Uncharted is one of the key franchises on the PS3. I dare say what Mario is to Nintendo, Nathan Drake is to Sony. The original Uncharted set the bar for visuals on the PS3. Uncharted 2 was adored by the PlayStation community and won many “Game of the Year” awards in 2009. To say Uncharted 3 has some really big shoes to fill is the understatement of the year — does it live up to the hype?
I’ll start right off with the story, and I’m going to put this out there right now: this is the best story in a video game to date. I mean every word of that sentence. Naughty Dog deserves a lot of credit for the story and the way they flesh out the characters here. Yes, it’s still a story about Nathan Drake and company going out to find treasure, but there’s more to it than that. The game focuses largely on Nathan and his backstory, especially when he’s with Sully. We get a lot of backstory on Drake here, including one huge tidbit that they never follow up on (have to save something for the sequel, I guess). I dare say that thanks to this game, Drake has moved up a lot in my favorite characters list. His character is so masterfully fleshed out over the course of the game that I found myself genuinely caring about him, hoping he makes the right decisions, and even feeling his pain.
Drake’s not the only character, of course. Sully, Elena, and Chloe all return, and we’re also introduced to Charlie Cutter, who is a very welcome addition to the cast. Whoever writes the banter between the characters at Naughty Dog deserves a raise, because they did a great job. From Elena and Drake joking about the last time they parachuted somewhere to Cutter explaining why he uses a prepaid phone, they do a great job of giving these characters some humanity and making them relatable.
The story of Drake and company’s quest is an incredible rollercoaster ride. We get barroom brawls in London, gunfire on horseback in the desert, fighting off hordes of enemies in a sinking ship during a storm, and surviving a vast desert, and that’s just the stuff from the trailers! Naughty does a tremendous job of incorporating the environment with the gameplay to such a point that your environment could be considered an enemy in a lot of levels. The presentation of it makes Uncharted 3 feel less like a video game and more like an interactive movie, and a great one at that.
The gameplay is the same as the last two games, with two new additions. There’s a new “throwback” action with grenades, meaning if an enemy throws a grenade at you, you have a little bit of time to grab and throw it back at them. The second new addition is the new melee combat system. Along with using square to attack, triangle is used to counter an enemy’s attack, and circle is used to grab them. Once you grab them, you can shove them into parts of the environment to finish off your opponent. For instance, you can shove them into a bar counter, and finish them off by hitting them with a beer bottle. This makes every fight you see look realistic. Granted they could use more fight animations to keep it from getting repetitive, but it’s still sweet nonetheless.
I’ve said it once and I’ll say it a thousand times: the devil is in the details, and graphically Uncharted 3 is full of sin. While this is a staple for the series, it’s still impressive with every game. The game itself is gorgeous, and the landscapes really come alive each time. Jungles look lush and colorful, the storm in the ocean level is powerful and intense, and the desert was massive and cities are populated and busy. It’s a testament to how beautiful a game can be when you push the PS3 to its limits. I also love a lot of little things like how character’s clothes get wet when they jump in water, or sand sticks to Nathan when he crashes in the desert. It’s also in the animations as well, like when Drake stumbles as he runs away or collapses or shows the desperation as he staggers and crawls through the desert, as it gives a small measure of depth to the character.
The score can make or break a game, but we can chalk up this one in the “Make” category. The music does a great job in heightening the mood of every scene. Some of the key moments of this game (which are getting harder and harder to not talk about as this review goes on) are as powerful as they are thanks in part to the music that plays in the background.
As awesome as this game is, I do have some complaints. Number one, this franchise has some of the stupidest enemies in the history of video games. I’m not talking AI, but how they act in the story. These guys really want to kill you, even if it means dying in the process. Maybe this was has been a staple in the series and I’m just now noticing, but it’s pretty bad. So bad in fact, even Sully and Drake start cracking jokes about it during the game! Let me you about this one enemy in particular, who’s a shining example of this. This happens in the famous scene where Drake is hanging out of a plane by a cargo net. As I climb up the net, I spot this lone enemy hanging off the net. Now if this enemy would use both hands to climb, he could save himself. However he instead tries hanging off with one arm while using his free hand to try and shoot till he eventually flies off. Now repeat this guy 750 times, and you have the enemies of this game.
I also can’t help but feel that the Batman: Arkham games influenced this game just a little. First of all the new melee system is very reminiscent of Arkham’s fighting system. On top of that, we now get scenes of Drake fighting off 12 enemies at a time kind of like Batman. Also and without spoiling too much, there is a villain who uses a type of fear toxin as a weapon, just like a certain Batman villain.
I also had some issues with running in this game too. For instance, I’d be running to cover and hit circle to try and take cover, but I’ll end up rolling instead and getting killed. The reverse also ends up happening with the result also being I get killed. However, I recognize that really these are just nitpicks.
When Joe reviewed Batman: Arkham City, he said, “Buy this game, armed with the knowledge that you’re buying the best game of the year.” Well Joe, hate to break it to you but the race for Game of the Year just became tough. Uncharted 3 is a fantastic game and has once again set the bar for what makes an amazing game. It excels in every way I can think of, especially putting together a story that is the best story I’ve seen in years. This is one you need to get people, and is a testament as to why Naughty Dog is a force in this industry.
FINAL GRADE: A+