middle Eastern themes with the series’ already-established motifs, creating perhaps his finest work to date.

Uncharted 3 is the best-looking game in the series, making it one of the best-looking games on the PlayStation 3.

Of course, at the end of the day, games are meant to be played, and Uncharted 3 retains its jack-of-all-trades approach to gameplay, incorporating many different mechanics that, whilst reasonably satisfying on their own, are rarely better than those found in other, more-focussed titles. Case in point: the shooting. Uncharted 3’s gunplay has been tweaked from the previous two iterations, feeling slightly tighter and more refined, but it still merely feels 'pretty good', and doesn’t crackle like other top-tier third-person shooting games (such as Gears of War 3, for instance). Similarly, its platforming elements, whilst solid and well-executed, still feel slightly autopilot-esque, and don’t measure up to titles like Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time or Batman: Arkham City. Still, rare is a game that allows players to experience such a breadth of different gameplay styles, and Uncharted 3 is still a blast to play, in spite of being no greater than it has to be (which is still pretty good).

Sadly, there are a few flies in this title’s ointment, though they’re far from dealbreakers. Perhaps the biggest quibble is with the game’s platforming; owing to the quality of Uncharted 3’s graphics, it can often be difficult to distinguish a portion of wall that can be gripped from one that can’t, potentially resulting in several unintended deaths. At other times, the game has difficulty recognising which handhold the player wants to grab on to; there will be times when a gripping point will be right there, but Nathan will refuse to jump until the control stick is placed in exactly the correct position. Uncharted 3 also has a bad habit of throwing entirely too many enemies into an area at once; cover-based shooters work best when the player can actually find cover, but more than a few instances find the player surrounded by bad guys, with no adequate way to hide from oncoming gunfire. Lastly, some gamers may find Uncharted 3’s ultra-scripted nature off-putting; the game directs players along a very specific path with little room for deviation, though this is obviously a feature, and not a bug.

Firefights can get a little heated, but can be overcome with a little lateral thinking.

For players who don’t want to go it alone, Uncharted 3 also includes a fairly robust multiplayer mode. Like many top-tier multiplayer titles, Uncharted 3 features customisable weapon loadouts, perks, and a levelling system that lets players accrue experience points, rank up, and unlock new weapons and appearances. Game modes include standard Team Deathmatch, Capture the Flag (called 'Plunder' here), and a grab-bag, best-of-five objective mode similar to Killzone 3’s Warzone. What separates Uncharted 3’s multiplayer from its contemporaries is its verticality; match flow can feel drastically different from something like Gears of War when players are able to scramble over buildings and take cover whilst hanging from ledges. Who knows if the community will continue to be robust in the coming months, but multiplayer is certainly fun enough for those who want to put the time in.

Even with its set of small gaffes, Uncharted 3 is a must-play. Its thrilling set pieces, engaging character moments and epic scope make it the best story in the series, and its gameplay still feels polished. For fans of adventure properties like Indiana Jones or Duck Tales, Uncharted 3 is an experience that can’t be missed.

9/10 [?]

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- Andrew Testerman

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