Naughty Dog is back to take us on a whirlwind tour of the globe in chase of the seductive Iram of the Pillars,pulling us back into the sweaty jeans of our favourite wisecrack adventurer, Nathan Drake. Following 2009’s mighty Among Thieves was no easy task but Naughty Dog have stepped up their game in almost every conceivable way, crafting what is quite simply the best made and most beautiful looking game in existence.
The narrative leaps from a brilliantly realised pub brawl in London, across to France, Yemen and beyond as it explores the relationship between Drake and his moustached mentor Sully. While the story is enjoyable (throwing in many nods and jokes to fans of the series) the narrative is a little weaker in construction than its predecessor and the villains are less cleverly motivated, resulting in a climax less fulfilling than it could have been. Despite this, the cut scenes telling this story showcase the very best animation in the industry thanks to the fact that the voice actors are the ones in mocap suits, boasting nuanced animation traditional processes would simply not yield. Accentuating this is exceptional voice acting which is effortlessly delivered along with some of the finest facial animations to date.
Among Thieves introduced interactive action sequences that allowed people to play through what other games would shy away from, establishing a hook the series has that no other game offers. Uncharted 3 blows these out of the water with exhilarating sequences so incredible you might just lose your mind. In between these you will share your time between exploring and gunfights. Exploring is essentially the same as what has come before but the level design here is a lot smarter, resulting in more organic and logical environments. Unfortunately, gunplay seems to have been left behind and is indeed the weakest link. A lot of this comes down to two things: firstly, the free-form movement that is so enjoyable in most of the game is severely limited and jagged during gunfights, leading to a more jarring disconnect than should exist. Secondly, the enemy design is, to be honest, lazy. Rather than adding challenge through design, the game simply throws as many enemies as it can at you, resulting in deaths so frustrating I often began to scream. Fortunately, hand-to-hand combat has been greatly improved, leaving it the best way to deal with foes. Akin to Arkham Asylum, Drake can parry, dodge, counter and drop onto enemies with brutal abandon. Each fight feels tiring and the punches painful. There is even a tasty context sensitive implementation where Drake will use a bottle, frying pan or window to aid in combat if one is nearby. All of this feels more believable than ever before thanks to the uncanny animation on offer here.
Uncharted 3 is quite simply the most remarkable looking game you have ever seen. From the multiple levels of animation which have Drake breathing heavily, swatting flies, rubbing his neck, drying his hands on his thighs, grimacing at bullets, wearily stumbling from exhaustion and steadying himself on walls, to the stunning attention to detail, creasing clothing, scrumptiously gorgeous lighting and the finest water, fire and sand physics in gaming. There are times you will literally not believe your eyes. Uncharted 3’s real strength, and both developers and gamers need to acknowledge Naughty Dog’s incredible talent here, is the way in which Drake belongs in his game world. His eyes wander with curiosity, his hands feel out the environment, he steps backwards before turning, shields himself when running into a wall and comments on the environment and surrounding events. I believe this marks the beginning of the future of gaming, viz., the implementation of character into game-world. Textures can only get so much better, but when you play Uncharted 3 and go back to any other game available, you realise what a difference this integration makes and how static and lifeless everything else feels in comparison.
The campaign will take you about ten hours to shimmy through but it was such a blast that I dove right back in to hunt down each and every one of those shiny treasures. If multiplayer is your poison, Naughty Dog have on offer more than the slightly tacked-on affair that Among Thieves had. A modified campaign can be played through co-op including cut scenes, voice work and past characters. A survival co-op mode pits players against waves of enemies and while it may sound a little tired in this age of endless FPSes, the parkour inspired vertical level design and gameplay in Uncharted really help breath some fresh air into the concept. Multiplayer offerings are tweaks of the staples which have emerged over the years with Death Matches, Mission Objectives and Free-for-Alls in the mix. As with the survival co-op, the gameplay Uncharted boasts really bring these modes into their own and add a flavour unavailable elsewhere. Games are frantic, exciting and less predictable than some modes out there, with a generous XP, booster and loadout system allowing you to advance even when you suck, sucking you back in for more.
You have never seen a game like this before, nor thought it was possible on this generation of hardware. This is the spearhead of where gaming is headed, it is however, not perfect, and some aspects could be vastly improved. Regardless, it is so utterly and exceptionally well realised that it will make you reassess how you look at games. To do what Naughty Dog have achieved here justice I need to remove a 20% from every game I have reviewed prior. The bar has been raised, by a studio so talented it could be witchcraft, to the point where every other studio has to take note and pull at those socks or be left dangling, so far behind it will be embarrassing.