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REVIEW: As close to perfect a cinematic game experience as we’re ever likely to see?

Uncharted 2: Among thieves, along with Super Mario Galaxy, was easily one of the best games I’ve played this generation, if not ever. Both understood their goals and pulled them off almost perfectly. So with the third Uncharted game, Naughty Dog seriously had its work cut out…

The Skinny

The chaps and chapettes at ND have asked that any review not be spoilertastic so I will go into this mainly referencing what is already floating around the world wide world of web.  The core adventure in Drake’s third outing is concerned with finding Iram of the Pillars, also known as Atlantis of the Sands, and as is always the case, he’s not the only one.

What follows is the most globe trotting adventure in the series that takes you from London, through Cartagena, France, and Yemen. The action kicks off in a traditional London boozer when a deal goes sour with Icy English bitch/Helen Mirren-a-like Katherine Marlowe.

And it is in this section that we see the first of U3′s biggest improvements: melee combat. Attempting to punch your way out of any situation in Drake’s Fortune was a no no, and although much improved for the second outing, was still best reserved if the stealth option went sour. Here though it comes into its own, becoming an actual option in play as opposed to an enforced occasional segment, like the train punch up in Among Thieves.

Throughout the game and even in the later stages when the numbers and difficulty ramp up, it was possible to go from cover shooting to run and gun to hand-to-hand and back to guns, and it really elevates the game from cover-shoot-cover dynamic and brings it ever closer to the action films that inspire it. Don’t get me wrong, we are not in Batman territory in regards to the quality of fisticuffs, but the system is pretty close with onscreen counter prompts to keep the action fluid. 

The opening segment chapters also highlight the quality of writing,  Amy Hennig should be proud, as she has managed to craft a tight script with believable and relatable characters and wonderful set pieces that leave most games as specs on the horizon. I Love Metal Gear Solid but Hideo Kojima could learn a thing or two, as this is a truly interactive cinematic experience as you play you eagerly await the next piece of exposition and as you watch you eagerly await the gameplay filled payoff as opposed to the hours and hours of impenetrable lectures in MGS4. Imagine if Kojima gave Naughty Dog a crack at Metal Gear Solid, that would be something to behold.

“I Love Metal Gear Solid but Hideo Kojima could learn a thing or two – this is a truly interactive cinematic experience.”

All the usual suspects are in place along with Jason Statham, sorry, Charlie Cutter, as the new addition. Again, the dynamic characters is brilliant as they play off each other during exploring segments and quip during fight scenes, it all brings a believability to the situation that is missing in other titles with generic statements fired indiscriminately in a pale attempt to ape humanity.

Plot-wise I cant really say much without ruining things, but again the pacing is brilliant and the story moves on without a dull moment, even when you are not fighting for your life, it really is all killer no filler. The flow from story to set piece is tight without feeling like it only exists as a catalyst, and the post air crash trek through the desert (not a spoiler, its on the bloody cover) is epic gold, you feel alone and fragile as you plod into futility. What I will say though is that some seeds are planted that do not pay off, and although I know that this will happen (Hopefully) in the next instalment, as a piece of work, they really should have been answered here.

The play

Uncharted as a series was always more of a shooter than a puzzler so I was glad to see that there was more chances to tax the brain this time round and not just the trigger finger. 

It is definitely a more rounded beast; Indiana Jones has always been the obvious inspiration for the series and as such Drake’s Deception is The Last Crusade (Among Thieves being Raiders of the Lost Ark, now I know you are thinking that surely Temple should be Among Thieves cos it’s the second one, but if you pay attention to the year at the start of the films you will see that chronologically Raiders is the second adventure, also it’s just better than Temple of Doom. It just is. And Among thieves is better than Drake’s Fortune. There, done.)

Over the course of the game you will do battle on a boat while it’s doing it’s impression of the Poseidon Adventure (or Poseidon if you are too young to remember past the Kurt Russell remake) with some lovely set pieces and brilliant long shots of to show the gravity of the situation as you make your way along. You’ll attack trucks on horseback in some stunning desert scenes, even without id’s mega textures, and get some playable back-story. So backstory + horseback + boat = like Last Crusade.

Again, as this is the third outing the controls have been refined more, and do a mostly sterling job of guiding you through the world; sometimes I found the jump mechanic to be a bit floaty during some of the fast paced sections, which occasionally led to needless death, but luckily you are plopped back in in less than five seconds to continue on, which is lovely as it doesn’t break the momentum or pull you out of the zone as opposed to other titles where you have the illusion broken by protracted loading. This speedy return comes in handy later on when the enemies are plentiful, though I will say that some parts toward the end left me feeling like I completed them through learning where people and obstacles were going to appear more than my mad skills.

One thing that is a little over familiar is the way the levels play out.  The ability to gauge when a shit storm is round the corner because of the sudden increase of chest high walls also does not help, perhaps a bit more dynamic scenery where cover becomes available instead of signposting things to come would alleviate this.  But the fact remains that the game plays out is such a way that it doesn’t become boring, even in the face of this issue.

Initial play through took me around 7 ½ hours and am looking forward to ploughing trough it again: I find that trophy hunting tends to destroy a game by making it a job more than, well, a game, but not here.

The looks

If there is one thing you cannot fault Naughty Dog on, it’s the visuals, and if you are wondering if they can top Among Thieves then rest easy… sort of.

“The variety of locale keeps things fresh, as you go from escaping a burning chateau, to battling along a floating dock in stormy weather…”

The visuals are wonderful and pack a punch, and the level design is lush and fluid. The fire, sand and water effects are all superb. It’s a joy to behold.  The variety of locale keeps things fresh, as you go from escaping a burning chateau, to battling along a floating dock in stormy weather to making your way through the desert.

Among Thieves had a section where you were walking up a staircase in the rain and the camera pulled out to show the size of the climb as well as the scenery and building at the top and I just had to stop and marvel to the vista. I did not have that moment here – close, but not the same wow factor. Saying that is almost doing a disservice to the visual punch the game serves up though.

I play well with others

Uncharted 3 throws in some multiplayer into the mix, and although this featured in Uncharted 2 it’s again refined.  Split into co-op and multiplayer, the roster of modes are of no surprise to the more social among face-shooting individuals. Variants of capture the flag (idol), deathmatch, team and regular return, but with enhanced boosters and kickbacks. Similar to U2, boosters are chosen and are in play for the entire match and vary from enhanced skills or weapons to extra cash when your partner gets cash or faster healing. 

Kickbacks on the other hand are limited time affairs that can lead to a handily spawned weapon or the ability to turn into a swarm of spiders.  Because of the refinements made to the core game play mechanics multiplayer is just a better animal than last time round, and although it wont convert CoD stalwarts, it has the replay ability to warrant a good community of players for a long time to come.  You also have a couple of dynamic maps which offer the interesting feature of starting in one location and ending in another, which makes for an interesting match.

In the end

Beautiful to look at, brilliant to play, the plot is interesting, the characters are dynamic, there is nothing really that I can say that is a negative. Even the bad points I highlighted aren’t actually bad, it’s more nit-picking, but it is enough to stop it short of the perfect ten. Drake has come along way in the last few years and this journey is his most refined – his best. I likened this outing to The Last Crusade, I only hope Uncharted 4 is not The Crystal Skull, but then again, this is Naughty Dog. If they did it, it would be worth playing.

9.5

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