Without a doubt Naughty Dog has crafted one of the most likeable characters in Nathan Drake. The nothing ever goes right antics of Half-tuck and Sully have captivated PS3 gamers for years now, and with Uncharted 3, Naughty Dog and Sony have produced what is without a doubt one of the best PS3 titles to come along in quite some time. Nathan Drake's latest adventure is also hands down the best in the series, boasting masterful storytelling and characters that have more personality in one game than most series' can proclaim in their lifetime. Then to top it off Naughty Dog went and included some fun multiplayer. Truly this has to be the perfect game, right? I'd say they almost pulled it off... almost.
Naughty Dog for three games now has taken us on world spanning adventures with Nathan Drake, the descendent of Sir Francis Drake who explored the world for coin and country. And with each adventure we see more and more of what makes Nathan tick, this time around we're taken back to the conception of Victor Sullivan and Drake's dubious partnership. How did this grizzled grifter come to take on a protege twenty years his junior? Where will this latest trek with clues left by Francis Drake take the team? Well actually it'll take them all over the place, from London to a jungle in France (huh?), to Syria and through the Arab desert, Nathan, Sully, Chloe, Cutter, and Elena are in for a wild ride in what could be their biggest score yet. But the question worth asking is, is it all worth it?
It's worth noting just how skilled the Naughty Dog team is at telling a story, in the first two hours alone you learn more about Nathan and Sullivan than most games will expose over an entire franchise. It's a relationship that feels a lot deeper than say, Marcus and Dom of the Gears franchise, which isn't meant to belittle the efforts of Epic, it's just Naughty Dog has done it that well and then some. And they manage to pull this off in a way that is engaging to the player and something that's more than just a few cutscenes. What really gets me is how believable it is, for as much fanciful stuff they'll throw in to this series, the characters feel like people you can empathize with. A lot of this in part is due to the superb acting job put forth by Nolan North, and to a lesser extent Billy Unger, who both have a vital role to play as Nathan Drake and they do not disappoint in any way. But I don't want to make them out to be the only stars of the show, for Richard McGonagle as Sully and Emily Rose as Elena also have done a magnificent job. Playing opposite them are Rosalind Ayres and Robin Atkin Downes who make fantastic villains. That's another thing worth pointing out, Naughty Dog has done a fantastic job of creating villains who really live up to the title. I rarely come across games where I have villains that I actually despise, so kudos are in order for Naughty Dog and writter Amy Hennig for pulling that off, I haven't hated characters this much since Luka Blight from Suikoden 2.
Now it wouldn't be too believable a world if the graphics were anything less than stellar, and Naughty Dog has delivered what has to be the best looking game on the PS3, if not this entire console generation. I'll gladly say this after seeing what Rage had to offer, because it looks like Naughty Dog is the company that has really showcased the PS3's power. Sure Id has the megatexture, but Naughty Dog has easily toppled that with some absolutely amazing looking locales and characters with incredible detail, yet managing to completely avoid the uncanny valley, it really cannot be explained enough how good this game looks, you'd just have to see it to believe it. It really clicked for me during two points, first early on, you'll be exploring a jungle, and you'll see the water running through the trees, and you'll just want to stop and stare for a while. The other moment is in one of the later chapters, riding horseback through canyons, and I was just utterly amazed at how good it all looks, and it runs fairly well throughout, and surprisingly this game takes great advantage of higher end TVs that can provide a fluid picture. To go along with the great visuals, there's a score that hits all the right notes and fits every part of the world quite well, the highs hit at just the right moments as you wonder how in the hell Nathan is going to get out of the latest mess he's found himself in.
You really start to feel for Nathan as this adventure goes along, the guy manages to always get himself in the worst case scenario, nearly falling from a plane, being trapped inside a burning villa, wandering the desert like a modern day Lawrence of Arabia, only to immediately be dropped into fire fight after fire fight with some of the most ruthless thugs the criminal(?) underworld has to offer. And being Nathan Drake, you will find that this game doesn't cut you any slack either. This game has a maddening difficulty curve toward the middle of the game, where enemies always manage to be placed in just the right points to have you covered and dead to rights, and be in just enough numbers to make it difficult to make any forward progress, so every kill is definitely 'earned.' This leads to a lot of frustrating deaths and with the checkpoint system not always playing fairly it's easy to get upset at this game, and it's not for a lack of skill that I say this, I seriously wonder what happened when on medium difficulty I can be gunned down to almost no health immediately after spawning in to a gun battle. One section in particular late in the game had me cursing the level designers for providing me with no guns, and little cover, with only a moment to grab a pistol before a crew with semi-automatic weapons and grenades were able to descend upon me and pump me full of holes.
I wouldn't really have a problem with this if the game weren't at times unresponsive with the commands I'm handing down to Nathan. As it stands, the controls of this game are a little rough, Nathan can break in to a sprint from wherever he is standing, and is prone to being able to overshoot his destination, which can make some of the platforming a pain, even when the game gives you just that little bit of extra oomph to make a jump you normally would have missed. The biggest fault I find here is that it never really felt like any death in the game was actually my fault, which was especially frustrating during a particular segment where I was attempting to pick up a treasure, I didn't know that if you had picked up a treasure and then die, the treasure is still marked as picked up, so I was curious as to why the game seemed unresponsive when I wanted to return to the spot where the treasure was located. But these touchy controls make the gun fights even more frustrating. When I press circle near a wall, I hope for him to cling to the wall for cover, not roll away from it and in to the wide open spaces that bullets will soon occupy.
This fidgety movement control also serves to make things difficult during some of the 'stealth' portions of gameplay, where you can't really ever sneak around to gain the upper hand, instead it's better to just try and take out as many enemies as possible in a blaze of glory. And then there are the chase scenes that Naughty Dog has a penchant for. Which for all intents and purposes work, and do so quite well, provided you can stay on the intended path, but stray off for even just a moment and it's a quick death and restart for you. This is one facet of their development that hasn't changed from their Crash Bandicoot days which I applaud them for because it works, but it's also highly unforgiving, thankfully they don't add quick time events to these otherwise I think we'd really have a problem here.
Multiplayer is absolutely solid. It's super quick and easy to hop in to a match, and the game simply works, no waiting for extended periods for lobbies to fill, the game just goes. And once you get in to a game you're guaranteed to have a good time. You've got a standard team deathmatch, objective based gameplay that rotates without a break in rounds, or if you're not up for shooting other players there's plenty of co-op gameplay to take advantage of, and rather than simply throw a 'horde mode' at you and call it a day, Naughty Dog has opted for a revolving objective style where once the objective is complete you'll have to do something different entirely, this ranges from picking up treasure and dropping it back off at a safe point, surviving a wave of enemies, or playing a game of king of the hill, all with a limited stock of lives you share with other players. Everything you do in multiplayer will level you up, and as you progress you'll unlock more weapons, taunts, player skins, it's just more, more, more here and bravo to Naughty Dog for improving on the multiplayer from Uncharted 2 in just about every way.
Of course you've got quite an adventure you'll want to clear before you go running off in to multiplayer. Clocking in at around fifteen hours for the first playthrough, it's no slouch of a single player campaign, and you definitely won't find every treasure your first time through, but you'll definitely put up with a lot more gunfights this time around, which is a shame because the Uncharted games feel at their best when they're letting players explore the world around them, and the portions of exploring you do get to do are simply great, rivaling some of the best that Tomb Raider and games of its ilk have to offer.
Uncharted 3 is the kind of game that comes along at the end of a system's life-span, a game that truly puts a console out to pasture. I think that only makes it more surprising that Naughty Dog was able to pull off such an excellent game at this point in the PS3 life cycle, it makes me wonder what more they can wring out of the system, how much more blood can they get out of this stone? Well, until that time comes, Uncharted 3 is a truly marvelous experience that any gamer can enjoy for hours upon hours, with a great campaign and superb multiplayer it's a game that manages to put the best of both worlds in to one cohesive package. It may not be perfection, but it comes pretty damn close.