PS3 Review: "Nate, Get An RPG!"
Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception for PS3 has adventurist Nathan Drake globetrotting to exotic locations, wandering an arid desert and searching for a lost city in the middle of nowhere. But while the story revolves around discovering new territory, the presentation and gameplay are pretty well mapped out. That's because Uncharted 2: Among Thieves laid the groundwork for solving ancient puzzles and hopping from one impossible-to-reach platform to the next as the Indiana Jones-like protagonist. The sequel ends up being a new but comparable cinematic gameplay experience that sticks closely to what we've played before. And that's exactly what we asked for when its 2009 Game of the Year predecessor ended.
Naughty Dog puts Nathan Drake back on the trail of ancestral explorer Sir Francis Drake and has him run into a fresh set of treasure-hunting rivals along the way - both of which are previously explored plotlines. New to the series is the fact that Uncharted 3 also delves into his past as a 14-year-old, Aladdin-like streetrat in Cartagena, Colombia. This allows the story to flesh out the budding relationship between him and mentor Sully, and gives new meaning to the Sir Francis Drake ring that he always has strung around his neck. Besides offering you a few levels to play as the even-more-limber teenage Nate, the present-day story throws in a hint of conspiracy surrounding the death of T.E. Lawrence. Naturally, as anyone who is familiar with the epic film Lawrence of Arabia, this means that the game finally goes to the Arabian desert, which is rife for exploration and artifacts.
Uncharted 3 has you jumping the seemingly endless rooftops of Cartagena, Columbia in a chase sequence toward the beginning of the game, and wandering the seemingly endless dunes of an Arab desert in a dehydrated state toward the end. So from chapter 2 onward, you're pretty much going to be in awe of the scale and variety of these environments. Matching that visual eyecandy is the non-stop action that happens within. Explosions are around just about every corner, firefights don't allow your trigger finger to rest and about half of the levels seem to get set on fire.
The panicked state that this Uncharted game puts you in is nothing new. The special effects always make the action seem more intense than the gameplay really is, meaning the ?Press X to Win? nature of Uncharted 2 is carried over pound for pound with its cinematic gameplay. With the exception of a few deaths during specific firefights and a puzzle or two that'll throw you for a loop, the ?Normal? difficulty is kind of easy. Luckily, there are five difficulty levels choose from: Very Easy, Easy, Normal, Hard and the unlockable Crushing. In some ways, Uncharted 3 is even easier than the first two games because of Nate's numerous audible hints. ?No, that's not it,? he'll mutter to himself (and, by extension, you) to refer to an incorrectly picked up puzzle piece or ?Looks like a dead end? if you went down the wrong fork in the road. He said things like this before, but they happen more often this time around.
Likewise, the 22 chapters that make up Uncharted 3 help it feel like a breeze thanks to meaningful gameplay tweaks. You can at long last throw grenades back at enemies with the press of the triangle button instead of always having to run like a coward at the first sight of that white grenade icon. This mechanic is overdue and a welcome addition. An unexpected surprise is the ability to rip guns from enemies during a melee fight if you're out of ammo and in need of a new weapon. This automatic, action hero-like maneuver doubles the pleasure of putting down a bad guy. On the same level of satisfaction, melee combat includes pulling the pin from a grenade on an enemy's ammo belt and kicking him so that he explodes from a safe distance. This is an automatic sequence, but one that's fun to watch nonetheless. From stealing an enemy's weapon to being able to serve them their own grenade medicine, controlling Nate is a little more fluid in Uncharted 3 and allows you to finish the campaign in a shorter amount of time vs. Uncharted 2.
The amount of time you save in the more streamlined campaign can be spent in the improved multiplayer and co-op mode. These two modes are split up at the title screen, but oddly lead to the same all-inclusive multiplayer menu. What's there are six competitive multiplayer game types (team deathmatch, free-for-all, team objective, three-team deathmatch, CTF-like plunder and bonuses-stripped hardcore) and three cooperative game types (co-op arena, co-op hunter arena and story-based co-op adventure). Among them are a dozen maps, some exclusive to certain game types, and new variants like medal kickbacks for all-star players and power-plays for losing teams. Earning rank and in-game money now allows you to customize your weapons and character profile to a higher degree. It's not quite Call of Duty-style custom loadouts, but it's the next best thing.
Uncharted 3 has the best multiplayer in a third-person shooter on the PS3 and Sony knows that you're going to spend a lot of time on its servers. As a result, there's good news and bad news. First, the good news: There are 90-second video uploads so that you can show off your most impressive dynamic multiple kills on services like Facebook and YouTube. This can net you a spot on Uncharted TV, the video box that's always playing in the bottom right corner of the multiplayer menus, which includes the best plays of the week for everyone to see. The bad new is that multiplayer is locked behind an Online Pass code. Yes, this trend now extends to first-party publishers and triple-A titles. Buying a used copy of Uncharted 3 means that you'll have to pay to access online multiplayer and online co-op. Outside of ponying up the $10, you're limited to LAN multiplayer and split-screen for the co-op arena and co-op adventure game types.