Written by Brock Poulsen, brockst4r Tuesday, 24 January 2012 06:00
It's been almost 3 months since the release of Uncharted 3. I've spent a lot of time with it, and was originally planning to write a review. I sort of missed that window, and there's already an excellent review on our site, but I still wanted to share some of my thoughts and experiences with the game.
Uncharted 3, like many games, is heavy on cutscenes and story early on. I noticed the game looks so good, and the transitions are so smooth, I sometimes didn't know they'd given me back the controls. This is a tricky issue, because I want the change to be seamless and the game to look as good as the cutscenes, but I also don't want to ruin the immersion by not knowing when I'm supposed to be working the controls.
One of the first things I noticed with how Drake moves is his odd wall-touching habit: it's an odd reactionary animation presumably trying to add realism, but it can be awkward. When you draw close to a wall, doorway, or really any barrier, Drake will reach out a hand and place it on the wall. It's possibly an example of a developer reaching into the uncanny valley in search of realism. The roll animation is, however, absolutely gorgeous. It's slightly less accentuated than Uncharted 2: it's less a dive and more of a dodge, and it's a beautiful thing to behold. Some of the climbing animations are also quite beautiful. The surprise standout is the way Drake changes directions. It looks very fluid and natural. This is a surprising accomplishment; typical game characters, even very convincing ones like AC's Ezio or Batman, have a hard time remaining convincing in detailed motion and directional change.
Drake's chest rises and falls as he stands and his body just believably lives and breathes. The way he falls and lands is very convincing as well. It's all part of the very convincing work being done to immerse the player and further endear us to Nathan Drake.
Melee combat (the first gameplay element displayed) is creative and fun. Naughty Dog clearly took a couple (abridged) pages from Rocksteady's book and added some welcome new mechanics. Melee combat has seen some fairly major changes in the course of three games, and it plays extremely well here. Combos, counterattacks, and grappling add variety and allow for larger scale hand-to-hand combat than seen previously. It allows Drake to handle multiple foes fluidly, preserving the action-hero feeling throughout the game. Stealth takedowns have also received some interesting additions; I almost cheered the first time Drake dropped from a ledge to deliver a Macho Man elbow drop.
Graphically the game is as good as anything we've seen this console generation. You'll traverse beautiful, detailed environments at every turn. The attention paid to lighting is incredible. The way flashlights can reveal and obscure enemies is very cool. Light plays on Drake's journal, revealing his filthy hands (adventuring is dirty work!) and detailed drawings. Every area is packed with detail, creating an immersive and very enjoyable experience.
Sully and his moustache are present and just as lovable as ever. The back-and-forth between he and Drake is sharp ("Someone should climb up there." "Yeah. Guess who?") and draws the player deeper into the story. Speaking of story, it is vast and eclectic, taking the player to some widespread and surprising locations.
These locations allow for some astounding set pieces scattered through the game, maintaining great pacing and a good escalation. Each subsequent set-piece is a new marvel. From the burning chateau that was shown in early game footage to the floating ship graveyard, each would fit beautifully in a big-budget action movie, and each drives the story and characters masterfully. The various chase sequences are beautifully compelling. Despite running over rooftops, through courtyards and markets, and into mansions and gardens, it all feels connected.
Combat scenarios become ever more complex, increasing in scale and difficulty. Naughty Dog has an astounding knack for level design; progress and enemy encounters develop organically. Levels are arranged to allow varied approaches to gunfights. I've heard complaints about the gunplay from several different sources, but personally I found it enjoyable. There's a great deal of variety in the different types of guns, and each is useful.
The aforementioned animation of changing directions isn't just aesthetic: it's also functional for when careful, deliberate movement is required, like for puzzles. It's a rare accomplishment to see a game that makes the effort to do slow movement as competently as fast movement.
The puzzles in previous games have ranged from decent to good, but this time around the puzzles truly shine. Every necessary piece is given to the player, and each puzzle requires a unique approach. Each puzzle is balanced to provide a pretty significant challenge without becoming frustrating. I felt very clever (and once or twice I felt like an absolute genius) upon solving each subsequent puzzle; the puzzle mechanics are logical and clear, and generally avoid the common complaint that the player must think exactly like the designer in order to solve the puzzle.
One of my other favorite games this year, Batman: Arkham City, has frequent brief moments that inspire awe and make me want to re-enact them. With Uncharted 3, I was often accosting my wife to sit down and watch me play this movie. Entire chapters are unrelenting thrill rides, from fistfights to breakneck pursuits to shootouts. While still contributing to the larger story, each is an experience all on its own. Rather than playing like an individual movie, it feels like playing an entire franchise or a whole season of a television show. It's packed with content and purpose from start to finish.
I love this game. The Uncharted franchise has reached an incredible high point and it's clear Naughty Dog is at the top of their game.