Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception is One of the Best Action-Adventures This Year «

In 2009, Uncharted 2: Among Thieves was developer Naughty Dog at the top of their craft. The studio that brought us Jak and Daxter successfully delivered a fantastic treasure hunting adventure that pushed the limits of player-driven action sequences and in-game cut-scenes. But it helps to remember that Uncharted 2’s campaign wasn’t a huge deviation from the first game. Instead, Uncharted 2 showed that the developer learned from their mistakes, and could implement better level designs, pacing, and technology — and the results were spectacular.

But it’s hard to be the third chapter of any mega-popular franchise, and that statement holds true across all mediums. If you can’t recall a beloved series that fell below the mark on its third entry, allow me to quickly refresh your memory: Star Wars: Return of the Jedi, Spider-man 3, X-Men: The Last Stand, Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, Terminator 3, Superman 3, Rocky 3, and Godfather III were all disappointing third chapters that started a downward spiral for some of our favorite characters and worlds.

Click the image above to check out all Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception screens.

Thankfully, Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception gracefully side steps the stigma of being a stale third effort, and delivers a solid and engaging action-adventure. The experience charts a course through 20-plus missions, and serves up its own share of memorable moments and character interactions. In some ways, it helps to think of Toy Story 3 or The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King when explaining Uncharted 3. Similar to this third game, both films are satisfying final acts that deliver entertaining and unique stories with respect to their previous installments.

But, again, Uncharted 3 is not a radical departure from the previous game. And at first glance the overall mechanical differences between the two games can seem minor. You’re still cast as adventurous fortune hunter Nathan Drake, running and gunning in-and-out of cover and quickly traversing dangerous environments in search of treasure. But while Uncharted 2 realized the potential of the series, the third game adds smaller tweaks and improvements to provide its own memorable set of events.

Plot-wise, you’re thrown into a new adventure involving Nathan’s ancestor, Sir Francis Drake. I won’t dive into spoiler territory for the sake of this review, but the second and third chapters show exactly why Naughty Dog remains still king of their craft. Both sections serve as distinct tutorial areas that setup the larger story in an astute manner. And there are even bigger surprises in the later chapters: You’ll visit the woodlands of Eastern France; the colorful village of Cartagena, Colombia; sandy towns in the Middle East; and musty underground tombs and crypts. The environments look sharper than anything in Uncharted 2, and each setting is littered with little touches that bring the foreign locales to life.

Situational animations make playing Uncharted 3 a more involved player experience, and add cinematic flair to already stellar production values. An example of this can be seen during an ugly bathroom brawl in the first chapter. At this point, Nathan leans against a wall to take a break from a losing fight. The animation behind his lean looks believable in context, and the action won’t transition forward until the player prompts it to do so. As you inch the analog stick forward, Nathan begins to shuffle towards his over-sized opponent — eventually raising his fists to continue the brawl. Subtle details like these are little things that few other game developers make time and budget for, but that stand out and add an extra layer of credibility to the experience.

From the start Uncharted 3 addresses one of the few issues Naughty Dog’s last game didn’t manage to solve: namely hand-to-hand combat. The Square and Triangle buttons still deliver punches and counter moves a la Uncharted 2, but contextual animations now allow players to bash enemies with random stuff lying nearby in the environment. Beer bottles, slabs of dead fish, or even wrenches and pipes become deadly one-hit weapons. Nathan can also grab enemies by the collar, and toss them into walls or even through a window. The player can jab away at their pinned opponent’s face and ribs if they’re pressed against a wall, and defend themselves from multiple assailants at once with quick button presses. Counters become especially important against bigger foes, too. The result of all these little tweaks make melee combat of Uncharted 3 feel off-the-cuff, fluid, and fitting to Nathan’s scrappy and clever character.

Despite excellent controls and pacing there are still some frustrating wrinkles in Uncharted 3. The middle to late chapters have enemies flanking your position a little too often. Going mobile becomes the only solution, but also makes keeping up with the number of enemies and their locations a little too difficult. In some segments — namely a stealth one at a shipyard — sitting still for too long is almost a death sentence, and can lead to small fits of cursing. None of this breaks the experience. It just makes the game seem a little unfair considering its labeled “normal” difficulty.

New tweaks and features have been introduced to multiplayer. Now, players are no longer defenseless while climbing surfaces, and can set custom weapon loadouts between matches. Uncharted 3 multiplayer also supports weapon mods, so players can purchase mods that adjust factors such as clip size or gun stability while firing from the hip. All upgrades and mods are gated through an XP and medal progression system that feels similar to Call of Duty, but with abilities and perks that fit within Uncharted’s world.

Story elements cross over into the multiplayer experience. One example takes place in the Airstrip map, which starts out with a cargo plane being chased by trucks on a runway. Heroes spawn inside the plane, mercenaries on the pursuing trucks, and the battle continues here for two minutes before the plane takes off and transitions to an abandoned airport. Again, these are touches that add little campaign-like flavors to the experience. Multiplayer cooperative modes, including a five chapter co-op campaign, round out the set of multiplayer features, and can be played with up to three friends over PSN.

Click the image above to check out all Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception screens.

Uncharted 3 doesn’t reinvent the wheel after 2009’s superb game of the year, but manages to present its own set of unique moments and gameplay. The player-driven action sequences are memorable. The subtle layers of dialogue and character interactions are impressive. And ultimately, the eight-hour campaign experience provided plenty of harrowing escapes and charm. And after all that you’ve still got a competent multiplayer experience packed in too. Developer Naughty Dog continues to prove they are masters of their craft, and the third chapter of Uncharted is a fun and rewarding adventure that’s easily one of the best games this year.



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