Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception
When tackling the task of making a sequel to the blockbuster movie Jurassic Park, director Steven Spielberg and screenwriter David Koepp faced something of a dilemma: “Sure you can do dinosaurs” Koepp was quoted as saying, “but what can you do with them?” In short, the sequel could no longer rely on the ‘Wow!’ factor of the dinosaurs and would have to impress and evolve in other areas to make the endeavour a worthwhile one. Despite the fact that the Uncharted series treads a similar block-busting path, what to do with its own (metaphorical) digital dinosaurs is not something that Naughty Dog has ever seemed to struggled with – though packed with heart-stopping set-pieces, the series’ core has always been in gripping narratives, strong characterisation and tight gameplay mechanics, with the technical showboating very much inhabiting the supporting role.
With its focus on character and narrative unwavering, Naughty Dog made it look relatively simple when following up the boys-own adventure stylings of Uncharted with a sequel that was bigger, bolder and more emotional on almost every level. But what about Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception? Sure, the first two games arguably did big-budget spectacle better than anyone else, but can this trick work for a third time? The studio’s response to this question is twofold: firstly (and somewhat unsurprisingly) it has grabbed the action dial and once again cranked it up a few more notches. Secondly, it has identified new horizons by simply asking, ‘Where hasn’t Nathan Drake been before?’ The resulting adventure delves deeper than ever into Drake’s character and pushes him to even more unexpected and farther flung corners of the earth.
Playing Uncharted 3, one can’t help but wonder if slapping the moniker of ‘Uncharted’ on the adventures of Nathan Drake is, on some levels, slightly ironic. While this quick-witted adventurer is focused on entering and exploring the unknown, the underlying mechanics are anything but ‘uncharted’; Drake’s path – from his first steps in the original Uncharted through to this latest instalment – is one that has been meticulously crafted and directed, with Naughty Dog striving for a magnificently honed but nonetheless linear experience that has a flagrant disregard for such catchwords as ‘emergent’ and ‘open world’. Though such control-freak production values could be seen as a point of contention, to criticise Uncharted for being too linear is as relevant as criticising something like Grand Theft Auto for not being linear enough; to play Uncharted 3 is to wittingly place yourself in the clutches of Naughty Dog’s vision. The studio is ultimately a storyteller with the gamer’s role being to inhabit that of Nathan Drake and usher him along a pre-determined path, and so it is with this third instalment.
In the wrong hands, such hand holding could be disastrous, but Naughty Dog’s technical ability, imagination and unfaltering conviction in its creation make it easy to give in and let them take you on a journey. Just as with its predecessors, Uncharted 3 also has an uncanny knack of hiding the strings that pull Drake through the game and that allow stunning set-pieces to play out with unrivalled fluidity; though many of the events are pre-determined in nature, the illusion that it is you that is directing the action rarely slips.
The gameplay ingredients that make up Uncharted 3 are the same as those that accounted for the successes of the previous games – a heady mixture of platforming, puzzling, gun-play and semi-interactive set-pieces combine to create a whole that is rarely less than gripping, even when there is an air of predictability about much of the adventure. So, every fingertip ledge grab and every leap into the unknown brings with it the same duality of emotion showcased by the best action movies – deep down you know that Drake will make that jump, but the game still manages to consistently put you into a state of sweetly dramatic uncertainty.
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