The Uncharted series has been one of my favorite parts of owning a Playstation 3. I came for the Metal Gear Solid 4, I stayed for Uncharted. There is a ton to love about the series. The characters have fleshed out personalities that made me care about them. The voice acting isn’t just voice acting at all, with developer Naughty Dog doing motion capture for all the cinematic scenes, which means while Nolan North isn’t just the voice of Nathan Drake, he IS Drake. The graphics are the best to be found on either console, with stunning ruins, vistas, and in this case, a cruise ship. After absolutely loving Uncharted 2, I was ready for Uncharted 3 to blow my fragile nerdy mind. Uncharted 3 is a great game, but it falls short in a few areas that hold me back from calling it a masterpiece.
One thing that doesn’t disappoint in the slightest is how Uncharted 3 looks, and it’s instantly noticeable. The character animations are as fluid as any game I’ve ever seen. The lighting effects are equally magnificent whether you’re exploring an underground ruin or in the harsh light of a sun drenched desert. The whole series has always been about set pieces, from the submarine in the jungle of the first game, or the speeding train in Uncharted 2. Uncharted 3 delivers these kinds of experiences in spades. Without going to spoilery on you, suffice it to say that never again will you look at the aforementioned cruise ship the same way again….or a cargo plane, or riding on a horse. The settings and actions that Drake adventures through and performs aren’t very realistic at this point, but it’s all so damn good-looking that I didn’t care. This is a pulp adventure in the vein of Indiana Jones, and it’s a blast to experience.
One thing that turned me off almost instantly was sadly a big part of the game; combat. The new melee system, involving some grappling and quick time event counters, was actually fun. The gun play on the other hand is a bit too floaty. I’m going to do something I know I probably shouldn’t on the internet here, but I’m going to compare Uncharted 3 to Call of Duty MW3. Say what you will about the COD franchise, but the controls in those games are SHARP. Firing and missing at an enemy leaves with the feeling of I should have been a better shot. Uncharted 3’s controls do not inspire such feelings. The feeling they generally inspired in me was “WHY THE #$#@ ARE ALL MY GUNS SO INNACURATE?!?!?!” Getting the reticule exactly where you want it is a huge challenge, as the bit of momentum the game uses to give the weapons weight seems to never be the same twice. Lining up a shot properly takes forever, giving enemies easy opportunities to kill you. They don’t seem to suffer from the same aiming woes that I did. In addition to the aiming difficulty, it’s a problem that enemies take an INSANE amount of bullets to actually go down. It’s not uncommon for entire clips of ammo to be used to fighting a single foe, and not in a good challenging kind of way. More in the first you miss a bunch then finally lock on for half a clip, and the guy still isn’t dead. Not good times.
The plot is both amazing and puzzling. The amazing part is I remain interested in Drake’s obsession with finding treasure. Ancient medallions, cryptic messages left on tomb walls, navigating to secret passages by the stars, I’m a sucker for this kind of thing. We get to learn more about Drake’s relationship with his mentor Sully, a character we’ve spent two games with and are now finally getting to learn something about. Drake is no longer with Elena, his love interest for the first two games, and the game does a good job of dropping bits and pieces about what happened to them without beating us over the head with a “while we were gone!” style montage about it. The touches of humor are there as well, with Nolan North again bringing literal laugh out loud moments, including a couple of bits of physical comedy that would only work in a game fully motion captured by the actors doing the voices. Hey, other developers, look at Naughty Dog. Why aren’t you doing this! The pacing of the game is spot on as well, with moments of action broken up by puzzle solving and sometimes just taking in the scenery. Part of the game involving Drake in a desert was something I hadn’t seen in an Uncharted game before. I won’t spoil it, but it’s a slower paced almost movie style level that was different and cool.
My biggest issue with the plot of the game was the villain, a woman by the name of Katherine Marlowe. She’s also after clues that will lead to a lost city in the desert, aided by her evil second in command, a guy named Talbot. If this sounds vague I apologize, but that’s all the games gives us. I have almost zero back story on Marlowe, other than she knew Sully when they were both younger. There’s no clear motivation given for why she’s doing what she’s doing. Talbot is even more vague, and honestly only seems to be there to engage in some cool fight/chase scenes throughout the game, since having Nathan Drake beat the crap out of a woman in her early sixties would be a little strange. Marlowe and Talbot I think could have been excellent villains, but instead they just show up almost at random when a story scene needs to take place. It was a missed opportunity to have a truly memorable villain in the Uncharted series, in which the game is now 0/3. Marlowe had the most potential, and she ends up being practically non-existent.
So why do I call this game great? It’s Drake, Sully, and Elena. The level design is top-notch, but I kept playing because I’m invested in these characters. If you haven’t played the first and second game, much of the appeal of the third will be lost. But for those of you (and judging from the sales of all three games, there’s many of us) that are veterans of both earlier games, it’s like welcoming back some old friends. Honestly, I forgive the wonky shooting mechanics and lack of a good antagonist. Drake’s world is one I want to spend as much time in as possible anyway.