It's been a good year for PS3 games. With Killzone 3 starting the year off being a high-profile exclusive back in February, and inFamous 2 kicking off the summer back in June, they've had a good run. Now, with Uncharted 3 coming to close the PS3's year, that streak of glory continues as Naughty Dog seeks their own. Naughty Dog was always a key Sony developer, delivering one trilogy (Crash Bandicoot, Jak) per generation, and following it up with a less well-received racing spin-off. (Come on, Naughty Dog, make UnKarted!) With Uncharted 2, Naughty Dog had suddenly found themselves with the challenge of outdoing what many hailed as the best game of 2009. And with Uncharted 3, they have proven that their previous success was no fluke.
Nathan Drake's latest excursion finds him in a race to find the Atlantis of the Sands, yet another ancient lost civilization. His opponent in this race is Katherine Marlowe, a woman from his past. This race will take the player on a tour of a vast array of different environments, from a cruise ship to a French chateau. Throughout this adventure, the player will experience a mix of puzzle-solving, platforming, cover-based shooting, stealth, brawling, and even a few on-foot chase sequences. Each one of these mechanics is done well, with some better than others, as is the price you often pay for variety. Still, they have been improved from the already high standards Uncharted 2 set for them.
Elena's new face kinda creeps me out.
The first thing you'll notice after the intro is how much the brawling has been improved. Think Batman, but less graceful and with more environmental interaction. It has a heavy emphasis on countering and fighting multiple opponents at once, and introduced a new melee-oriented Brute type enemy to polish your skills. And you'll need those skills, are there are a few "boss" fight melee scraps. On the other side of close quarters combat, we have the stealth. It's a basic system, focused on line of sight instead of lighting, but it functions well in the situations presented. There are many more opportunities to utilize stealth, and the game never associates detection with instant failure. The addition of silenced pistols is pretty nice, too, although you only get them twice.
Speaking of pistols, the gunplay in Uncharted has gotten better with each iteration, capping off with Uncharted 3. The default aiming speed still felt a little sluggish to me, but it is adjustable, so no complaints. Drake can still only carry two weapons at a time, a one-handed and a two-handed, and only a few clips for each, so there is a constant sense of scavenging to the combat. Thankfully, none of the guns in the game are crap by any means, with a fine-tuned balance ensuring that even a basic pistol is deadly. In fact, I found myself treating pistols as a primary weapon on many occasions, rather than a pea-shooter used in emergencies. Of special note are the grenades, which started as a motion sensor required gimmick in Uncharted 1, and evolved into the best grenade system I've seen. Any aimed toss is basically spot-on accurate, and the physics will never betray you. Grenades can be tossed back now, in a fun system that lets you take out closer enemies with their allies' grenades. Seeing as grenades are some of the most powerful weapons in the game, having a free toss can change the course of a battle.
These fire effects are brilliant in motion.
The platforming is still excellent, presenting a good portion of the game's challenge and set-pieces, while never frustrating the player. The routes are usually pretty obvious at first, with the challenge coming from timing your navigation properly as the environment will often be crumbling around you, either due to bad luck, enemies, or Drake's own clumsiness. All of this feels natural due to brilliant scripting and some of the best animation in the business. Simply put, these animations are amazing, with clipping issues rare and transitions fluid.
The puzzle solving has been given an overhaul since Uncharted 2. The puzzles in the previous game were by no means bad, but often just felt like extended platforming sequences. The challenges that Uncharted 3 presents are more cerebral, with hints and clues scattered about the room and in Drake's journal. Take too long and a quick press of the Up button with give you hints as to the method to go about solving the puzzle, but will never outright solve it for you. The only problem I have with the puzzles is that there aren't enough of them, and that's the highest praise you can usually give to this part of a game.
On the gameplay side, Uncharted 3 is the best one yet, and flawlessly blends many different genres together, while switching it up enough that it never gets stale. But on the narrative side, it is lacking in comparison, even to the original Uncharted in many ways. The main problem arises by focusing nearly entirely on Drake and Sully, ignoring the leading ladies of the franchise, and even your new ally, the claustrophobic Cutter. While it is nice to finally have Sully in the spotlight, the story lies too heavily on them. Elena and Chloe were some of the best leading ladies in gaming, and having them reduced to much smaller roles hurts the narrative overall. The ending is also very abrupt, with me not even realizing that I'd beaten the game until the trophy popped. Still, Marlowe herself is an excellent villain with clearly established motivations. The superb acting and motion capture are flawless across the board, without a single poor performance in the bunch. And the tale it tells is full of enough twists and mysteries to suck you in until the end.
That is not Helen Mirren.
For Uncharted fans, a lot of my review is basic and retreads old ground, but the same can be said for Uncharted 3. While lacking the perfect pacing and characterization of it's predecessor, it still manages to deliver one the best campaigns in linear games today, with incredible set-pieces I am trying my hardest not to spoil. And by keeping most of the previous games' events seperate or implied, it makes a fine entry point into the series for anyone. Uncharted 3 proves once again that Naughty Dog polishes a series' gameplay to a fucking shine by improving with each game. The length ain't bad, either, clocking in at 10-12 hours for my first playthrough, and your standard array of trophies and collectibles to try and entice more runs. Sadly, it appears Naughty Dog has abandoned the fun post-game unlocks and "cheats" of the first two, so no Doughnut Drake for you. Doughnut Drake, is however, in the multiplayer, which I haven't gotten to playing since the beta. But the beta was fun, so take that as my recommendation. The campaign alone is easily worth the asking price, so the solid multiplayer is just an added bonus.