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those who read this column regularly will have heard me express significant reservations about the perceived need to make video games that look and feel like movies. i'm not going to rehearse here the reasons behind my doubts as to whether this should be a prominent focus within game development, but what i will say is that if the cause needed a genuinely superb example to which it could point, then its wait is over.
Uncharted 3 might not represent so extensive a technical forward leap as Uncharted 2 did over the original, but, as someone who admired the second instalment but never really took to it, i'm delighted to say that, in terms of depth and refinement of experience, the advancements are huge.
from the masterful pacing, the exquisite aesthetics and the well-honed, well-written, well believable characters, to the absorbing and unpredictable narrative arc, Uncharted 3 is a thing of great craft. it is (or at least should become) a genuine blockbuster of a game - and i don't mean in the Michael Bay, robots hitting each other sort of way (the new CoD is out soon) - i mean in the literal, original meaning of the term: a film so epic, so exciting, so capturing of the public imagination, that it created queues around the block.
i hope that you know by now that i'm not one to use hyperbole lightly, or even one to be naturally inclined to see the bright side of mediocre situations; but this, this is an Empire Strikes Back of a game.
reintroducing us to the same crop of main characters that have featured in the previous instalments, we set out on a new 'Nate' Drake adventure which throws us first into a frantic and bad-outcome-laced bar brawl, then steers us, somewhat dazed, into a languid and intriguing flashback.
from 'Twenty years earlier', we direct Drake over sand and sea, across gritty, urban scapes, through lush, green forests to the 'up', 'round' and 'in' which make for hunting clandestine treasures entombed in ancient ruins. the stature of the ambition inherent in the scope of Uncharted 3's various environments is second only to the fact that each is as deep and rich as it's wide and varied.
this is an Empire Strikes Back of a game.
macro to micro - beautifully carved set-pieces or grand narrative shifts, all the way down to the way fire drips from a burning ceiling or grains of sand lodge in Drake's hair as he ascends an amber dune - this is truly as detailed and engrossing a visual experience as i've had with a game.
likewise the note-perfect soundscapes, the substantial, at-ease character models, the exquisitely balanced controls and so on. it was seriously difficult to find anything about Uncharted 3 at the outset that i didn't like or that stuck out as unnatural within the context of the game, and the longer things went on, the less i cared about looking for flaws.
i guess in a way that's the ultimate compliment as a reviewer i can offer - to say that something transcended the prodding awareness of the fact that as well as engaging the game on its own terms, i'm also looking at it and judging it against a set of alternative criteria, for an utterly external purpose. very rarely anymore do i feel as absorbed by a gaming experience as i did journeying through Uncharted 3.
i suppose those who weren't so taken might express frustration at the simplistic puzzles, the slight handholding in the quicktime event-driven melee sequences or the linear nature of the platform sections in comparison to the considerably more open combat scenarios, but these aspects struck me as nice contrasts as opposed to lapses.
i guess my experiences with Uncharted 3 bring me to the edge of what i can usefully say in a review - in a sense it felt almost like a well tailored, even bespoke garment; just the right side of over-bombastic to entertain me, well-crafted enough to reward the suspense of my usually overactive sense of disbelief, and packaged in such a way as to impress and engross, but not quite excite the cynical glands.
props to Naughty Dog for their apparent enthusiasm for offline multiplayer.
i usually fall this hard for understated, indie-ish games with shy smiles and self-effacing senses of humour - let's be clear, Uncharted 3 is not that game. this is a large-scale, high-budget epic that just happened to hit the right note for the right amount of time to leave me immensely satisfied. in a way what Uncharted 3 does is the hardest thing to get right - success with the odds.
what is more, if the around-eight-hour single player leaves you gasping for more (which it will) then your options are by no means limited: as well as the faster-paced, combat-focussed online multiplayer, there is also a robust and engaging co-op mode which utilises a narrative that runs parallel to but departs from that of the single player experience.
as well as online co-op i have to give props to Naughty Dog for their apparent enthusiasm for offline multiplayer, a largely dying art-form for which many at GP still hold a flame, myself included. the split-screen option plays and works as well as, if not slightly better than its online equivalent, and makes for a really satisfying shared experience in which both players can use their own PSN sign-in and thus both benefit independently from the joint exploit.
all round, Uncharted 3 is a quite outstanding game. if Chris Nolan proved with Inception that it was still possible to take a huge cheque from a Hollywood studio and make a complex, sharp, penetrating film with it, then Uncharted 3 is the best and most recent example of a big release getting it similarly absolutely right.
good gameplay makes a good game, more than special effects, filmic cut scenes or a slick script.
so have i changed my mind about whether games should being trying to be like films? well, i guess i'd refer you to the fact that one swallow a summer doth not make. having said that, Uncharted 3 is certainly the new benchmark, and if it were to inspire a race to the top, then i guess i'd have to make more concessions.
i guess it would be slightly churlish, having been enveloped by the entirety of the experience, to say that it was ultimately the narrative that made Uncharted 3 so satisfying. however, taking a step back, i would still stand by the claim that it is ultimately good story and good gameplay that makes a good game, far more so than impressive special effects, filmic cut scenes or a slick script.
if there were more games like Uncharted 3 then the gaming world would be a better place, but unfortunately so tricky is the balance it has struck that i have little doubt that considerably more rivals will die near its basecamp than will scale its heights.
still, tomorrow will take care of itself - let's talk of today - Uncharted 3 is in your local shops, and, if i may be so bold as to advise: take some money, find the right queue and join it.
[if you'd like to see more of the weird and wonderful world of reallyquitetired then the door is always open at his semi-detached house/blog]
With so many different perspectives it can be hard to know where to start - a little like walking into a crowded pub. Sorry about that.
But so far we've not found a way to streamline our review output - there's basically too much of it. So, rather than dilute things for newcomers we have decided to live with the hubbub while helping new readers find the columnists they will enjoy.
Our columnists each focus on a particular perspective and fall into one of the following types of gamers: