Uncharted 3

There’s a moment in Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception that has been looping in my brain for the past week. It’s a relatively innocuous moment – not a set piece or a boss battle – but one that is key to highlighting what makes Uncharted 3 such a compelling experience.

I am guiding Nathan Drake through the streets of Yemen. The city is rendered in astonishing detail. The light of the midday sun bounces off dusty cobbles. Shops and stalls manned by animated locals are laden with fruits and grains. Intricately patterned rugs hang from cords strung above the walkway, casting shadows on the ground below. The air is rich with the sound of distant traffic and incidental chatter. The city feels genuinely alive, every sonic and visual nuance and doing its part to create a distinct sense of place.

I walk Nathan up a flight of stairs. His hand reaches out a hand to touch the wall beside him, steadying his ascent. The only route available is a ladder braced to a building in front of him. I move him to the base of the ladder and he starts to climb.

As Nathan makes his way up the ladder, the camera slowly begins to track back and to the right. By the time he has reached the top, he is small character on the left of the screen. The remainder of my screen is now dominated by the Yemen skyline.

The view is breathtaking. The golden city stretches into the distance and down towards the sea. I leave Nathan hanging from the top rung so I can drink it in, unwilling to mount the roof before I’ve had my fill of the stunning cityscape. It feels like a discovery, like I have caught a glimpse of something truly magnificent. For a brief but beautiful moment, I feel like I’m there.

Uncharted 3 is a game full of such reveals. Unlike the fixed viewpoint of most third-person perspective games, Naughty Dog regularly repositions the in-game camera to spectacular effect. Whether it’s highlighting the correct ledge to grab onto, circling Nathan during one of the games’ frequent brawls, or simply showing-off the achingly gorgeous environments, the camera goes beyond its function as a virtual periscope to become an integral part of the narrative.

The stars of Uncharted 3 deliver their finest performances, too. Nathan is as hapless and corny as ever, still cracking-wise with Sully and yelling “Oh crap!” at every opportunity. But, despite his willingness to ruthlessly murder large groups of international mercenaries to get his mitts on something old and / or shiny, the character betrays real humanity. There are exchanges between Nathan and recurring love interest Elena that have genuine emotional resonance, something rarely seen in digital storytelling outside of Pixar’s studios.

The three franchise staples of exploration, climbing, and combat remain unchanged. Fist fights have a little more flow, thanks to a Rocksteady-influenced attack and counter system. The enemy models aren’t particularly diverse, and there is a large bald fellow that you will be pummelling on more than one occasion, but the animations are excellent and the impacts are enjoyably crunchy. Gunplay is as solid as ever, though combat is most enjoyable in tight quarters, where you can spice up the action by switching back and forth between melee and firearms.

While the climbing sections never present any real challenge, dynamic environmental shifts can change the layout (and even orientation) of the gamespace, forcing you to approach the terrain from different angles. Some of Uncharted 3’s most inventive and engaging moments are a result of these shifts in perspective, including one stand-out section involving a capsized ship.

There are some cute puzzles too, with Naughty Dog dreaming up yet more ancient mechanisms and misplaced cogs for players to set in motion. They may number fewer than Uncharted 2, but they are expertly executed and always fun to solve.

My moment with Yemen skyline is also reflective of Uncharted 3’s limitations. The game is linear to a fault, and, like the ladder, there is only ever one route available. Those prone to wanderlust may be disappointed by the often narrow confines of the play area. But, while Naughty Dog doesn’t provide alternative routes, it ensures that the beaten path is so lush and verdant that you never have a reason to stray far.

Although the antagonists are initially interesting, they never really develop into a palpable threat, leaving the climax of the story a little underwhelming. However, the well-rounded protagonists do much to pick up any dramatic slack, and the consistently impressive set pieces rarely fail to set the pulse racing.

The co-op campaign provides an entertaining diversion from the central story, but its focus on combat leaves it feeling somewhat insubstantial when compared to the varied gameplay of the solo campaign. Support for local and online multiplayer is welcome, and players can collect treasure and earn experience, unlocking new weapons and abilities for use in the competitive arenas. These modes are generously featured and the online community is strong, but when stripped of its narrative gloss the game doesn’t shine quite so brightly.







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