For the few people who’ve ever felt the need to be snippy about Sony’s Uncharted series, the way in which both games slavishly (brilliantly) aped the style and conventions of blockbuster cinema has always been the prevailing bone of contention. But what’s so rarely pointed out is that Naughty Dog’s assertive hard work has already turned the Uncharted series into something that’s mildly revolutionary. The way that the team continue to make the seams between cutscenes and gameplay completely invisible has resulted in some of the most electrifying moments in contemporary gaming, and trying to achieve exactly the same thing is now a primary concern for anyone who’s developing a medium-to-high budget action title. Attempts to match them have only just graduated to comparable – courtesy of Rocksteady’s effervescent Arkham City – but nobody, as Uncharted 3 swaggeringly affirms, does it better than Naughty Dog.
Rocksteady’s obvious appreciation for these Santa Monica maestros appears to be mutual, as Uncharted 3’s slightly tweaked melee combat – with its more prevalent and inventive counter manoeuvres and host of new context sensitive strikes – does have a polite scent of Arkham about it. Uncharted is, as ever, too reliant on its own tight gunplay for fisticuffs to intrude too much, but the encounters are much more dynamic and unpredictable, as you’re able to (amongst other things) deal with more than one opponent at a time. But if you’re looking for fundamental changes to the recipe, happily there really aren’t very many. Vaulting back into Nathan Drake’s world is indescribably comforting, and if you’re a fan, even the very first thing that you see – a loading message on a black screen, written in that weathered, boxy brown font – is capable of firing you up. Shortly afterwards that theme tune starts to steadily billow, and PS3 owners aren’t going to want to be anywhere else.
The plot of Drake’s Deception – which was bafflingly spoiled repeatedly by its own launch trailer recently, so avoid that – is typically grand and sprawling, although the measured opening tier also features a few very unexpected narrative strokes. The small, family-like band that was established in Among Thieves has now expanded into a small ensemble, with Sully and Chloe being joined by a claustrophobic Jason Statham figure, who’s here to provide a bit of gruff flavour and some (mostly successful) comic relief. Nathan Drake’s kid-friendly “Oh crap!” persona is still very much to the fore, but pseudo-Statham – and the surprisingly boorish curtain raiser that’s set in a seedy North London pub – make for a generally edgier experience than the previous pair did. Without unnecessary bombast the story effortlessly conveys the feeling that so much more is at stake than usual, and the series’ strongest villain yet – who appears to have been physically modelled on Dame Helen Mirren – is as profoundly nasty as she is compelling.
For all of their narrative finesse and zip, Uncharted 3’s opening few chapters may cause some people to worry. Routes (especially during big action scenes) have never been especially hard to find in Uncharted games, but this simplicity has never been an issue because pathfinding has never been what Uncharted has been about. That said, during a frenetic early chase sequence in the third instalment, it appears as if Nate Drake has suddenly been given way more options than you ever wanted him to have; despite the fact that a single path continues to be your solitary way out of trouble. This means that if you don’t immediately spot the correct exit (and because points of interest no longer shimmer in the light like they used to, this is highly possible) you’ll end up having to make a few blind jumps or risk getting collared constantly before you find your way. This is only momentarily irritating but more importantly it just feels wrong; it’s not exciting, it’s not intuitive, it’s not Uncharted.
But once that particular set-piece is done with, it’s all plain sailing. Exactly like its immediate predecessor, it is beyond thrilling to experience Uncharted 3 when it’s operating at full pelt. If you think of yourself as a serious gamer, the none-more-huge tentpole moments that occur here simply have to be experienced first hand. From deliriously bounding your way around a collapsing building as it’s promptly engulfed by fire, to the spine-chiller on the cargo plane, to the absolutely breathtaking segment on the cruise liner (a tub-thumping series highlight) Uncharted 3 delivers the goods and then some. The mo-capped performances are stronger and more striking than ever (both aurally and visually) and even the multiplayer component – previously something of an enjoyable afterthought – has hijacked some of the crack-like compulsiveness of Gears of War, Call of Duty and Battlefield by shrewdly poaching and implementing a few of their neat tricks. In addition there are some box-ticking co-op modes which are lightweight but solidly entertaining with friends in tow, and also surprisingly rich in replay value.
What’s next for Nathan Drake after his lush-looking PS Vita pit-stop is anyone’s guess. It is tough not to concede that Naughty Dog have hit upon a winning formula that they’re currently a bit too loathe to digress from, but that’s the hollowest and least courteous of complaints to level at something that’s been constructed with this much tact and mad love. After its patient and subdued opening Drake’s Deception sets into a truly breathless stride, and a classier looking (or feeling, in every sense) videogame isn’t likely to appear on home consoles any time soon. Uncharted 3 might lack the first sequel’s imperial freshness and cavalier sense of purpose but when you’re weighing up objections, being identified as slightly inferior to one of the greatest games of all time is pretty hard to classify as faint praise. This is a full-blooded summer blockbuster, and one that’s had the courtesy to arrive out of season. Vintage.
Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception is available now on Playstation 3.
Watch the teaser trailer for Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception below: