Thursday, November 3, 2011

Game Review: Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception (PS3)

Back when I was younger, I absolutely LOVED action/adventure flicks ... still do, in fact.  Even today, I count the Indiana Jones trilogy among my favorite flicks.  (Yes, I said "trilogy". Whatever the hell Kingdom of the Crystal Skull was, I refuse to count it as an Indiana Jones movie).

Nothing ever struck me with the same fun and excitement as the globe trotting exploits of Professor Jones.  That is until late 2007, when Naughty Dog, a studio best known for games like Crash Bandicoot and Jak and Daxter, decided to dive into the treasure hunting genre with Uncharted: Drake's Fortune.  It wasn't long before I started asking "Indiana Who?" and wondering how Naughty Dog could ever top itself.  Then along came Uncharted 2: Among Thieves, which not only improved on the single player experience from the first game, but also tossed in a couple of cool new multiplayer features for good measure.  Now Naughty Dog is bringing Nathan Drake back for the trifecta in Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception, but can lightning really strike three times in a row?

For those of you that might've missed the boat the first two times around, here's the quick lowdown to catch you up to speed.  Nathan Drake is a bit of a "treasure hunter", willing to play around in the gray areas between the usual black and white ends of moral spectrum.  He's got no problems considering himself a thief, but he's also got a pesky little conscience and a general sense of honor.  Usually, Nate's partner in crime is Victor "Sully" Sullivan, another rogue treasure hunter who taught Drake the ropes.  Adding a little feminine touch to the adventures are Nate's on-again/off-again love interests, thief Chloe Frazer and journalist Elena Fisher.  In the first game, Nate was hot on the trail of the lost city of El Dorado ... which he ultimately found before having to give it all up and save the world.  Then, in the second game, Nate was busy tracking down the lost city of Shambhala ... which he ultimately found before having to give it all up and save the world ... again. (Am I the only one sensing a trend here?).

As Uncharted 3 opens up, things aren't looking too good for Nate and Sully.  After a deal goes bad, the dynamic duo find themselves bleeding out from a couple of gunshot wounds to the gut.  Of course, it's not the first time an Uncharted game has started off with Nate in similar dire straits.  Heck, he started off the last game waking up in a train car dangling precariously off a cliff.  Besides, there wouldn't really be much of a story if the heroes kicked the bucket within the first ten minutes.  Needless to say, things get better for our intrepid adventurers, and it's not long before they're racking up some frequent flyer miles in pursuit of clues leading to (wait for it) the legendary lost city of Ubar a.k.a. Iram of the Pillars.  See?  I told you there was a pattern here.  Actually, there's a lot more to the plot than just finding a city buried in the desert.  This time around, it's not just a matter of tracking a few relics to make a quick buck.  There's a personal stake in it for Nate, as he tries to solve a mystery that's been nagging at him for twenty years ... a mystery that's also put him and Sully right in the crosshairs of a secret order that's existed for more than four hundred years.

That's the great thing about Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception, as well as the Uncharted franchise as a whole.  From both a technical and artistic standpoint, Uncharted 3 experience flows seamlessly. The term "interactive entertainment" gets tossed around a lot, but Uncharted 3 takes it to a whole different level. The story always stays front and center, without ever sacrificing gameplay.  While there's a lot of talk in Hollywood about an Uncharted feature film, Uncharted 3 already dishes out an action-packed cinematic experience better than many of the best summer movie blockbusters.

Of course, one key thing to remember is, despite all the talk of how much Uncharted 3 is LIKE a movie, it's important to remember that it's NOT a movie.  It's a game ... and games are still meant to be played.  No matter how engrossing a game's plot is or how entertaining it might be to watch, it's not going to go anywhere unless it's actually fun to play.  Luckily for gamers, this isn't the case with Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception.  The game is a blast.  Even when you're chasing a convoy on horseback through the desert, escaping a sinking cruise ship, and having a firefight in a burning chateau, you never feel overwhelmed.  Controls are simple and smooth, while still leaving Drake with a variety of moves and strategies at his disposal.

The smooth and flexible controls don't just make the single player experience easy to jump into, but it applies to Uncharted 3's surprisingly deep multiplayer component as well.   I'll be the first to admit, I had my doubts that the Uncharted formula could really be adapted well to a multiplayer environment, but Naughty Dog proved me wrong.  Long after I finished the single player campaign, I was still itching to jump into a few rounds of multiplayer whenever I had the spare time.  Up to ten players can battle it out online in Team Deathmatch, Free For All, "Plunder", and Team Objective matches.  If you're not feeling particularly competitive, the game also supports Co-op missions and Arenas, giving you an opportunity to buddy up for some action.  No matter how you play, you'll earn XP and money which you can use to upgrade your favorite weapons, pick out a new look for your character, or buy some cool new abilities to use in matches.  And don't sweat it if you're usually a human target in online matches either, as players earn XP and cash in every match they play ... even if they come in dead last.

Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception is one of those rare gems that transcends the usual perception of "gaming".  Like the Assassin's Creed, Batman, BioShock, and Mass Effect franchises, Uncharted grabs a hold of your attention and your imagination and refuses to let go even after the credits roll.  This is pure, unadulterated entertainment at its finest, and is hands down, one of the greatest game experiences you're likely to find.  If you've ever been one to wonder if video games could truly be considered a true form of art, Uncharted 3 is one of those titles that will put those doubts to rest.


Game Info:
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Developer: Naughty Dog
Genre: Action/Adventure
Platform: PlayStation 3
Multiplayer: 2-10 players, online

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