Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception – Best Campaign Ever?
I firmly believe a game should be judged on the sum of all of its parts. I couldn’t do a fair review on a game based solely on the single player campaign. I come into the Uncharted series fresh and without knowledge or judgment acquired from playing the first two games. That’s right, I haven’t played them. Unfortunately, my lack of an online pass prevents me from playing Uncharted 3’s co-op and multiplayer. That prevents me from doing a proper complete review. Yet, it would be unfair to not talk about what is likely the best single player campaign of 2011 and possibly ever. Uncharted 3 is a shining example of why a single player campaign is still relevant and necessary in today’s multiplayer and online pass obsessed gaming industry.
Uncharted 3 is the whole package. It has a lengthy (by almost any action game’s standards these days) campaign, drop dead gorgeous, hyper-detailed graphics, a fantastic throwback soundtrack, and an award-worthy cast that is equally as good as the animators that bring them to life. Fans of L.A. Noire and Heavy Rain take note. Those games may have groundbreaking facial expression technology, but Uncharted 3 does the best job of capturing the human essence. The characters, their mannerisms, the dialogue and their interactions with each other are as lifelike as it gets. When combined with perfect scripting and dialogue, Uncharted 3 is the model developers should strive to imitate.
Naughty Dog handled this game perfectly for any newcomer to the series thanks to story sequences that start out with a present day trade in a pub involving Sir Francis Drake’s ring. Things go bad and you get your first taste of combat. We then transition to a flashback sequence that explains Nathan Drake’s and Victor Sullivan’s relationship from the beginning when Nathan was nothing more than an orphaned American kid living on the streets of Cartagena, Colombia. This also explains Sir Francis Drake’s ring and its importance. Upon returning to present day, we are taken on a thrill ride as we fight against time and the game’s antagonists, Katherine Marlowe and Talbot to reach the fabled city of Ubar where it is believed to hold wealth beyond anyone’s dreams. Becoming immersed in Uncharted 3’s world was quite easy. This is what a modern day reimagining of Indiana Jones should look like.
This game would be next to nothing without its exquisitely detailed settings that will have you globetrotting from the streets of Cartagena, Colombia to a dilapidated chateau in France, a Syrian citadel, a pirate infested harbor complete with ship graveyard in Yemen, and of course, the breathtaking city of Ubar in the middle of the Rub ‘al Khali desert. Uncharted’s contemporaries can’t even compare to the scope of Nathan Drake’s third adventure. Assassin’s Creed has always looked amazing, but most of the action is centralized within towns or sections of cities. There is even homage to Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade when you take on Marlowe’s convoy in the desert on horseback. Here is where I believe Uncharted 3 really shines and if they were directly influenced by Ico, I could certainly see why. There are certain points in the game where Naughty Dog had to go out of their way to show how small you are in the world. In one instance, the camera zooms out as you are traversing the outside of a derelict cruise liner making you look like, well, a human in a playground spanning miles. Part of that level even has you navigating a sinking cruise liner that is listing to one side. It is a surreal experience and while totally outlandish, fits the adventurous, blockbuster theme of Uncharted 3 perfectly.
While the story, pacing, and voice acting may be nothing short of amazing, not everything in Uncharted 3 is flawless. There is one area Nathan Drake stubs his toe, combat. It is a necessary tool to break up the tedium, if one could find that in Uncharted 3 to begin with, and offers a little gunplay and fisticuffs to go with your tomb raiding and acrobatic action. As with many shooters games, the combat is staged in set pieces. Enemies pop out, you melee or shoot them, and move on. Sometimes you are in a situation that requires stealth, which is usually more rewarding than just run, gun, and take cover like Gears of War 3. Sometimes you are in a situation that requires melee. You pretty much mash the square button until you get a quick-time event counterattack or grab option. Almost all melee events involve fighting a generic, lumbering hulk after dispatching of a few lesser goons. It’s a little formulaic, but tolerable. Where Naughty Dog went wrong was adjustments made in the gunplay control scheme that isn’t sitting well with fans of the series, with good reason. Aiming and moving the reticle is a complete chore and invariably breaks up any flow of this meticulously paced game. Most of the time, it’s best to just grab a shotgun, take cover, and when needed pop out and shoot someone point blank. This control scheme is so heinous that Naughty Dog is polishing up an update a month after the game’s release to address the issue. It really isn’t that heinous, but it sure is cumbersome and annoying.
If you are a completionist and must seek out treasure hidden in every nook and cranny to earn all of the trophies, Uncharted 3 has you covered. I think I found roughly 30 out of 100 treasures just by playing through the game and recognizing glinting objects on the ground or exploring off the beaten path. Just another reason to explore one of the most visually stimulating games of 2011.
Uncharted 3 is the best campaign of the year in 2011. It is leaps and bounds beyond the other blockbusters (Battlefield 3 and Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3) and that’s what I feel is so refreshing about it. The gameplay isn’t perfect, but I think the issues we are talking about are an annoyance many gamers can get past and Naughty Dog seems intent on rectifying that anyway. There aren’t enough positive adjectives to describe how good this PS3 actioner is. You can see the detail in everything from the environments to the characters. The buckles on Nathan’s pistol holsters are shiny and there isn’t a moment where you have that fade-in of textures seen in a lot of games, especially on Xbox 360 (think Gears of Wars). Naughty Dog squeezed every ounce of power out of the black box they could. The soundtrack is Indiana Jones retro. The witty banter amongst the cast is smooth, just like normal people having a conversation rather than reading scripted lines. This game is a must play based solely on its single player campaign. How many new games that aren’t RPGs can even say that these days?
Bravo, Naughty Dog. Bravo.