Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception
Uncharted: Drake's Fortune managed to successfully blend together third person shooting and traversal-based platforming into something that was coherent and mostly fun to play, but it was the kind of thing where most people saw it as untapped potential. That potential was pretty much fully exploited in Uncharted 2: Among Thieves, which greatly improved the graphics, environmental sophistication, dynamism of the plot, and basically everything about the gameplay to be better, creating a unique and exciting shooter that could pull off large, spectacular events like few games even attempt. Really only the God of War series goes for the same concept of the environment changing around you like Uncharted does. It allows its shooting mechanics, which are a bit less solidly formed than some other games, to pass by without too much scrutiny, and makes just seeing what happens next as thrilling as actually playing the game. Uncharted 3 had a different goal - not to capitalize on potential, but to live up to a beloved classic. It's a goal that the game mostly succeeds at, though not without a couple bumps.
For better or worse, Drake's Deception is pretty much a second take on the same concept as the second game - let you play as a guy who trots all over the world, looking for clues, crossing dangerous gaps, shooting every bad guy in sight, and escaping from very dangerous and exciting predicaments. The story has a slightly different focus, feeling like the slightly darker sequel that series sometimes experience, but never veering too far from the lighthearted adventure tone we've gotten used to. A lot more time is spent developing the friendship between Nate and his mentor Sully, instead of leaning towards his romantic interests. It's just as well, since that part of the story plays out in pretty much the same way it did in the first two games. The plot even goes back in time on occasion, to show a much younger Nate, which provides a neat gameplay twist and some illuminating character development. The villain is also different this time, relying less on trying to beat Nate into submission and more on deceiving and outsmarting him. The cat and mouse is fun, though it falls by the sideline after a while.
In general, the last third of the game feels a bit rushed. It takes a more personal approach, showing the hardships and isolation he goes through, something we aren't really used to with this series, and I kind of missed the fun of him having his buddies around. It also results in the ending being undercooked, as we don't really fully learn what the villains are really up to or the meaning of certain plot elements. It's a bit disappointing to feel that way about the end of the game, but the benefit of the game not wearing out its welcome balances it out a bit. In the first two games I was definitely tired of the combat by the last couple chapters and ready for it to be over. That wasn't really the case here, as Uncharted 3, while having a couple annoying moments like every shooter ever made, managed to finish without it become a major burden. The changes to the gameplay from the second game are mostly small tweaks - Nate can now throw back grenades enemies toss at him, and it's less of a hassle to pick up ammo, and in general the encounters do a slightly better job of creating unique scenarios that play to the series' strengths. The platforming and puzzle solving are pretty much the same as they've always been - not too tough, but engaging enough that you look forward to them when they pop up. The game doesn't have any annoying forced stealth sections, which is nice, and they improved on the melee combat, occasionally making you take on groups, letting you worry about guys coming from multiples directions and make use of objects near you for more damaging blows.
And technically, the game is just outstanding. Even when things aren't going crazy, they look amazing. The textures and lighting are fantastic, Drake's dynamic running animations are more natural than ever, and the facial animations look better than ever. And when things do crazy, it's always impressive and memorable. Floating docks and boats rocking in the waves, entire structures turning sideways as you run through them, the ground collapsing underneath you, the plan sequence that it's unfortunately impossible to be spoiled on - these sequences both look incredible and provide gameplay experiences that other games just don't have. Fundamentally, there's not a big difference between climbing a fence and climbing the netting of a cargo truck hanging out the back of a plane, but just the feeling each one evokes is distinctly different. It's just a fun world to run around in, one made more fun by the memorable musical score and great voice acting by the familiar cast, which continues to grow and help create a very enjoyable story.
The single player is a great eight hour experience, that in my mind measures up to the general very high level of quality of the second game, and surpassing it in someways. The multiplayer is also a lot of fun, and helps extend the life of the game. I played through the entire co-op adventure mode with a friend, which was a nice, rewarding challenge, and also tried some other co-op stuff which was a good deal of fun. I didn't actually try any of the competitive stuff, but that stuff never interests me as much anyway. Uncharted 2 will probably be remembered better in the future for being new and original, but Uncharted 3 definitely deserves a spot alongside it as one of this generation of gaming's best action adventures.