Brilliantly Conceived, but Issues in Story and Gameplay
From the first time Nathan Drake appeared on screen to the final moments of Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception, one must acknowledge the improvement that studio Naughty Dog has shown perfecting their craft. In its latest installment in their recently popular, acclaimed Uncharted series, it feels like they've reached the pinnacle of Video Games as Cinema, emulating the camera angles, dialogue and set pieces of a big budget action film, while still making the game feel original and creative in its own right. While Naughty Dog has perfected the mis en scene and overall presentation of Uncharted 3, it still struggles to make the gunplay consistently entertaining and keep the story fluid.
Uncharted 3 takes its characters to new locales and pushes them to their limits, very reminiscent of the last installment of the franchise. Nate, Sully, Elena, and Chloe all share slightly uneven screen time, but they all have their moments and push the story forward in an interesting way. Naughty Dog alters the treasure hunting tale a bit by delving into the past of Nathan Drake, explaining his relationship with the older Sully and introducing his rivalry with the current villain, Marlowe. The game, in its sly way of winking and nodding at the player, questions Drake's motive and why he continues to put him and his friends in danger for the sake of treasure that may not even exist. It's the farthest the game gets to being self aware of its silly adventure plot, and that's just fine.
Some story elements of the game do fall flat in minor ways. Villains Marlowe and Talbot are not boisterous or robust, and instead are subtle and quietly deadly. That being said, the game really fails to explain their motivation, and sometimes portray them as being too powerful or untouchable. It's understandable to need a reason for some 500 men to be killed at Drake's hand throughout the game, but multiple instances in the story have the villains coming out of nowhere and grasping complete hold of the situation. On top of this, both villains, Talbot in particular, are a bit generic and forgettable. Other plot elements feel off throughout the game: Characters enter and leave the game's story through what feels like a string of plot devices, and a brief stop at a mostly abandoned shipyard feels like an excuse to increase the length of the game. Nevertheless, most of the story of Uncharted is well told and keeps one on their toes. It's at its best when it pushes Drake to his limits, placing him in intense, quiet moments where the audience sees another side of Nate, one that tests his mental and physical fortitude. These moments really make the game entertaining.
Uncharted 3 does a great job fusing story and gameplay together, really making one feel like they are playing through grandiose action scenes from a film. The game's camera is positioned to simulate the camera of a film while still letting the player control Drake with no problems or obstructions. The game's playing field fits seamlessly with the environment, as climbing up the mast of a ship or old buildings look natural, fluid, and realistic. There are scenes in the game when incredible things happen, houses go up in flames Towering Inferno style and ships turn over Poseidon Adventure style, and playing through these scenes really make Uncharted 3 feel revolutionary, as Drake cheats death over and over again, as the entire environment crumbles around him, these kinds of moments feel like nothing ever conceived before. It's these scenes that make Uncharted 3 a great game, and there are plenty of them.
Unfortunately, the other scenes the game has are not nearly as fun, particularly the gunfights. The gun wielding in Uncharted 3 is flawed to a degree, as its controls feel slow and just don't maximize the player's ability in the right ways. The game often throws Drake into a situation where he is swamped with enemies that absorb more bullets than what would be considered human (then again, so does our hero). The odd feel of the gun's sight makes getting headshots near impossible, and even makes aiming at enemies in general extraneously difficult. In a game where it feels as if one has to mow down an incredible amount of enemies, Uncharted 3 makes killing a small few very difficult. This affected my personal view of the game at times, as I often got frustrated by the game's lack of a good aiming system and simply wanted to move on to the next scene. This is perhaps the most vital thing Uncharted 3 struggles with, and can really hinder the enjoyment of the game if one plays on harder difficulties. This is one of the few games where I would endorse playing the Easy difficulty mode, as the frustration I endured during some parts of the game often hurt my overall view of the it.
Production values of Uncharted 3 are top notch, as is to be expected after 3 installments in the series. The motion capture movements are brilliant, as Drake fluidly pushes walls aside and walks like a real human being, his eyes wandering and his legs moving unevenly. Voice acting is also excellent, and is especially important because the game continuously relies on the great performances to delve deeper into the recurring characters and make them more meaningful. The environments are lush and vibrant, incredibly conceived and imaginative. There's virtually nothing to complain about in this department.
Uncharted 3 does an excellent job of throwing the player into an action film, continuously making one go "wow" multiple times throughout the game's moderate length. The story is often great and is paced well, but there are plot flaws and shortcomings that could have been shored up. While the platforming and hectic scenes of the game play well, the combat feels unruly, the gunplay especially. While the game is incredibly conceived and well made, there are still problems that make it just a step shy of unforgettable.