With but inches to spare, our hero rolls under the slowly lowering trap and snatches back his fedora. “Indy!” screams the damsel as the villain grips her and cackles maniacally. Eyeing him up, Indy slowly loosens his bullwhip and with a sudden crack, lashes the evildoer’s cheek, nearly removing his eye. He recoils in agony and releases the blonde from his grasp.
His power-hungry schemes undone by all-American heroism, our villain clutches his cheek and begins to cry. Warning of a vengeful higher power, he vows, “I’m telling mum!” Dropping the extension cord I’ve just whipped my brother with, my sister and I make panicked pleas that he refrains. So it was in those innocent times, Saturday mornings spent imitating those rough and tumble, stubble-faced heroes.
When Indiana Jones-facsimile Uncharted arrived in 2007 with its stunt-double protagonist Nathan Drake, the proverbial fedora was dusted off. Naughty Dog’s title brought a stunning action-adventure treasure hunt – reminiscent of the imaginary adventures of old – to the PlayStation 3.
With a well-received sequel also under its belt, a reassured Naughty Dog has total confidence in its development process, and a clear interest in creating unequalled thrills through daring spectacle; rooftop leaping, bare-knuckle brawling, tomb-raiding and puzzle-solving entertainment – all in the interest of saving the girl and finding the treasure.
We’re reunited with Nathan Drake in a London pub as he works a shady deal with the support of long-time mentor Sully. Inevitably it’s not long before this deal goes south and the player gets a first introduction to movement and combat as Drake fights his way out of the pub.
The story encompasses many of the same characteristics of the previous games: deception, twists and camaraderie. Though the finer plot details has never been one of Uncharted's strong points, it's characterisation through the give-and-take of banter that truly facilitates investment in the story.
If there is a flaw to Naughty Dog’s creation it’s that the game almost wants to play itself. The player can at times seem an unwelcome intrusion on the game’s vision. Every set piece, every deadly chase scene and every plot-twist (that are shocking only in their regularity) forces the player down a linear, heavily predetermined path. Stray but a little from the predetermined trajectory required to trigger the next cut scene and Nate’s lifeless form will duly crumple to the floor. Get lost in a chase scene or fail to hit the next jump marker at the right speed and the game will defy physics to launch Drake across the gap.
It’s a passing gripe, and at times it saves the annoyance of repeated attempts but it displays the duality of Uncharted 3; here is a game that wishes to offer the player unparalleled excitement, a genuine sense of being involved and imperilled, but equally seeks to reassure and assist. The player can be both architect and obstacle. Drake interacts beautifully with the environment around him – pushing off walls, bending passing branches – but the immersion breaks down the moment the script is strayed from.
Avoid the temptation to ad-lib, however, and Uncharted shines. The linear direction and tight camera controls allow the developer to focus the entirety of the PlayStation’s processing power on what is on the screen. As Drake makes his way to the roof of a French castle, the camera pulls back just a touch to reveal a breathtaking vista that includes a small French town dappled in the soft glow of morning light. Uncharted 3 is endowed with such moments of dizzyingly beautiful cinematography. From desert to jungle, castles to caves, tropical Cartagena to a rain-washed London.
The gameplay is the same as past iterations of Uncharted, a mixture of third-person cover shooting, button-mashing quick-time events, gravity-defying platforming and puzzle-locked treasure hunting. There is no real risk here: each aspect is done more than admirably and transitions seamlessly into the next. Drake moves from Spiderman agility to gun-toting commando without a hitch; combining incredible shooting encounters with advanced hand-to-hand takedowns set in lavishly designed areas. All as expected in an Uncharted game.
Puzzles are common and satisfyingly difficult even if, again, Uncharted’s inclination to assist the player with unavoidable hints after a window of inaction can ruin five minutes of pondering.
As the discovery and collection of trinkets provides the only systemic reason to revisit the main thrust of Uncharted 3 after a first playthrough, its multiplayer component is left to try and ensure the disc remains in the Blu-ray drive. Naughty Dog’s offering is a Modern Warfare-style of play involving experience points, medal awards and Boosters in addition to a more colourful and cheerful game with collectable relics to unlock new clothes, loot drops and taunts. It’s disconnected enough from the singleplayer experience as to be considered a different game altogether. A little cooperative play is available too, with competitive gameplay being introduced through perks and treasure drops to add some excitement to the regular story arc.
Uncharted 3 has the ability to elicit high excitement from its players through a tight and polished combination of gameplay styles, and through it’s unmatched art direction. It’s let down only slightly with a kind of shallowness, and a linear quality unbefitting a game of this quality. But these small niggles aside, Uncharted 3 will have players leaning forward through some of the best action sequences in gaming, and will be a favourite for both long time fans and those new to the series.