It took me an hour or two after I finished the campaign to realize what I thought about Naughty Dog’s latest blockbuster. I had enjoyed myself immensely, but I also felt slightly let down. Finally, it came to me: after three games, I’ve realized the Uncharted series has become its own protagonist. Uncharted 3 doesn’t just star Nathan Drake, it is Nathan Drake.
Like Drake, Uncharted 3 is undeniably, irresistibly charming. The dialogue and voice acting remains some of the best in the entire industry, conveying miles of character in half grins and muttered repartee subtle enough to belong in, I don’t know, an actual conversation. It’s funny, it’s easy, it’s natural -- it’s excellent.
Uncharted 3 is also -- like Nathan Drake -- pretty easy on the eyes. The lighting in particular is amazing, from soft beams of sunlight streaming through a ruined window to the hammer-blow heat of the desert sun. The game is undeniably gorgeous, and the art design and technical teams hit it out of the park to deliver the exotic locations Nate needs so he has somewhere to crash his latest mode of transportation.
There’s more to the game than just good looks and a roguish grin, though. The series is known for having the kind of insane action scenes that you could only find doodled on the inside of a sixth grader’s textbook, and this game delivers. Levels will burn down around you, flip up for down in a deluge of water, or crumble wildly under your feet. Not even mentioning the technical achievements, this game has some of the best level art I’ve ever seen, combining beauty and level design seamlessly.
Unfortunately, this is where Uncharted starts to pick up some of Drake’s flaws. Throughout the game, Nate’s friends and loved ones are constantly asking him why he keeps risking his neck when he’s got so much to lose and not much to gain. Why doesn’t he just hang up the leather journal and enjoy life?
He doesn’t really have an answer for them, and as the player, neither do you. Why do you keep chasing after these lost treasures and secret societies? Because if you don’t, the game will be over. Nate can’t bring himself to stop chasing after his holy grail -- he doesn’t even care about the reward, he just needs the adrenaline, the danger. It’s the only way he knows how to live. The game’s characters bring this up over and over again, both friend and enemy. But Nate can’t stop chasing the horizon, he can’t control himself.
This would be an amazing sub-textual commentary on why we play video games except for one small flaw. Just like Nathan, you’ll spend most of the game feeling like you can’t control yourself. Despite being beautiful, all the game’s exotic locations are pretty much linear. There’s no wandering off the beaten path. If Nathan encounters a sentence he needs to translate with his decoder device, you just press select to hand it to him like some kind of archaeological nurse. Antikythera mechanism, stat, please; we’ve got too much swash to be buckling for you to take a crack at it, silly.
If you take too long to finish one of the ancient riddles they do let you solve -- though most of them are pretty simple -- Drake will mutter the solution to himself impatiently. Behind the flesh-eating swarms and walls of ancient booby traps, there is always a hand waiting carefully to hold yours should you need it. You and Drake may be adrenaline junkies together, but this isn’t real danger; it’s just a roller coaster. It may be exquisitely designed and beautifully executed, but in the end you’re still on rails. The game never quite lets you forget it.
This is the last way that Uncharted 3 is like its protagonist. Despite all the pleadings of his friends and lovers, Drake is always more concerned with the adventures he dreams about than anyone else’s feelings. Uncharted has a story that it’s going to tell you, and if you’re willing to be pulled along in its wake you’d be hard pressed to find a better ride. At the same time, that’s what keeps it from being a truly great game and a huge step forward for the medium: it’s got no room for you.
Nonetheless, just like Nathan Drake, the game’s witty charm and winning personality make up for a lot of its flaws. The action scenes are at the same time homages to classic pulp action and creative in their own right. The shooting and platforming aren’t stunning alone, but the segments that combine them are insanely fun to play. Uncharted 3 is a beautifully crafted cinematic experience that no PlayStation owner should miss out on; nothing more, and not one inch less.
I can’t help but think of multiplayer in an Uncharted game as an add-on, a little icing for my action-adventure cake. That doesn’t really do justice to the amount of effort Naughty Dog has put into Uncharted 3’s multiplayer modes, though.
The underlying design of Uncharted’s multiplayer should be familiar to anyone who’s ever played a recent console shooter. You earn upgrades to your characters and weapons, you can customize your appearance and gear. All these options are robust and full-featured -- I especially like the villains’ costume options, but that’s just because I have a soft spot for things that are both stylish and evil. After all, people don’t know you’re oppressing them unless you dress more snappily than they do.
In fact, the multiplayer isn’t missing any of the options that we’ve all come to expect from shooter games. There are a wide variety of game modes, the weapon upgrades are varied and meaningful, and the gameplay is entertaining. It takes more bullets than I’d like to take down an opponent, but that’s just a gameplay style choice and certainly isn’t a major complaint. If you go down your checklist of features that make for good multiplayer, Uncharted 3 hasn’t missed any of them.
There is a little bit more to it than that, though; Uncharted 3’s multiplayer combat is, by necessity, much like its single player combat. It feels a little stiff to me, especially entering/exiting cover and firing while strafing. This doesn’t matter much in the single player game, but in multiplayer I found myself constantly tweaking my controller sensitivity up one more notch. It never feels quite as polished and responsive to me as a PC shooter, or even a mainstream console game like Gears of War or the Battlefield series -- and that’s understandable, as multiplayer is undoubtedly the main focus of those titles.
What Uncharted 3’s multiplayer lacks in genre-standardized gameplay, however, I think it more than makes up for in pure panache. Just like I had hoped in my preview post, almost all the levels have a unique set-piece action element to them. Chasing a cargo plane down a runway, balancing on bobbing shipwrecks as the level floods around you, jumping from one speeding train to another -- when it comes to these kinds of wild action scenes, Naughty Dog is the undisputed master. When they announced multiplayer I was worried they would try too hard to copy other franchises and lose sight of what they do best, but I’m happy to report that Uncharted’s multiplayer is just as over-the-top as the campaign mode.
Multiplayer brought some much-needed replay value to the Uncharted franchise when they introduced it in the second game, and it’s definitely a good addition. Naughty Dog has put in a lot of effort to make the multiplayer deep enough to keep people playing -- and hopefully sell some of the DLC map packs that’ll start coming out around the holidays.
In the end, you and I both know that you’re not going to buy this game for the multiplayer. It’s a decent addition to the game’s excellent campaign mode, though, and if you’re on the edge about Uncharted it will give you a lot of replay value. The madcap level design is hamstrung a little by the stiff shooter response, but it’s still fun enough to get you over that lump of empty sadness when you realize there’s no more story left to play.
Developer: Naughty Dog
Genre: Shooter, Action-Adventure
Release: November 1, 2011
Available On: PlayStation 3
Uncharted 1: Liked it!
Uncharted 2: Liked it!
Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade: Loved it!
Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull: Hated it!
Obscure Historical Mysteries: Love Ďem!