I don’t mean to brag, but when I was little I was decent at climbing trees. I mean, I would get at least 10 feet off the ground. Ok, so that’s not that grand, but I had sensitive hands, and bark is all scratchy… The point is that for people with childhoods like mine, living vicariously through characters like Monkey (play Enslaved: Odyssey to the West if you haven’t), Altair, and Nathan Drake in all their platforming glory is the way to go. Goodness knows I don’t actually want to fling myself at a building.
As the third game in the series, Uncharted 3 has a lot to live up to, especially with game two being Game of the Year for many. Personally Uncharted 2 is my favorite PS3 exclusive, and it has one of my favorite openings for a game as well. Opening in the middle of the story, Drake dangles off the ledge in an unstable train wreck, climbing up through the wreckage like the RVs in Jurassic Park 2.
Unfortunately the third installment starts off far more slowly. As a cutscene plays out with Sully and Drake making a deal with some British guy, it becomes clear that we aren’t going to start in quite the dramatic fashion as its predecessor. Instead, the cutscene is followed with a rather lackluster teaching level of close quarter combat, ending in a bathroom fight that does not live up to that in Splinter Cell: Conviction.
With first impressions being as important as they are, Uncharted 3 is already starting at a disadvantage. However, before the moping can start, the importance of the story gets amplified as we are transported to times past, meeting a teenage Nathan Drake. As he eyes the treasures within a small museum, a familiar face walks through the door. And with this, we play witness to the beginning of a beautiful friendship.
Okay, so maybe it doesn’t start off so beautifully considering Drake tries to steal something from Sully and it ends in a chase, but it is pretty beautiful for the player. Making up for the training lessen in the bar, Drake shows us that he is far past the tree climbing stage of his childhood as we follow Sully around the city with our handy dandy cover system, as well as from at a height advantage when the city calls for it. However, when things go from bad to worse and Drake has to run from the baddies on the rooftops, we get just a small taste of what is to come in the hours ahead.
As Uncharted 2 upped the cinematic elements of the gameplay, Uncharted 3 must again build on a near perfect foundation, this time added in far more large set pieces. Where Uncharted 2 had the grand expanse of Nepal to look out over from the rooftops, Uncharted 3 has a few breathtaking views as well; however, when I say “set pieces” I am referring more to the hotel falling down around the player in the second game. This time around there is far more “go big or go home” moments. The first time this concept comes into play is in a burning building that Sully and Nathan have to escape (which you have seen in demos if you have not played the game yet). As the scaling and exploring buildings is nothing new (and crumbling pieces of wall becomes predictable), what this fire does is add a sense of immediacy that seems to be the feel that most of this game is going for in order to up the stakes. The sinking ship does the same thing in terms of immediacy, and though I had to laugh at Nathan thinking that it would be ok to take the elevator in this Poseidon adventure, it did present a nice fish tank moment where it is hard not to just gawk at how much water is bearing down to drown you where you stand.
In addition to these moments of immediacy and panic as the set pieces drastically change around you, something else the level layouts do is change the style of gameplay. The basic cover system is the same and becomes a necessity both pre and post being spotted by gun totting thugs, and I have to say that the opposing AI does seem to be more intelligent this time around, as if they had strategies or tactics. In other words, it wasn’t just trench warfare when you have to wait for a head to pop out, but if you give them the opportunity they will try to flank you. I was shotgunned in the back on more than one occasion because of this, but it isn’t hard to adapt to. However, the gunplay isn’t as simple as this. Similar to how the orientation of the boat shifts as it begins to sink, shifting the walls to floors, some of the firing will have to be done from a less that desirable position. For example, at one point you will have to aim up the side of a giant boat as you try to climb to the higher levels full of men who would like you flick you off the side into the waters below, but instead, it will be their bodies falling past you.
To further blend the more challenging enemies and grand, cinematic moments, Drake isn’t always running towards the camera as water or evil spiders chase him down. Yes, he does this a lot this game, but sometimes he is actually chasing people (turns out Drake isn’t so special in his parkour like skills). If you just keep running these moments are far from challenging, but they do present moments that further make this series far more than just a game. Not only that, but it is pretty great to see Drake react with his environment. When he is just meandering through the city streets he will swat at flies or put his hands on a gate he is passing through, but when he is running these character animations really add to the moment. In the urgency as he runs from or chases someone down, he will do things like cushion his turn as his momentum takes him into a wall. It’s not like it does anything to the gameplay, like keeping Drake from tripping or something, but these details are what make the game as great as it is.
Though the series continues to progress when considering examples like this, it still is far from perfect. It is a common thing to complain about how difficult men with shotguns seem to be to kill in games, and though they would take up to 8 headshots on normal difficulty, this was not the only problem with the combat. The gunplay is a little challenging to get used to at first as it lands somewhere between the advanced targeting assistance in games like Red Dead Redemption vs. the usual aiming system that relies solely on the players ability to place a reticle. It feels almost as if the aiming sticks as it drags across the screen, but eventually the player can overcome this as he/she has to do in every other game. Then there is the AI. Where I praised it before when it came to the opposition, it seems as if the ally NPCs have made it their mission to get in your way as you try to maneuver around the world. At least Elena will backstep to get out of your way, but Sully is apparently too old to feel the need to move his feet for you. Half the time I was running into him as he blocked my way (and there is no Assassin’s Creed gentle shove to use here), which is more than annoying, and then there were other times in which I would try to climb up something as he was climbing down it to get to the same level that I was on. I love having people along so I don’t get lonely, but goodness!
No matter how much glee I felt when I smacked a guy in the face with a fish during a hand-to-hand fight, this happiness is not enough to make me forget the flaws of the game, and I am not just talking the number of massive oafs that have signed up to fight the bad fight. Just as I excitedly flipped through the pages to proudly smile down at my documented solving skills (Drake draws in how he completed puzzles), before you know it the majority of the game has passed without pulling on this aspect of the game anymore. However, this is not going to stop Uncharted 3 from being great, as both a game, and a cinematic adventure.
Final Grade: 9 / 10 Follow @BewareOfTrees