"All men dream: but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake in the day to find that it was vanity: but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dream with open eyes, to make it possible. This I did."
Opening up Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception’s narrative, T.E. Lawrence’s poignant quote couldn’t be more appropriate. Developer Naughty Dog boasts a team of designers that are most certainly “dreamers of the day.” These are men who must have harbored dreams in the early days of development that the Uncharted series would be the success it’s become, and then made it all possible by acting on their passion and making dreams become reality with an action-adventure franchise that has thrilled PlayStation gamers since its inception.
Uncharted 3 is the culmination of Naughty Dog’s hard work and dedication to the series over the years, and is both a magnificent technical feat and a benchmark of how far the action-adventure genre has come since the jagged rock-climbing days of Tomb Raider on PSone. It’s a game that pits you as the star of a blockbuster movie and blurs the lines between reality and fiction with its Hollywood blockbuster-style set-pieces. Quite simply, it’s a modern-day masterpiece.
But quality production values and glossy graphics can only carry you for part of that journey. Uncharted 3, however, stands up on its own two feet with a storyline and a cast of characters to match, with the incomparable and unflappable fortune-seeker Nathan “Nate” Drake heading up its strong list of personalities. Having started his Uncharted adventure dragging Sir Francis Drake’s coffin from the ocean floor, before setting off on the search for the fabled El Dorado, it’s entirely fitting that Nate is once again doing what he loves best – hunting for ancient artifacts, and teaming up with his father figure Victor “Sully” Sullivan for this third game in the series. We wouldn’t have expected anything less.
In Uncharted 3, the relationship between Nate and Sully is even more poignant and is often brought right to the forefront of the narrative. Naughty Dog has continued its good work from previous games by building on their close relationship, humanizing them so that you care about their alliance and understand their bond. A flash-back to the past, the moment when they first met, validates how deep their friendship runs and sets things up nicely for the rest of the story as they embark on a journey together that is thwarted with danger.
Nathan Drake has been a likeable character from day one. He’s the kind of person men admire and women would want to marry, and Uncharted 3 is undoubtedly his finest moment. You empathize and sympathize with him and will him on each step of the way. In every chase sequence and every leap you take in his muddy boots you feel his overwhelming sense of loyalty, as well as his passion and strength for setting out to achieve exactly what he wants to achieve. In many ways, in terms of the characterization of Nate, Naughty Dog has surpassed what Crystal Dynamics has managed to achieve so far with Lara Croft. If you’re a hot-blooded male, Lara’s certainly sexier than the Uncharted star, but we’d rather be friends with Nate any day of the week. Nate has most definitely earned his place as a PlayStation icon.
In Uncharted 3, the storyline premise is predictable but the execution most certainly isn’t as you’re taken on a voyage that you can immediately relate to and actually imagine taking place. On the hunt for a 16th century ring that is said to belong to the Elizabethan naval commander Sir Francis Drake, Nate soon discovers that his name-sake was also commissioned by Queen Elizabeth I to search for the “Atlantis of the Sands,” a hidden city buried deep in the Arabian Peninsula. Steeped in intrigue and mystery, with some deceptive twists along the way, the narrative sucks you in and keeps you guessing as to how things are going to pan out and if the relationship between Sully and Nate is going to come to a sticky end, or perhaps get even stronger.
As the duo embarks on a journey that takes you from places as diverse as a château buried deep in the French countryside to a cruise ship rocking wildly on the turbulent seas, drama and suspense is created by a blend of sublime audio work and thrilling set-pieces, yet it’s testament to the script writers that the characters still manage to shine through—Nate and Sully, obviously—but also the game’s villain, the smooth-talking English granny, Katherine Marlowe. With her shadowy organization looking for the same thing as Nate, this is a frantic race and an intense battle that gains in ferocity the further you progress in the campaign leaving you thrilled and exhausted by the time you reach its heady conclusion.
Uncharted 3 features many of the same concepts as the previous games, but builds on top of combat and platforming play with tweaks that add more depth and give you increased control and freedom over Nate. Gameplay switches pace nicely between bouts of frenzied third-person combat as you clear large areas of enemies before slowing things down to platform-puzzler pace as you systematically work your way across ledges and swing from drainpipes toward your goal.
Uncharted 3’s pièce de résistance are the set-pieces that it blends into the gameplay to create some interactive dramatic sequences that combine real-time action with short scripted cut-scenes. Though many of the trailers pre-release have prepared us for the likes of the cargo plane fight or fleeing from a capsizing boat, nothing can quite prepare you for the impact they have when you actually play them. These moments of drama aren’t just a gimmick either; they’re meaningful passages of play that build further on Nate’s strength of character.
These memorable moments are complimented by the many incredible sights that you see on the journey. A seemingly never-ending, empty desert scene that represents Drake’s struggle is in stark contrast to the ornately-designed interiors of ancient tombs, while deep sunsets and shimmering night skies light up the bustling marketplace of Yemen and the Syrian metropolis. And Naughty Dog uses dynamic camera angles frequently to create a sense of scale and ensure that Nate gets the best possible views as he climbs citadels and leaps across rooftops.
Slow-paced platforming sequences, where you need to work out how to traverse a location by shimmying across ledges and making gargantuan leaps of faith, give way to frantic chases as you’re left guessing as to what Naughty Dog will throw at you next. You can be running from a collapsing burning building in one section, and then dangling from a chain attached to a citadel high above the city while shooting wildly at enemies trying to take you out in the next.
Uncharted 3 can be so incredibly over-the-top, but then it brings you back down to earth with some good old-fashioned gunplay. The A.I. is one area of Uncharted 3 that could be improved on. We’ve seen enemies react totally unnaturally to the actions around them, and a few technical glitches where they’ve stood glued to one spot or ran into a wall, but great level design, a two-tiered combat system, and a variety of enemy types, ensures that each battle is fun and challenging.
The major new addition to combat is the melee system, which now gives you more than one way to fight a battle as you fist-fight with multiple opponents and use the surroundings to pull of some entertaining finishing moves. And clever level design ensures that this new gameplay addition has to be used, with some sprawling locations encouraging ranged battles with sniper rifles, AK47s and well-placed grenades, and cramped locations requiring you to use the cover system, melee moves, shotguns and stealth to take down the bad guys. During the game, you’re often given the opportunity to mix up these two styles of combat, which ensures Uncharted 3’s combat feels less restrictive than previous games.
With combat feeling so renewed, we did hope this new lease of life for the series would manifest in the logic-based puzzles, but that’s not the case. Though they do occasionally help to push along the narrative, having to twist a globe around to match up locations with beams of lights coming through the ceiling, or rearranging cogs to turn a wheel, are just as boring as they sound. Similarly, having to scour a room that is full to the brim with artifacts to find one item is absolutely tedious, just as it was in Uncharted 2. Nonetheless, there are a few puzzles that blend logic with action very well, and in those cases you’ll have good time working them out.
Once the action sadly comes to an end, and you begin to dream about the inevitable next chapter in the Uncharted series, there’s a full-fledged multiplayer component to enjoy. The co-op mode and host of competitive multiplayer skirmishes are a vast improvement over its predecessor. The customization system is now a lot more in-death and earning cash to buy weapons, boosters, and kickbacks is a big part of its appeal. Lots of game modes and an addictive reward system should ensure fans are playing Uncharted long after the single player campaign is complete.
Even if multiplayer isn’t your thing, Uncharted 3 is going to leave a long-lasting impression on any one who plays it. Great characters, superb story-telling and momentous set-pieces gel together like a well-oiled machine that has harnessed the power of the PS3 to create a visual spectacle that others will find hard to match. There’s still room for improvement in the grass-roots gameplay, but come the final curtain call you’ll look back on the incredible journey and wish that you could relive it all over again.
Editor’s Note: This review was prepared through the opinions of all the editors of PSU.