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Review: Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception

by Steven Williamson on 1 November 2011, 11:21 4.5

Tags: Sony Computers Entertainment Europe (NYSE:SNE), PC

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Who can you trust?

In Uncharted 3, Nathan Drake is on the hunt for an 16th century treasure, namely a ring that is said to belong to the Elizabethan naval commander Sir Francis Drake. As it turns out, you also discover that Sir Francis Drake was commissioned by Queen Elizabeth I and her advisor John Dee to search for the lost city of Ubar, a place that is also of interest to other explorers who don't take to kindly to your interference.

Through clue-gathering, and after many close encounters with a shadowy organisation headed by Katherine Marlowe, a Helen Mirren lookalike, Nate and his mentor risk life and limb to try and find the treasure and fabled location.

With a strong script and solid voice-work, most notably from middle-aged Marlowe, whose bite is most certainly worse than her bark, the plot is intriguing right from the outset and shrouded in mystery and secrecy, with a few deceptive twists planted for good measure.

Sterling narrative

The narrative builds superbly on the relationship between Nate and Sully, and it turns out there's real reason why Naughty Dog has built their bond so deep throughout the series. Indeed, one of the big draws of the storyline is wondering how it's all going to pan out.

Inevitably, it all makes for a perfect excuse for Nate and Sully to head off to a host of exotic and grimy locations, from an enchanting château deep in the forests of eastern France to the bustling market town of Yemen. The graphical quality and detail that has gone into the various settings is exemplary, and Naughty Dog mixes things up nicely with a variety of locations that showcases its new technical achievements very well.

There are some genuine moments of awe as you scale a Syrian citadel and cast your eye over the city which sparkles across the night-time sky, or take the lonely walk across the barren lands of an Arabian desert where sand stretches across the landscape as far as the eye can see. Lighting effects throughout the game, particularly when you're carrying a torch through a treasure-filled tomb, gives Uncharted 3 an Indiana Jones-style movie feel, and wherever you look – whether it be a cascading waterfall, or a lush forest setting – there's always something beautiful to gawk at.

A little too formulaic?

Gameplay is identical to previous Uncharted games with a mix of combat, puzzles and platforming taking up the majority of your time. Inevitably, you'll stumble across a dozen locked doors along the way and have to study the environment to work out how to get inside by scaling buildings, making leaps that seem impossible at first glance, and swinging on vine ropes. Naughty Dog takes this style of gameplay to a new level with some incredibly tense ledge-hopping scenes, using dramatic camera angles to create cinematic scale and tension.

Though there's fun and challenge to be had out of shimmying across ledges and judging your jumps across gaping chasms, it can sometimes be frustrating working out a way into or out of a building. The locations are so incredibly detailed and busy that it's sometimes hard to spot a way through an environment, and though you'll find a path through eventually, it can take up a lot of gameplay time finding that first ledge to grab onto when all you want to do is get on with it. Nonetheless, Nate animates well and platforming is at its best when you're intuitively leaping and swinging from one pole to the next, chaining moves together like a talented, albeit super-human, acrobat.

Aside from environment-based puzzle-solving, Uncharted 3 also features logic-based puzzles that serve to provide further mystery and intrigue to the tale, while breaking up bouts of platforming and combat gameplay. They can be quite hit-and-miss though. Working out how to decipher a code from the scribbles in your notepad – turning the handle of a device to line-up a series of etchings in the correct order – is an enjoyable challenge, but being tasked with moving a globe around to match up locations with beams of lights coming through the ceiling, or rearranging cogs to turn a wheel, are as boring as they sound.

Similarly, having to scour a room that is full to the brim with artefacts to find one item is absolutely tedious, just as it was in Uncharted 2. Nonetheless, puzzles don't interrupt the action too frequently and the better ones, the puzzles that require thought and action, do add to the drama.