Every couple of months or so, rumours bubble up in the more desperate pages of the entertainment press that an Uncharted movie has finally been given the green light. The Hollywood Reporter will quote a ‘studio insider’ as confirming that Mark Wahlberg has been pencilled in for the lead role. Variety states ‘sources close to the project’ are saying that the producers have approached Bruce Willis to play a new character who’s an amalgamation of Sully and John McClane (Yippee-ki-yay mutha fortune hunter). Michael Bay would be interested, if he can turn Drake into a giant robot. David Cronenberg would be interested, if he can turn Drake into a masochistic, transgender dwarf…who turns out to be a giant robot.
All of this is a complete waste of both time and effort, because Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception is one of the most cinematic games ever created; occasionally (just occasionally) for the worst, but almost always for the better.
It already has its perfect leading man, the modern day matinee idol Nathan Drake, with his L’Oreal model looks, casual disregard for death and laid back charm that naturally balances smoothness with self-deprecation. It already has its ideal Directors, developers Naughty Dog, who can create enveloping, intoxicating locations, set up a camera shot like a seasoned Hollywood DP and spin out a tale of intrigue and excitement with a deft human touch. And it already has its instantly memorable action set pieces; complex, explosive, high octane sequences that deliver up frayed nerves, racing pulses and exhilarated smiles as they, without fail, bring the house well and truly down.
Like a beloved old friend who’s just strolled out of the jungle two years after disappearing into the undergrowth, Uncharted 3 will be an extremely familiar and welcome sight to anyone already acquainted with the series. The story, is yet another classic, swashbuckling, Boy’s Own adventure that takes audacious, and fully justified liberties with literature and historical accuracy to once again send Drake and Co. to a selection of exotic locations around the globe accompanied by the usual hoodoo and hokum. There are tensions, underhand dealings, double crosses, damsels (occasionally in distress), boo-hiss bad guys (and girls) and historical artefacts that prophesise the existence of mythological cities and untold riches.
The excellent script and voice acting provide a playful yet needle-sharp cut and thrust to the dialogue. Naughty Dog’s talent in this area continues to make characters out of caricatures (and likeable characters at that) thanks in no small part to their flair for the kind of small talk and witty asides many developers don’t even attempt or consider. It’s just self-aware enough, with a warm and subtle wink and a nudge to the audience here and there to ensure that everyone is in on the joke, and quite opposed to being too precious with its hero, it frequently takes delight in planting fists in Drake’s face and even the occasional bullet in his side.
From the title screen, where the soaring opening chords of the game’s outstanding orchestral score perfectly capture and enhance the sense of adventure, to the end credits, the entire escapade is a thoroughly entertaining one. The grand scale and fine detail to each location is stunning, and, as with its two predecessors, Drake’s third expedition is constructed from a combination of shooting, climbing and puzzle solving that have now become more comfortable travelling companions than ever, if no longer particularly progressive ones.
Battlegrounds in the game are frequently open expanses dotted with strategic placed environmental features behind which you can take cover from the fray. Their designs makes it easy for the enthusiastic, bullet-absorbing enemies to spill out of gates and over walls to flank and blindside you, but they also provide opportunities for a variety of tactical approaches.
While the standard set of firearms, from pistols to sniper rifles, are suitably effective, and Drake now has a new ability to toss back live grenades, if you can get the timing right, it’s the melee combat that’s been enlivened the most since Uncharted 2. Introduced during the bar brawl in a spit-and-sawdust tavern at the beginning of the game, the additional melee animations mean the fisticuffs here have never looked more like choreographed stunt fights, with Drake able to turn incidental objects into improvised weapons and wrestle guns from enemies in slick, slow motion manoeuvres.
Using stealth is also now a more viable approach than it was in Among Thieves, although often even your most furtive movements will alert enemies who seem to possess artificially heightened senses. And when you’re not busy turning World Heritage Sites into warzones, you’ll often find yourself swinging on rickety chandlers, clambering around crumbling cliff faces and disintegrating masonry or monkey swinging across rotting wooden beams. Uncharted 3’s traversal mechanics remain much the same as those in previous games, with clever colouring of environmental features highlighting the paths of semi-reliable handholds and more than a few fingertip-saving leaps over deep precipices that contain little but certain death.
If anything, puzzle solving – the third traditional gameplay pillar of the Uncharted series – has been rendered even less of a distraction in Drake’s Deception. The puzzles aren’t so much there to have you grinding your gears like those in an ancient tomb, but as short, cerebral diversions for variety purposes. And if you can’t work out a solution after referring to the clues in Drake’s notebook and listening to the suggestions of your companions, in hardly any time at all the game will just flat out offer to give you the answer.
All of these different activities have been meticulously designed and mixed together to provide the game with an almost perpetual motion to its pacing. Naughty Dog’s goal in Uncharted 3 seems to have been to always keep you moving, to never let you shuffle back from the edge of your seat. It’s one of the best directed games ever, and when I say directed, I mean it in terms of both linearity and organisation. If you’ve come for adventure, this is a game that has it in spades. If you’ve come for exploration Drake’s Deception has none.
There’s no denying that one man’s streamlined is another man’s shallow, and that there will be some who feel trapped within the confines of the narrative and just can’t warm to Naughty Dog’s as-the-crow-flies adventuring. Uncharted 3 is as tightly constructed a game as you’ll find, and it’s so seamlessly cinematic purely because of this. If it were more improvised, more off the cuff and optional there’s a serious risk the spell would be broken, as is sometimes threatened in the game’s occasional chase sequences. It’s not that Naughty Dog don’t want you to participate in the action – they’ve actually worked hard to give you more control than ever before – it’s just that they want to help you keep the action flowing, as the experience is infinitely more enjoyable for you if you do.
While the single player story remains Uncharted’s main selling point, the advances Naughty Dog have made in multiplayer in Drake’s Deception means the gap has closed considerably. Uncharted 2’s competitive online experience was a fine first attempt to carve out a niche for the series in an already crowded arena, but Drake’s Deception has developed into a title that can now be discussed alongside the best in the genre.
A standard levelling system, along with a choice of weapons, Booster and Kickback perks to unlock and fit out your character with mean it’s not particularly unique in terms of its design or match types. It is, however, so incredibly well put together it provides fast-paced and hugely fun battles that, most importantly, manage to capture some of the theatrical feel of the single player. And sitting alongside the competitive multiplayer are a handful of varied and generously sized co-operative game modes that only enhance the value of the package further.
There’s no ignoring the fact that Uncharted 3 makes little to no attempt to revolutionise the Uncharted series in any meaningful way. In fact, perhaps the game’s greatest achievement is that it manages to produce the same stuff again and still make it feel so special and entertaining. That said, because of the concessions that have to make to court mass market appeal, one of the hardest things to do, is create a truly great big budget, blockbuster movie, and Naughty Dog have managed to do the videogaming equivalent of this yet again. Yes, Drake’s Deception is unashamed videogame popcorn, but it’s possibly the greatest movie game of all time and one that’s currently not linked to an actual movie in any way. Please, let’s keep it like that.
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