The times when people look back over the years to utter something like, "Now that's how it's done!" are admittedly few and far between. In video game debates, they're even fewer. But once in a while there comes a time — stars align, lightning in a bottle, Rick Perry says something intelligent, whichever you prefer — when everything just clicks. The Uncharted series has been nothing but outstanding since the original title debuted back in 2007, but the boys at Naughty Dog have done the near-impossible. Roger Ebert can take his ant-game diatribe and suck it, Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception is a both a video game and cinematic masterpiece.
For those who haven't had the pleasure of playing any of the Uncharted games yet, a quick summary: Nathan Drake, a descendant of the famous explorer Sir Francis Drake, is a wily, charming, yet somewhat lackadaisical thrill seeker and treasure hunter. All games of the franchise have revolved around some kind of plot regarding a lost city or unimaginable ancient wealth. Uncharted 3 is no different in that way, Naughty Dog obviously didn't want to tread the same terrain again. This time, designers take a proven plot-line as a background to tell a much richer character-driven story about Drake and his mentor/partner Sully. While the earlier games revolved around Drake platforming and gunning his way to stop the bad guys just in the nick of time, Drake and Sully are in this together nearly the entire way, which adds a more compelling nature to the intensity. Not only is Drake getting himself into trouble, but he's also putting Sully's life in danger as well and, let's face it, he ain't exactly in the prime of life either.
To most, platforming can sometimes be a mixed-bag. Hell, anyone who's ever played Mario or Mega Man knows about that, but the Uncharted series takes it a step further with some fantastic set pieces. Uncharted 3 just about goes for broke with Drake facing a capsizing ship one minute and falling out of a cargo plane at 20,000 feet the next. There are times when the platforming seems a tad bit out of place (particularly when Drake is climbing the side of buildings in the middle of the day, in the middle of town, for example) but these are rare enough that they never feel repetitive. The true magic behind Uncharted 3 is how much the formula has been mixed up, in a good way. From one corner to another, Uncharted 3 keeps you guessing about what's going to happen next. Just when you're about to guess the next huge escape or next gunfight, Naughty Dog throws something out of left field and changes the sequence entirely.
The cinematic quality of Uncharted 3 is just as stellar, if not more so, than ever before. I'm not sure how Naughty Dog has learned to write such fleshed-out characters or such a tight and entertaining script, but I wish they could give seminars to other developers to show them how it's done. From the beginning, one of the best features of the Uncharted series has been the characters because they stay so true to themselves. No matter how major or minor the person's role, Naughty Dog clearly shows the highest attention to detail not just to the environment or the combat, but to the people we are supposed to connect with and feel for. We know Drake is a wise-cracking everyman without too much care in the world, but it's in his friendship with Sully that we see an entirely new part of him emerge. It's a wonderfully fresh detail given how many ladies Drake has saved in his day.
I could go on and on, but there's really nothing I can say without rambling over the same point again and again. From start to end, Drake's Deception is nothing but a thrill-ride of adventure and emotion brimming with tight gunplay and a wildly entertaining script and story. If there were ever a game to put on your Christmas list, this it it.
See you in the next level,