It is hard not to go into Uncharted 3 with lofty expectations. 2009's Uncharted 2: Among Thieves was a stellar blend of cinematic action, frenetic pacing and spectacular set pieces that combined together to make it one of the best games of that year. Unfortunately, the follow-up title's attempts to match that seem to have fallen short.
Let's start with the great: this game looks fantastic. I don't know what sort of artist and programming wizards they employ at Naughty Dog, but everything is beautiful. Each of the different locations and environment types are so vibrant and detailed that it's amazing to think that they were able to create all those art assets in the span of a couple of years.
Unfortunately, that is about the only area that seems improved. While the characterizations and writing are as fantastic as ever, they seem to have gone so overboard with how the models naturally interact with the environment that it became completly unnatural. For some unknown reason, Nathan Drake feels the need to touch almost everything he walks by. The rest of the game seems so rote and soulless that it comes across as the result of using a how-to manual for creating Uncharted games. It is following a constant formula of traversal, combat sequence, puzzle. Rinse and repeat.
This wouldn't be a problem, after all it worked to great success in the previous game, if it didn't seem so predictable. There is absolutely no suspense in the climbing. Nathan Drake can only have his handhold crumble or break so many times before it loses its effect. And in this game its often. Otherwise you go about your business of climbing, jumping and swinging and it feels just as good as it ever did. I would be remiss to not point out that there are a few of the set pieces that do make his climbing abilities more interesting beyond being a carbon copy of things seen in the previous installments.
The set pieces themselves are exciting but there is no surprise to them. I played the game just waiting for the next crazy thing to happen, and only once was I ever actually surprised and excited with the way things turned out. Even more surprising was that it was the most direct rehash of something that occurred in Uncharted 2. And it doesn't happen until 3/4's of the way through the game. That's a fair amount of gameplay to go through before actually feeling engaged with the content.
Sadly the real problem with the game is the combat. If it hadn't changed at all, it would be perfect. Something feels very off with the movement and aiming during combat sequences. The aiming was floaty and it often seemed too a little too difficult to get a precise aim on the enemies. The addition of a new melee system, which seems little more than a poor man's version of the one found in Batman: Arkham Asylum, makes the enemy AI seem almost too stupid to kill. I can't even remember the number of enemies that seemed dissatisfied with trying to shoot me and instead felt the need to rush up to me and put up their dukes. While there are many other enemies shooting at me still. And you continue to take gun damage. And die. A lot. Oftent times the enemies would rush up and just stand still waiting for me to decide what to do, which usually ended in me shooting them while they went through their gun grabbing animations. The combat simply wasn't fun and proved to be more of a hinderance to the game than an enhancement. I can recall great combat sequences from the previous entry, but not a single one in this game.
Going into this game, my biggest fear was wondering what misstep Naughty Dog was going to make by forcing a supernatural element into the gameplay. I had sincerely hoped that they would finally realise that they were fully capable of making a fantastic adventure/shooter game without needing to put a blemish on it with living dead or blue immortal enemy types. And they did, unfortunately they seem to have lost some of that magic in the other areas along the way.