Posted by John on November 10, 2011

Uncharted 3 (PS3)

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Scott Puckett
Reviewed by Scott Puckett
November 10, 2011
Top 10 Reviewer

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Last updated: November 10, 2011

As I write this in the first week of November, it’s clear that 2011 has given gamers an embarrassment of riches and the hectic release schedule at the end of the year is only making that extraordinarily obvious.

Following in the footsteps of 2009’s highly-acclaimed Uncharted 2: Among Thieves, Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception continues to follow Nathan Drake’s quest to discover what his ancestor, Sir Francis Drake, did centuries ago. This time, Nathan’s quest takes him to England, France and Syria among other locations, searching for a lost city in the desert. Victor Sullivan is along for the ride, and so are some faces familiar to gamers who played Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune and Uncharted 2.

Right off the bat, gamers should be aware that playing Uncharted and Uncharted 2 before playing Uncharted 3 will let them in on jokes that may not seem funny otherwise – this is a sequel and while it holds up very well as a standalone game, being familiar with the other two entries in the series will allow players to enjoy the game more when references to previous adventures come up.

And that story – that ongoing narrative – is essentially what the Uncharted games are about. They’re lengthy tales of adventure, possibility, the strange things the world has to offer, and blind luck. They’re like playing an Indiana Jones movie, or “National Treasure,” or “The Mummy” (the most recent iteration with Brendan Fraser). Nathan Drake frequently seems to stagger into trouble and stumble out of it just as gracelessly, careening from one improvised plan to the next (with hilarity generally ensuing).

But more than that, they’re stories of friendship – of belief and trust in the people you know, no matter how crazy things may be (and things really do get crazy in the Uncharted series). The characters are so well-defined that we understand why they follow each other through hell, and why their friendships occasionally become something more. These endearing characters are quirky and multidimensional; they don’t have everything under control and half the time they’re scrambling just to stay alive, much less one step ahead of the people who are invariably chasing after them and pursuing the same goal.

And in light of the focus on story, most of the other concerns about a game are irrelevant – the mechanics are sufficient to advance the story and immerse players in the game world, and that’s really all they need to do. The graphics, on the other hand, are always great and can be astonishing at times. There are sweeping panoramic views filled with extraordinary detail – it’s clear that the environments are a labor of love. They never seem to repeat and there’s always something new to see.

And perhaps most noteworthy about Uncharted 3 is that my first playthrough took a little less than 11 hours. Ordinarily, I would be muttering about value and short games and developers ignoring or devaluing single-player campaigns, but in the case of Uncharted 3, I am completely satisfied as a gamer. The campaign was exactly as long as it needed to be, and the game didn’t feel short at all – I was surprised that I hadn’t spent more time on it. Uncharted 3 never dragged or felt rushed; it never felt like a set piece was there for window dressing or that players have to perform tasks just to drag the time out. It felt like a perfectly plotted story written by an exceptionally skilled writer.

Uncharted 3, ultimately, is one of the best games this year. It is almost certainly the best exclusive for the PS3 console. It’s exciting from start to finish and tells a phenomenally engaging story of mistakes, friendship, adventure, the kindness of strangers and even a bit of redemption. And along the way, you’ll probably laugh out loud quite a bit. And given how grim some games can be, that light-heartedness and adventuresome spirit really sets Uncharted 3 apart from the competition, and it’s even appropriate for teenagers (parents should be aware that there’s a lot of violence, even if none of it is especially graphic).

However, while Uncharted 3 is a great game, it is frequently a nightmare for accessibility, much like its predecessors.

Accessibility Issues / Concerns

Uncharted 3 offers some unique accommodations which can be helpful to varying degrees, although it’s unclear whether these are intentional assistive modes and it’s worth noting that they don’t always mitigate the larger precision concerns. As one example, Uncharted 3 will periodically offer hints if you’ve been stuck on a puzzle too long, and in one case in my playthrough, eventually offered me the solution to the puzzle (and even with the solution, it still took me time to figure it out). Checkpoints seem fairly frequent, even during chases, so players don’t lose too much progress, and at a few times in my playthrough, the game actually advanced me to the next checkpoint when restarting after death. That may have been a bug or I may have crossed some threshold which meant that I would start at the next checkpoint, but it wasn’t a bad thing.

The primary problem with Uncharted 3, much like the other two Uncharted games, is precision, both in terms of gamers with use of only one hand and gamers with motor function concerns. Put bluntly, this is a very twitchy game. As one example, players have to race across a rooftop early in the game, timing jumps precisely to escape pursuers. Jumping too early results in a fall and starting over from the previous checkpoint. Not jumping in time can result in the player being captured and starting over from the previous checkpoint. Mini-boss fights require players to press buttons at specific times to dodge attacks and rapidly press buttons to escape grappling holds. When scaling walls, players will find that some handholds collapse upon contact, meaning that they need to rapidly jump to the next ledge or grip. And at times, players will need to do all of this while being fired upon by enemies, and occasionally returning fire.

Uncharted 3 mitigates this somewhat by allowing players to swap trigger, bumper and stick functions. While it isn’t full remapping, it makes the game slightly more accommodating for gamers with use of only one hand by including a mechanism to at least put common functions on the same side. Unfortunately, this will not allow players to have firing and aiming controls on the same side since L1 is mapped to aiming and R1 is mapped to firing.

Gamers with low-vision concerns will likely encounter difficulties – it can be extraordinarily difficult to see where you’re supposed to go next and even harder to figure out how to get there. While the game will offer hints, trying to find the next handhold as you’re clambering up a wall and your current handhold is collapsing can be difficult and relies entirely upon vision.

Gamers with a form of color blindness may also encounter some difficulties – handholds are often marked in yellow or red, and collapsible elements (i.e. things you can shoot that will collapse onto or under enemies, etc.) in the game typically appear in red. Grenade indicators appear in flashing red and white. As players take damage, the screen will turn white with red at the edges to indicate how close a player is to dying.

All gamers with vision concerns may encounter difficulties with finding the game’s treasure items – they flash gold and seem to do so far more frequently than in the previous two games, but they are often on ledges or in places where they can be difficult to see.

Uncharted 3 is subtitled, but doesn’t identify speakers which is actually a shame not just because it makes the game less accessible but also because the story – especially considering the medium – is extraordinary. It is not closed-captioned, meaning that when handholds collapse, deaf gamers will need to react solely to visual cues without the audio cues of crumbling stone or creaking metal. The text is usually readable, and contrasts with the background, but color-blind gamers should be aware that the subtitle text is displayed in a hue of yellow.

Finally, gamers with cognitive concerns need to be aware that Uncharted 3, like its predecessors, is as much of a puzzle game as it is an adventure game. Players will need to solve puzzles with incomplete information, such as determining which way to turn statues based on a rough diagram, or how to walk across markings on a floor to match a pattern. Earlier in the review, I noted that playing Uncharted is like playing an Indiana Jones movie, and that comparison isn’t limited to the action – it extends to solving riddles and mysterious clues as well.

Ultimately, Uncharted 3 feels more accessible than its predecessors but that still doesn’t mean it’s easy – there’s nothing as frustrating as driving a jet ski up a river while dodging explosive barrels floating downstream (an immensely frustrating challenge which appeared in an earlier Uncharted game), but that doesn’t mean the game is easy. Gamers with precision concerns especially should proceed with caution, but gamers with vision concerns should also be wary.

Mobility: 3
Visual: 3
Hearing: 4

My original purchase price: $59.99
Recommended purchase price: $59.99

At A Glance

Precision: Even with frequent checkpoints, gamers with precision concerns will likely have trouble. The game requires precision jumping and movements, precise aiming and so on. Recommend rating of 3 out of 10.

Deaf Gamers: Uncharted 3 does not identify speakers in subtitles, which means deaf gamers will have a more difficult time following the story. Likewise, the game includes audio cues like collapsing rock and distressed metal which are not closed captioned but are important because they tell players when to leap to another handhold or ledge. Recommend rating of 3 out of 10.

One-handed: Players can swap stick, bumper and trigger functions, but Uncharted 3 will be difficult for players with use of only one hand. Recommend rating of 3 out of 10.

Subtitled: The game is subtitled, but not closed captioned. Subtitles are a hue of yellow, a reasonable size and contrast well with the background. However, they do not identify the speaker which is a shame since the story is so good. Recommend rating of 5 out of 10.

Color Blind: Low vision gamers and gamers with a form of color blindness will likely experience problems with Uncharted 3. Handholds can be hard to see, grenade indicators flash in red and white, taking damage displays in red at the edges of the screen as the screen gradually turns white and so on. Recommend rating of 3 out of 10.

Checkpoint / Save System: Uncharted 3 uses a checkpoint system. Checkpoints seem fairly close together, especially during sequences which require quick action such as jumping from rooftop to rooftop, meaning players won’t lose much progress. Recommend rating of 7 out of 10.

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