Monday, December 19, 2011

Uncharted 3 Review

To be honest, I had never expected much of the original Uncharted. Upon its reveal, I dismissed it as a Tomb Raider rip-off and thought nothing more of it. That all changed when I was gifted the game the holiday season of its release. I gave it a go and have been in love with the series ever since. Of course when I heard of a third Uncharted game, I reacted as any self-respecting fan would—by shaking violently and emitting sounds akin to a kitten in distress. Was my entirely embarrassing reaction merited, or did the third installment blemish my favorite adventure series on the PS3?

Nathan Drake makes his return, this time looking for the Atlantis of the Sands. The third game takes the series back to its roots, in a way, as Nathan’s fascination with this find is driven by his ancestor Sir Francis Drake. The story also includes more about how Nate came to be the treasure hunter he is currently, adding a more personal touch to this game. It was a bold move to make on Naughty Dog’s part, as most origin stories are the most boring part of a character’s development, but this one was brief and action packed enough to feel justified and fun. It flowed quite well with the rest of the game.

In typical Uncharted fashion, Drake embarks on a journey with some friends to find treasure of some sort, and things go completely awry when a foreigner with an accent has other plans. Though the plot is formulaic, having a character as well-written and entertaining as Drake at the helm certainly helps drive the story forward. In a way, the plot takes a backseat to Drake’s character development and his interactions with others, a fact that is bittersweet to me. On one hand, I very much enjoy seeing Nate develop and love his dialogue with others, but on the other, I feel the plot could have been stronger and less convoluted. If you play the game, you will know what I mean when you go from a burning building to some ruins to jumping about on old ships in the span of two hours. As a fan of the series, it feels as if Naughty Dog phoned this one in to cash in on a Subway deal.

The plot could have progressed more smoothly and felt far less forced, though it still succeeds at being entertaining.

The gun combat feels different from the second game, much to the dismay of hardcore fans. Recoil on guns is more exaggerated, making killing enemies difficult. And perhaps I just think myself better than I actually am, but it felt to me as if my bullets would not do anything while enemies were jumping. Other than that, combat was quite satisfying and fast paced, and the variety of weapons available allowed me to play exactly how I wanted.

I oftentimes found it difficult to remain stealthy as I so enjoy giant gun battles with enemies. This leads me to a point of contention amongst fans, and a paradigm in gaming that I believe needs to be addressed. Nathan Drake is a smarmy, good-hearted thief who wants no trouble. Yet throughout the game, he bluntly murders perhaps 500 people.

Granted, those people were shooting at him first, presumably, but this presents a rift in the dichotomy of the character. By now, this is a well-established theme in games like these, so it is not terribly jarring, but upon closer examination, Nathan Drake is really a trigger-happy, blood drunk fiend doing whatever he has to in order to get rich. This problem is not limited to just Uncharted, but I felt it worth mentioning.

The cinematics and climbing sequences are just as tense as ever, breaking your sense of security and heightening the urgency of your actions on a regular basis. Be it ladders breaking, bending poles, or enemies catching you off guard, Uncharted certainly keeps you engaged and on your toes. This flows quite well with the rest of the game, as shifting between gun-fighting and making a getaway feels natural and exciting. Fans of the series may see this coming as it is a sort of hallmark of the series, but it is still entertaining, though less surprising for them.

Where this game really shines is in its online multiplayer mode. Before Assassin’s Creed had an online mode, Uncharted was nearly the only game in which climbing on walls was an integral part of online game strategy. This fact may not seem like much, but when Uncharted 2’s multiplayer was released, it opened a dimension of gameplay that gamers were not used to, and thus was more challenging and entertaining. Uncharted 3’s multiplayer plays like a more refined Uncharted 2, but that is not a bad thing. The controls are tight, maps are fun, weapons are varied, and the breadth multiplayer mode is wide. I can think of very few contenders for a more fun multiplayer experience on consoles.

Uncharted 3 is for you if you like action/adventure games like Tomb Raider, fun multiplayer experiences like Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood, or feeling like you are part of an Indiana Jones film. If you own a Playstation 3, you should feel ashamed for not owning at least one game in this series, as it is one of the best the console has ever seen. Though Uncharted 2 was a stronger game in my eyes than the third installment, that should not discount it, for it is incredibly entertaining and a worthwhile buy. Uncharted 3 simply feels more "Hollywood" than any other game in the series, and I'm not quite sure that's a good thing. It's like a Michael Bay movie is to a Christopher Nolan film -- similar action, but one is far better than the other at justifying it.

Now, if you will excuse me, I have a burnt-out chateau in which to shoot the English waiting for me.
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