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Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception is most spectacular, tightly-directed, addictive and totally escapist adventure ever to grace a games system.
I rounded a crumbling wall to be faced with glaring sunlight. Suddenly, an explosion rocked me off my feet and I dived for the pitiful shelter offered by a collapsed column. I fired wildly and blindly back in the direction of the enemy and grinned with satisfaction at the sound of a weapon clattering to the ground, abandoned by dead hands. Breaking cover in search of better ground, I was stopped short - A heavy rifle-butt smacked me in the face and scattered me to the ground. Scrambling across the floor, I picked myself up to face my attacker and swung for him, fists wheeling. The soldier's blocks were too effective, but even as a competent boxer he didn't guard the grenade on his belt as effectively as his face. I pulled the pin free, leaving the deadly pineapple strapped to his waist. I dived for shelter as my hapless assailant tugged in futility at his ammo belt.
Uncharted 3 borrows as much from its own legacy as a century of adventure cinema. It's easy to take it at face value and point out the moments which feel like a retread of Uncharted 2's ground. On a similar scale, The Last Crusade could be taken as a reworking of Raiders of the Lost Ark's themes. But, just as fans of Indiana Jones would know the important differences between those two films, so will those who love the Uncharted series will be as equally aware of Uncharted 3's distinctive character and dramatic action.
It's easily the most blockbuster ride of the series. Without giving too much away, I can name-check action sequences involving water, horses, planes, sand and busy markets which are all genuinely thrilling. There's plenty of big action and explosions even in the most basic of encounters.
Despite the increase in bombast, Uncharted 3 is a far more serious journey though. This can mean that at times I missed the easy and carefree writing of Uncharted 2: Among Thieves. Sadly, there are few moments here which raise a smile as much as the previous game's references to Chloe's backside, clowns or "there's a man above you". However, Uncharted 3's ensemble cast weaves a gripping narrative, with some genuinely heartfelt scenes between Drake, Elena, and Sully which push the story to another level. The believability and - more importantly - the maturity of the drama is as impressive as the action set-pieces.
The maturity of the drama is as impressive as the action set-pieces.
Even for all of this, it is too on-rails at times. There were moments where I tried to move the character in the wrong direction, simply to see if I was still in control. The previous game balanced free action with set-pieces almost perfectly, but Uncharted 3 leans too much towards directed spectacle. Heavy Rain divided audiences with its occasional lack of interactivity, and there are moments where Uncharted 3 plays in a very similar way, especially in the opening levels.
At times I felt I was simply pressing the controller forward to allow a cut-scene to play out. The tight direction means that, taken as a whole, Uncharted 3's narrative pacing is masterful. Unfortunately, this results in a game-play cost -- an overly slow opening and a some lengthy mood pieces which already feel tiresome on the first play through.
On the other hand, there are moments of emergent narrative which grow from the action. I found it easy to become embroiled in a tussle with an enemy who perhaps caught me off-guard, or neatly evaded my pursuit or even provided me with some slapstick comedy as I smashed a jar over his head.
In fact the melee combat is a vast improvement and the ability to grab nearby objects - or pull the enemy's grenade pin as in my story - is a great innovation. Hand combat may not be as fluid as Batman: Arkham City, but then Drake is not as all-powerful as the caped crusader and the action here far better matches the hero's slugging. In fact, the "brute" battles which provide mini-boss moments are very reminiscent of Indy's fisticuffs with oversize goons, as he desperately lands punch after punch onto an almost unflinching opponent. This mechanic lends masses of character to the action.
The real star of Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception is Nate and the environments around him. As the player runs through crowded environments, Drake will occasionally put a hand on a wall for balance, or even to push in a new direction. One moment which particularly impressed me was where I had stopped running, but because I was on uneven ground, Drake placed one foot on a small rock for steadiness. What makes this game so magical is the hundreds of tiny moments like these which add up to an incredible experience. These are moments which I know can't be easily reproduced, but of which I know there will be many more.
The locations are breathtaking and rendered with an incredible fidelity. Each is drawn with a painterly eye and Uncharted 3 promises some settings rarely seen in games of this nature. For any level which bears comparison to one in another game, there will be three others which feel truly fresh.
Uncharted 3's winning addition is the inclusion of split-screen multiplayer.
Uncharted 3's winning addition is its split-screen multiplayer. Not only does this enable me to enjoy the narrative co-op levels with my other half, but the split-screen also allows a friend to join me in mixed online matches which is a fantastic bonus. There are also a wealth of multiplayer modes including some interesting new three-team options. With the addition of a dedicated LAN multiplayer mode for real enthusiasts, the developers have made a huge effort to make a multiplayer game with something for everybody.
But, as I say, the real strength of Uncharted 3 is the unfolding drama. So much so that even detailing the incredible locations would deny you the sheer thrill of surprise upon encountering them for the first time. Uncharted 3 is a stunning journey and one that I recommend that you take as soon as possible.
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