Friday, November 4, 2011

Greatness from Small Beginnings... the Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception Review

Note - The gameplay videos and some things I'll talk about will likely contain spoilers, so watch at your own risk!

Nathan Drake's amazing adventures for treasure and lost cities continue in Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception. Lots of expectations have been set for this sequel to top the last game, Among Thieves since it was able to set new standards for the third-person shooter and gaming in general. Naughty Dog elevated things up to eleven last time as it seems like they're trying to turn it up to sixteen with the new scenes Nate has to survive if you have seen glimpses of them in trailers. While the campaign is still filled with memorable moments that are unmatched in most games today, I do have little issues with it that prevent it from perfection. Despite that, Uncharted 3 is still the one of the best complete gaming packages you'll get this year with improved multiplayer and better co-op.

The story in Drake's Deception is a little more personal this time as it centers around Drake and his mentor Sully's friendship as someone they knew from their past, named Katherine Marlowe, is after the same thing they're going after which is the Atlantis of the Sands. It is up Nate and his crew to get to the lost city before Marlowe and her bodyguard Talbot do, something that even Sir Francis Drake did not achieve back in his days. Along the way, you'll have your supporting cast travel to various locations as you'll run into Chloe and Elena at certain points of the game. Their roles are not as significant as they were last game, so if you're wishing to see more of them, you're not going to get that as this is more about Drake and Sully (you got a lot of them last game). Their friendship and banter is just one of the many special things in this new entry as Naughty Dog once again did a great job with the character interaction being more human than what games allow them to be. You can't just help but love the characters for who they are and how fleshed out they are as if they are better than most characters you see in Hollywood movies today. The storyline does have its crazy twists and turns as certain scenes are still something the developers can only pull off extraordinarily well even though it does follow a similar structure if you played previous games in the franchise.

The core gameplay in the campaign is still the same as Uncharted 2 as there are platforming and climbing sections, puzzles to solve, and of course the shooting. Melee combat has been improved as they feel more like Hollywood-like brawls with normal punching especially against big enemies and groups. What I mean by Hollywood-like is that even though Drake will have certain moves, some animations of the melee feel more normal than just resorting to game logic. Platforming and climbing sections didn't really improve that much, but I do have an issue with them more in this game than last time. Usually these sections are pretty linear as there is only one way to transverse through. Sometimes, there will be moments where you can just jump down because it is not that high of a jump, but in the campaign at certain times, you'll die because you didn't use a ladder or edges to climb down. This got annoying to me as they got more scripted even though I know the developers are so cinematic when it comes to certain sequences. This is not an issue in multiplayer, which I'll talk more about it later, as you can take a pretty big leap and not die as dumb as you can sometimes during the campaign.

Then there's the shooting sections as they are still fine for the most part. It has the same progression of weapons to use as you start out with normal pistols and an AK-47 till more of the power weapons kick in later in the game as well as certain situations. Personally, I didn't have any problems with the aiming as some claimed have as there is some input lag. Cover is still useful in the campaign compared to multiplayer especially when you're in a bad spot or just taking out enemies on a methodical pace rather than rushing in like a maniac with melee attacks (There's vertical cover segments straight out of Dark Void too). The firefights obviously get a little more difficult later on as you have to be smarter and patient tackling these. The enemy AI will flak and move in on you when they can even in on normal difficulty and there are tons of armored guys that will have lots of bullets to kill in the later half of the game. In a nutshell, the firefights will make you work and that's still a good thing to me being a challenge. Of course there are the crazy, memorable sequences to deal with as well as they are still amazing, but some of them are feel like they did them before, but with some slight twists. For example, remember the train level from Uncharted 2? Okay, let's try to replicate that in a boat level and a plane level too. Another example would of a certain sequence from the last game being somewhat replicated here is the level with multiple trucks as horseback gets thrown in the equation too, which is still a cool scene to play through, but it still felt like I did this before. Despite my issues with the campaign, I still had a great time with it as it is still one of the best single-player experiences you'll play this year, but the formula that was set in Among Thieves is starting to feel a little too familiar.

Besides the campaign, Uncharted 3's multiplayer and co-op elements have been improved significantly. The developers have learned some lessons from the last game and most of them have been fixed. They made as feature-heavy as they can to complete with the other shooter juggernauts out this holiday season from competitive loadouts seen in Call of Duty games, the leveling up system making a return (Sidenote - stats from the Subway beta will carry over and campaign stats are not factored in here like it was last game), weapon mods, replay and party systems, boosters and kickbacks that are basically perks, sprinting, Facebook support, character customization, and more. While they have able to fit in all these features to make it robust, the multiplayer still feels like Uncharted with the climbing and cover. Good thing Naughty Dog released two betas before the game's release to get it right as there were problems especially in the Subway version. Blindfire arguably was better than just aiming as you can rush in on a guy Rambo style and then rifle butt them to finish them off. Firefights became more chaotic than the developers intended it to be I guess as balance to me seems to be fine so far in the final version. Aiming still works to get kills and blindfire when things get tense and up close. No booster or kickback (you earn kickbacks by attaining a certain amount of medals doing specific tasks) combination doesn't feel overpowered and most of the maps are fun to play. The modes are still the same from the standard team deathmatch, team objective, plunder, hardcore, and so on as there is still that diversity if you're tired of playing one mode consistently. Co-op is also better with a five-level adventure mode that has its own storyline takes place in different versions of levels seen here and past games as well as past villains being up to no good again. There's also co-op arena, Uncharted's horde mode with its own twists, and hunter too as ways to get lots of money to level up. Competitive multiplayer and co-op is still a blast to play as more is to come in the future with downloadable maps and patches if Naughty Dog works on them.

It probably an understatement that Uncharted 3 looks gorgeous and jaw-dropping as it was expected to be. From the characters (maybe some characters look a little off as they were in UC2), the various environments, the water/sand effects, and sequences you're thrown in, it is one of the best looking games in this generation of consoles. There are certain moments where the camera pans out seeing how big the area you're in and how crazy the situation you're in, which is also a nice touch and pretty much only seen in Sony's first party games, mainly also in the God of War franchise. In addition, the urban environments are unmatched in terms of interaction of the surrounding characters with Yemen being the specific example. The sound production also remains unmatched compared to most games today as well. Nolan North again reprises his role as Nathan Drake as he delivers another amazing performance along with the rest of the voice cast that has worked with the franchise. The voice acting here is still better than most Hollywood movies too along with the soundtrack too.

It is pretty safe to say that Uncharted is arguably Sony's number one franchise now and it shows in Drake's Deception with Naughty Dog's development. This is as a blockbuster game as it gets being the complete package from the amazing campaign even though it sticks to a familiar formula that was established in the last game, the feature-heavy multiplayer that can stand up to the other shooter juggernauts, and improved co-op. I do have my nitpicky issues with the campaign, but the memorable moments you play through that feel like cutscenes but they're not and character interaction still overshadows them. Multiplayer is still a blast even though I have been playing it for months with the summer and Subway betas. The graphical and sound quality is still as top notch as it has been for the whole franchise as well. While it is another home run yet not a grand slam, Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception is still one of the best games you'll play this year and even this generation, so do not miss this one at any cost.

Score = 9.5/10

  • Memorable moments throughout the campaign, still one of the best single-player experiences this year
  • Great and lovable characters as expected from Naughty Dog
  • Core gameplay still great and improved melee combat
  • Better multiplayer and co-op from last game (very feature-heavy too)
  • Graphical and sound production/quality unrivaled
  • Nitpicky issues with the campaign as it sticks to a familiar formula and structure (same goes for the story too). Some sequences feel like retreads from the last game but with a slight twist and the platforming/climbing sections are a little too scripted.

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