Posted by John on October 29, 2011

Review: Uncharted 3 is great

I think it’s fair to say that there isn’t a bigger exclusive gaming franchise on the PlayStation 3 than Uncharted.

The first in the series helped legitimize the console as a true graphics powerhouse. Uncharted 2 gave the PS3 a bona fide game of the year contender and helped establish the console’s first blockbuster franchise born this generation of gaming.

When Uncharted 3 releases on Tuesday exclusively for the PS3, it has the potential to be a breakout game in a holiday season filled with them. It also has the challenge of following up a predecessor widely thought to be a perfect game. So how does Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception stack up? Brilliantly.

The game is developed by Naughty Dog and published by Sony.

The graphics
Uncharted as a franchise has consistently been one of the best looking games on consoles. It is simply a beautiful game to watch and play.

In Uncharted 3, or U3 for short, Naughty Dog manages to up their graphics game by improving just about everything about how the game looks. The textures are perfect. The character animations are life-like, and the environments are inspired. Forget that the game renders fire, water, and sand better than any I’ve ever played. We knew that from the preview videos.

What Naughty Dog did with the graphics is make the environments come alive to create extremely dynamic and intense gameplay moments. There is a mission where Nathan Drake, the game’s hero, is climbing through a sinking ship. The setting is gorgeous. What takes it to the next level of development is that the ship jostles about as Drake is platforming. It’s sinking into the ocean after all.

So you’ll go from climbing on the walls to literally climbing on the floor with one shift of the ship. That opens the game up to a whole new level of camera work and presentation options.

The story
One of my few gripes with the Uncharted franchise has been it’s like of depth in the storytelling. Nathan Drake is a world-class treasure hunter who teams up with a veteran thief named Victor Sullivan, commonly referred to as Sully in the game. They’re clearly very close and trust each other completely in a profession filled with untrustworthy people.

It’s their relationship that helps make Uncharted a great franchise. But Naughty Dog hasn’t really told us much about the history between the men or really much about them individually.

Uncharted 3 does a good bit to remedy that. You will learn more about these men. You will finish the game with a deeper connection to them. You also go on a classic Uncharted quest for untold riches to mythical locations. Drake and Sully are back on the hunt for fortune and fame.

Naughty Dog makes sure you finish that odyssey having known a little more about them. I still want more, though. It’s hard to go into specific questions I still have without offering spoilers, but I wish Naughty Dog had maybe sacrificed a little of the action to tell us more of the tale.

The gameplay
Where Uncharted adds a nice layer of suspense and difficulty is with the cinematic and Hollywood-style missions that have come to symbolize the franchise. Fans of the previous games can mostly likely give you specific examples of when a mission went from standard shooting to jaw-dropping action.

Uncharted 3 kicks that up a notch with inventive platforming and an improved fighting system. Drake performs powerful counter moves that often lead to a special finishing move animation. The platforming is as over the top as it’s been before, but the more dynamic set pieces help push the gameplay forward.

One of my favorite parts of the gameplay in this game is that it seemingly offers fewer puzzles to solve. The great thing is that the ones we do have to figure out are wildly creative and far more rewarding.

The game still has subpar shooting, though, and the enemy artificial intelligence is laughable at times. I beat the game in the “Normal” difficulty. There were countless occasions where the enemies would run in circles or pass up a kill shot in order to punch me. I appreciated the gesture, but it was sort of silly of them to do. Plus I still don’t think the weapons feel all that different when you swap between those in the same class. Platforming and fighting are Uncharted 3’s strong points. Shooting is not.

You can also get the feeling that much of the action and sequences are scripted. I think it’s part of the developer’s attempt to create the feeling that we’re playing a high-budget action movie. That is certainly accomplished.

Uncharted 3 brings with it a multiplayer mode introduced by the previous game in the franchise. What U3 does, though, is upgrade every aspect of the experience. Naughty Dog has managed to take the graphics, dynamic settings, and amazing set pieces from the single-player to the multiplayer for a pretty seamless transition.

U3 has Team Deathmatch, Team Objective, Free for All, Plunder, and Hardcore modes for the multiplayer. There is also a co-op arena where you can team up with friends.

The platforming is far more creative in U3 than it was in U2. The maps are far more dynamic. The action is a little more fast-paced. One of the first things I noticed in U3 is that it takes slightly less bullets to get a kill than it did in U2. I still think it takes too much, but I’ll take fewer required.

Naughty Dog also ramped up the boosts and perks of its multiplayer. Kills still earn you cash but you can spend that money for a surprisingly expansive list of weapons and character upgrades. Those boosters can really change the game. My personal favorite is the one that lets your recover from wounds faster. The boosters really touch every aspect of the multiplayer gameplay.

Then there are power plays that teams unlock while playing. One I encountered routinely allowed the other team to better see mine. I believe that’s meant to help prevent blow-out victories and keep the matches competitive.

For my taste, that all just adds a layer of arcade-style of gameplay that I’m not particularly a fan of. But that doesn’t mean others don’t love the experience.

There were multiple times when I know I lost a kill because the other player happened to have a higher rank and more boosters to choose from. That got very frustrating. Add to that, that it will still take a few more bullets than I’d like to get a kill and you have, in my opinion, a multiplayer experience that is utterly impressive in its design and implementation but far too arcade for me.

I believe fans of the Uncharted 2 multiplayer will fall in love with this one. I can’t stress enough how well-designed the maps are and how much more fluid the platforming is. If you like the boosters and hit detection, you’ll play this multiplayer for a very long time.

Uncharted 3 is an amazing game that deserves all of the accolades that will most likely be heaped on it. It pushes the franchise forward with upgrades to just about every aspect of the game. It tells a better story and somehow manages to add to the cinematic feel to the game both in the single player and multi-player experiences. This will undoubtedly get a few Game of the Year nominations.

PlayStation 3 owners should stand in line right now to buy this game.

I still think, though, that the actual shooting needs work and the enemies in the single player just seemed lost at times. Plus the boosters and power plays can make the multi-player seem like a chore when you just want to get a few kills.

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