Early in the singleplayer campaign, the phrase “Greatness from small beginnings”, a real-life quote from Sir Francis Drake, is referenced, becoming the central motto of the story. How ironic that this quote could also be used to describe Uncharted 3 as a whole: Had Naughty Dog paid more attention to the smaller, minute details, the campaign would have been, without a doubt, the best singleplayer action game ever made. Alas, it falls short of true greatness, just barely missing the plateau set by its predecessor.
Uncharted 1’s opening starts off immediately with a firefight, introducing you to the series’ robust and tense combat. Uncharted 2 begins at a massive wreckage site, forcing the player to quickly adapt to the new, dynamic environments that Nathan Drake must traverse; a foreshadowing of the game’s grand, signature set-piece that occurs later on.
With Uncharted 3’s prologue, it feels as if the series has taken two steps backwards: The game starts off with a fistfight brawl. In a British pub.
Hand-to-hand combat has never been the series’ strong point, a mechanic that existed merely to give players a means of defending themselves in melee range, or to finish off an enemy that has been softened up by point-blank blindfire. The melee system has not been significantly improved from past games, and becomes repetitive and tedious due to Naughty Dog’s insistence on making melee fights the centre-stage of the action set pieces. Mash Square Square Square, press Triangle or Circle when the QTE prompt appears, move on to the next enemy, repeat. Without giving too much away, the final boss fight is also a button mashing affair, a full-circle anti-climax that was a huge let down for me.
When not engaged in fisticuffs, when the series’ trademark fusion of gunfights and cinematic action is allowed to shine, you are not disappointed. Many times I found myself muttering “Oh my God, CRAZY!!” at the monitor, awed by the delirious audacity of the action segments. The cargo plane, the sinking ship, and the burning chateau, so judiciously promoted in previews, are all here.
As mentioned by the reviews of Eurogamer and Edge however, your enjoyment of these sequences will be dependent on your ability to play the “good actor”, acting them out as the developers intended. Fail too many times, and the initial thrill of the moment is replaced by plain frustration. In an early chase sequence, I accidentally chose a path that I wasn’t supposed to enter, resulting in an eventual game over screen. It took me a couple of restarts before I realised that I had to escape in the opposite direction instead. Until Naughty Dog figures out a way to resolve this disruption, gamers with slow reflexes or poor navigational judgement will, unavoidably, have the most problem with these segments.
Nathan Drake’s adversaries pose more of a threat now, the biggest and scariest change being their ability to perform the same feats of parkour as our beloved protagonist. Perching yourself on high ground, behind cover, is no longer an assured method of victory. Enemies will leap across chasms, vault over obstacles, and scale up ledges in order to flank and overwhelm you. Many times I found myself backstabbed by a stray enemy who had somehow managed to elude my sights, but instead of finishing me off with some bullets to my rear, they opted to start punching me instead. Yes, more mash Square Square Square.
Your AI companions have also been given more vast improvements. For the majority of the campaign, Drake is always accompanied by at least one friend. Expect a lot of kill steals – they are now more than capable of helping you out during a large battle. Camping in a safe spot and letting the AI do all the work is a viable strategy, since they are impervious to harm.
Ultimately, the combat and bloodshed serves as a backdrop for your companions to test their relationships and interactions with Drake via the story. In one of my favourite cutscenes, two of the protagonists are sharing a tender, quiet moment, pondering over the insurmountable odds that they have to face. It’s a simple scene that is incredibly poignant and impactful: You can feel the desperation and fear behind the voice actors’ dialogue and motion-captured body language. Naughty Dog may be the unrivalled masters of filmic action, but they’ve also figured out how to perfectly translate cinematic drama and emotional storytelling into a videogame.
It’s amazing how far the series has evolved. From its humble beginnings as a straightforward action puzzle-platformer in the first game, to the explosive, Hollywood proportions of the sequel that took everyone by surprise.
The third time, unfortunately, is not the charm for Uncharted 3. When the bar has been set so high, the series has inevitably become a victim of its own success. It’s not perfect, far from it, but for anyone who has dabbled with the past games in the series, or even remotely likes action games, Uncharted 3 is still unquestionably, worth playing.
Greatness from small beginnings indeed.
Uncharted 3’s multiplayer is fun and surprisingly stable, featuring traditional Team Deathmatch modes, free-for-all, and a Capture the Flag variant. Netcode latency is a non-issue, never getting in the way of your ability to score headshots or jumping to a faraway ledge. For those who prefer co-op over fragging, there is an Arena survival mode, similar to Gears of Wars’ Horde mode, and Adventure mode, the closest thing to a co-op campaign.
You can deck out your character with a variety of traits and perks (called Medal Kickbacks in this game), and modify your weapon loadouts with attachments and mods. There’s also a plethora of skins, equipment, and treasures to unlock, earned by spending money at the profile shop. All of this should be standard online fare for anyone who has played the recent Modern Warfare or Battlefield games. The multiplayer is a solid component that will greatly extend Uncharted 3’s longevity, long after players have grown tired of replaying the singleplayer campaign.
Verdict: Buy it.
Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception is a PS3 exclusive game. The author completed the singleplayer campaign once on Hard difficulty, and spent about six hours on multiplayer. The R3 version of the normal, Steelbook Edition is retailing at an SRP of around SG$69.