If you’ve read the opinions of most of the mainstream media, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the lead developer of Uncharted 3 was Christ himself. “Gorgeous graphics! Unforgettable story! Amazing characters! Innovative gameplay!”, they all shriek. It’s my sad (read: incredibly joyful) duty to inform you all that other than that first claim, all of that shrieking is complete bollocks. Maybe they all received a completely different game, one that was indeed all of that. I, though, got something that although fun to play, was incredibly lackluster when it came to fulfilling its lofty goals.

The story is as follows: the hero, Nathan Drake, wants to get to some sort of very badly defined treasure before someone else does. He’s aided by his mentor, Victor Sullivan, and his love interest from the previous games who always seems to break up with Drake off-screen in-between games, Elena. Earlier in the game, two other people, a British man named Cutter and a British woman named Chloe, also tag along, but they’re both very ill-developed and kicked out of the story 3 hours in, presumably because they’re British, and nobody likes those guys. Actually, that’s something of a lie, Chloe was in the lime light for quite a while in the second game, and was the only person in the plot who seemed to have any depth, no matter how little. Because of this, I’m absolutely baffled by her having absolutely no consequence to the plot of this game what so ever, and could’ve easily been replaced by a balloon animal that spoke in a sexy British accent.

May you please explain why the hell are you here, Chloe? Other than to look good next to the dirty men?

Drake needs to traverse the world, again, trying to figure out the puzzle left by his predecessor, Sir Francis Drake, as to how to get to this treasure, located in Ubar, Iram of the Pillars somewhere in the Rub-Khali Desert. He visits several different countries gathering clues, and the puzzles guarding these clues leave me to wonder how one man could set up such an elaborate riddle without a diligent construction crew. And moreover, why he would do so. We learn late in the game that Ubar hosts evil spirits or something along those lines, and that Francis Drake was aware of this, and preferred to turn back and leave the treasure rather than unleash them. So, I ask, why would he leave any evidence that the place even existed at all, let alone where it lay?

I guess the developers wanted to stretch their muscles by making a desert area, but Sir Francis couldn't have known THAT.

In any case, you read that I mentioned professional critics kept jabbering about “Amazing Characters!”, and I certainly would’ve hoped so, considering the incredibly weak plot set-up. Good characters are enough to carry a story, I suppose, but thing is, these AREN’T good characters. People keep bringing up Indiana Jones when describing Drake; Both are adventurers seeking lost treasure without any sort of government aid and permission. But Indy had actual motives, and was a relatable character whose personal life we occasionally glimpsed into so we knew what he was fighting and adventuring for, and most importantly, that he was reluctant about fighting and adventuring, meaning that we could somewhat overlook his murder of Nazis, who nobody minds dead anyway. Drake has none of this, in any of the games. We have no idea what his personal life is like, we know very little of his backstory, and we have no idea what his motivation is. It’s presumably becoming filthy rich, but he never says that, even when asked straight up by several characters. And I think I know why: On the course of his adventures, he’s killed enough blameless mercenaries to cover the surface of the moon with, and nothing he says could justify that. But regardless, the game constantly makes him out as a hero who has moral superiority, but absolutely nothing he says or does verifies this. The villains threaten his friends with death, sure, but Drake has already killed hundreds of their goons, so as far as I’m concerned, they’re justified doing so. He never even feels remorse, and indeed, the entirety of what I’d reluctantly call his personality is based on him tossing out horrible wisecracks, before, during, and after a bloody battle that results in dozens of deaths he caused. This isn’t a hero, this is a bloody physcopath who is actually worse than the villains, the people we’re supposed to hate. I wouldn’t mind so much if the game didn’t feel the need to glorify him at every turn, with every character following in his wake. Sure, we learn that the villains want to harness the power of those evil spirits I mentioned , but Drake learns of this while already sitting on a mountain of corpses; metaphorically, of course, he isn’t Kratos. (That sounds like a spoiler, but if you’ve played the previous games and couldn’t figure that out before you even put the disc in, please go dust off your brain).

That mercenary probably just wanted to feed his wife and two beautiful children, you asswipe.

What infuriates me, though, is that the game has several moments where they could’ve made Drake somewhat sympathetic, but completely screws them up with a tactical nuclear strike. Its implied that Drake and Elena were married after Uncharted 2 but broke up before this game, and being able to glimpse into their marriage would’ve given some much needed insight into Drake’s personality and activities when he isn’t drinking the blood of his victims (again, metaphorically). This doesn’t happen of course; we’re not even given a passing mention as to why they seperated. There’s a segment early in the game where we see Drake in his youth, but we don’t see him transition from a normal boy into a thief and killer: we play with him when he’s already become one, so apparently he’s always been a smug prick. The big bad, a woman named Marlowe, has a chat with him later in the game, bringing up the suicide of his mother and being abandoned by his father, which I thought was interesting and could’ve been used to justify his passively homicidal nature (not that the game will admit that he has one), but beyond this incredibly quick mention, it’s never, ever brought up again. The person who wrote that into the script and immediately forgot about it deserves to be pit against Drake himself. Let’s see if he can like his character while Drake bashes his brains in for no reason other than the fact he’s wearing an enemy uniform.

Alright, perhaps that's a bit much, but you get the idea.

I usually wouldn’t spend this much time beating the hell out of the main character, but this is a character driven plot, and the plot being driven in this case is a beat-up car commandeered by a drunken retard, who only reaches his destination after slamming into countless pedestrians whose only fault was walking on the sidewalk, and then crashing the car when he arrives. The passengers are all pretty bland, too: Sully is a cookie cutter mentor, whose only purpose is to tease Drake and occasionally give him a pep talk, and Elena is the love interest whose love for the protagonist is not only contrived, but implausible, considering all of their screen time together involves blowing people up while Drake wise cracks all the way. The villains being chased aren’t fleshed out in the least bit, whose motivations are as nonexistent as Drake’s. “I NEED THAT TREASURE!” Marlowe cries, while sitting in her gold filled library, surrounded by suit-wearing bodyguards and backed up by a mecenary force that would shame several African countries. Again, we learn her true intentions much, much later, but it honestly feels like a last-ditch attempt at making her seem evil, which fails at doing even that much, because we have no idea what exactly she wants to do with the spirits. For all we know, she wants to challenge them in a game of tennis. Bottom line is, the story is paper thin, paper that fails to wipe the filth that is the lead characters from the writer’s ass.

Aw, look, they love each other. And killing, of course.

Again, usually I don’t spend so much time with the plot, but I wanted to break down some notions that this game is some sort of pinnacle of story and character development. The gameplay here is infinitely stronger. It consists of equal parts climbing many different interpretations of a wall and mercilessly gunning down enemy mercenaries. Thankfully, this is all still very fun, if identical to Uncharted 2’s gameplay. The one thing that puts Uncharted 3’s gunplay over most shooters is that there are multiple points you can approach a firefight from, and you’re free to take up any position you want, and the battle areas are usually big enough that this actually matters. You’re never forced to fight for too long, and enemies take a reasonable amount of damage, although it mystifies me how the enemies can run, gun, and swallow your bullets in suits. You can’t swallow much yourself, though, and are forced to take cover and shoot from behind it. It can be exhilarating, running from cover to cover taking potshots at everyone, but disengaging Drake from cover is like trying to disengage an American father from his couch. Occasionally a big guy with a shot gun lumbers toward you, swallowing your bullets as though you were firing peas, and oft times he manages to get behind you before you can get Drake to move his stupid ass from his current cover and blows you a couple of new eye sockets on the back of our head. Its never too frustrating, but it’s especially annoying in tight corridors, where guys will flank you before you can get up. Generally, though, the shootouts are fun and flow very well.

I'll admit, it IS pretty fun having a shoot-out in the middle of a crashing plane.

The important thing is the pacing, though. Just when you might be sick of shooting, you’re faced with a climbing section to relieve the tension and allow you to admire the game’s gorgeous visuals. The climbing is very easy, in contrast with some of the more hectic firefights: you have to make your way up ledges and poles, tapping the X button and pointing in the direction you want to leap. It’s never hard to figure out what ledge you want to jump onto while climbing, because Drake can only go so far before gravity smashes his smug face against the floor, and the only difficulty is figuring out where to begin…. supposedly. The game squashes that notion by having most of the starting ledges brightly colored , contrasting from the rest of the environment, so the climbing overall is more of a sight-seeing tour rather than an actual test of agility and reflexes, like Assassin’s Creed and Prince of Persia. There are times when the gunning and climbing meld, though, forcing you to leap from cover wall to cover wall while climbing up a vertical wall, which is probably the only time you’re ever going to actually be awake during climbing sections.

Oh SURE, this looks hard, but it isn't. Really.

Thing is, all of this, while functional, is still very generic, nothing that hasn’t been done before, and usually better. Hell, the mechanics themselves are virtually unchanged from Uncharted 2. What makes them special in Uncharted 3 is that they’re usually combined with cinematic set-pieces. You could be climbing through a burning mansion, shooting through a falling airplane, or climbing AND shooting through a crumbling city (which is crumbling because of Drake, by the way). It really does make the game a whole lot more action packed than most others, and is the perfect example of how to do combine movie set pieces with gameplay correctly, and is where action games should be going as part of their evolution. About half of Uncharted 3’s game time would’ve been relegated to cutscene in lesser games, or done completely WRONG in games like Heavy Rain, whose idea of cinematic gameplay involved you pressing a button every so often during a cutscene, making the game feel more like a movie where you occasionally had to fiddle with the remote. Uncharted 3 finds the perfect mix, always keeping the player in control during scripted sequences and therefore making them feel like they’re actually contributing to the game. Uncharted 2 did this, mind, but the cinematics play out much differently here, so one can’t call them rehashed. It should be applauded for this effort, and moreso for doing it well, but only after I’m done ripping it apart.

You're expected to climb up to this thing. While its in motion. You never see LARA CROFT doing these things.

The game features several puzzles, a couple more than the second game had, but once again, opening your journal tells you exactly what to do, so I have to question why the bloody hell there are puzzles here to begin with. But unlike the second game, where the puzzles popped up in between huge firefights to give the players a breather, here, a pair is always stuck 5 minutes away from each other(and there are only 2 pairs) so the only feasible reason for these puzzles (pacing) has been destroyed. They’re not even complex, whether or not you had a journal with you. Its never more complicated than placing gears in the correct spot, or turning statues around. At least Uncharted 2’s puzzles involved some climbing to keep your mind from vegetating.

This here is much harder than any of the puzzles in Uncharted 3.

There’s also been an increased emphasis on hand to hand combat; while in the previous games it was just a convenient way to get rid of nearby enemies that required no finesse, this game seems to be desperately trying to channel the Batman: Arkham games and failing miserably. You can quickly switch from one enemy to the other, countering their blows, but where it fails is that the animations are so repetitive. There’s about 2 or 3 counters I’ve seen, which I’ve had to use against a hundred bloody enemies. You can use pieces of the scenery against enemies, which is a nice touch and helps make the combat bearable, but oft times there isn’t anything to use, especially during larger fights. It’s like baking a cake for a soldier every time he comes back home, wounded and bandaged, but forgetting to do so when he’s hit by grenade shrapnel. The worst offense, though, is that taking down one enemy just takes too bloody long, and you don’t have time in the middle of a firefight to punch them down, but the game always throws enemies at you that initiate the combat themselves, something that Uncharted 2 never did. There’s even areas where you’re thrown into a room full on enemies, unarmed, and you’re only choice is to tediously knock them down with your fist. I realize they had to try something new, because the shooting and climbing mechanics were recycled, but I feel the game would’ve done a lot better by throwing the whole idea in the bin.

Not pictured here: you punching this guy for 15 seconds while someone behind you is ready to get busy with a shotgun.

If this is the first review of Uncharted 3 you’ve read, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the lead developer behind the game was Satan himself. As negative as this all sounds, though, I have to admit that the game is still really fun to play. The cinematic nature of the gameplay ensures it never gets boring and helps it stand out among the rest of the crowd, and if you’re one whose always ignored the dialogue and story of a game and was just there for the shooting and the explosions, punch yourself in the face for being so narrow-minded and shallow,  but feel rewarded when you play Uncharted 3, because you’ll have a better time than I did. The game is still pretty short, though, clocking in at 8 hours, so I wouldn’t recommend running to get it at full price. Get it cheap, or rent it; that’s as much as I’ll recommend.

If you haven't played it, though, get Uncharted 2 instead. It's much better, but all that's for another day.

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