We had our doubts about how Naught Dog could top Uncharted 2’s big high points, but if it hasn’t outdone them it’s certainly matched them. Once again, set-pieces that would be the climax of another game become the closing point for a chapter: the big pay-off before it all starts up again. The gun-battles are great, but the real highlights of Uncharted 3 are those moments where all hell breaks loose, with environments that burn, crumble, dive and flood around you, with Naughty Dog’s excellent animation systems working to make every interaction with the environment look and feel totally convincing.
In some ways, the gameplay remains unchanged from Uncharted 2, but there are some improvements. Close combat plays a larger part, with a greater emphasis on counter moves and some excellent (and very satisfying) context-sensitive animations, making it all the more enjoyable to grab an enemy, slam them against the nearest hard object then give them the old one-two until they collapse. Punches, kicks, throws and headbutts all flow naturally together.
Stealth also works better than it ever has in an Uncharted game, with some brutally efficient attacks and more flexible use of cover. We’re not talking revolutionary enhancements, but they certainly add something to the overall experience. And if Uncharted 3 is linear, there are pockets of action where you're free to express your own play style. Is there a bunch of goons between you and your next objective? Well, you could go in all guns blazing, but why not sneak up on them and even out the numbers?
Graphically, Drake’s Deception looks even better than the already stupendous Among Thieves. The level of detail and clutter in the scenery is frequently breathtaking, and the lighting has an amazing photographic quality, that works as well in secret underground chambers and moonlit ruins as it does on the sun-bleached streets of the Yemen and Catagena. The animation is dazzling – just witness the way Drake pushes and stumbles against the scenery as he runs, or the way bystanders turn their heads to watch you move. Close-up, Drake’s deception doesn’t quite go for the photo-realism of Heavy Rain or LA Noire, yet the characters are, if anything, more believable. The models, the body movements and the motion-captured animation seem to blend together into one personality.
Nor should we ignore the sound: Drake’s Deception sounds like a big-budget movie. It’s not that it’s hard to find a game these days with a sweeping score and good voice acting, but you can tell that Nolan North and his fellow actors are working in the same room, and that the cast has had time over all three games to build up some kind of rapport. There are no phoned-in star performances or ugly pauses, and the dialogue just flows. Use of sound effects is equally good, whether it’s the spot effects that add atmosphere deep underground, or the bangs, shots and blasts of a massive fight scene.
At this stage, it’s hard to talk much about the multiplayer options. While we’ve had a chance to play a few competitive games, we haven’t experienced the full gamut of modes and maps by any means. We’ll update this review once the game is released.
Uncharted 3 sits in a long line of linear, cinematic action games, but it sits right at the pinnacle of the style because it's cinematic values are so strong, its spectacle so dazzling and its action so very satisfying. A magnificent blend of all that's best about games and blockbuster movies, and one of the most exhilarating experiences you can have on a console.