First On TechTree: Review — UNCHARTED 3: Drake's Deception (PS3)
Attention Michael Bay: This is how you make a blockbuster.
Superlative cinematic experience; Phenomenal character animation; Captures the essence of the adventure genre; Excellent art direction; Amazing texture work; Staggering attention to detail; Scalable puzzles; No two levels look the same; Fun combat.
Weapons lack balance; A few combat sequences are frustrating; Hand-to-hand combat gets repetitive.
UNCHARTED 3: Drake's Deception (PS3)
Developer: Naughty Dog
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment America
Genre: Action \ Third-Person Adventure
Price: Rs 2700 (Game4u.com; Letsbuy.com; Flipkart.com)
Valve's seminal shooter Half-Life eschewed cutscenes altogether to sow the seeds of a cinematic gaming experience that was unprecedented for its time. Subsequent war shooters abused its model of scripted events; effectively restricting gamers within invisible walls of awkwardly placed triggers. Somewhere along the line, overzealous game developers had lost the fine balance between restrictiveness of scripted events and the freedom of open gameplay mechanics.
Along came Naughty Dog with its Tomb Raider clone, showing sparks of cinematic brilliance in a gameplay sequence spanning 20-odd minutes. Realising its potential, the developer caved a niche for itself by making an entire sequel out of the well-received sequence. The rest is history.
The million dollar question is - does UNCHARTED 3 take a similar quantum leap? Not really. Then again, it doesn't have to. It distils the formula with structured, methodical development and painstaking attention to detail. Generally, I wouldn't recommend this genre to hardcore PC gamers and old-schoolers who value gameplay over elaborate yet linear set pieces. However, this game is an exception. Naughty Dog succeeds where others fail, thanks to an approach that's as precise and incisive as a scalpel.
Pimp My House: Before.
Just like a scalpel consolidates your might onto a specific point, UNCHARTED 3 focuses all its energy on achieving an exhilarating yet seamless cinematic experience. The game's adrenaline soaked action sequences and white-knuckle chases mask the scripted events quite well. It's simple how it works. Instead of forcing you to hunt down the triggers, the narrative constantly pushes you to the brink. That's where everything boils down to pure instincts, which makes your actions and choices all the more predictable. The developers capitalise on this and ensure that you never have to mull over what to do next in order to progress the plot. You just have to follow your gut, and the game ticks along like clockwork. Yes, at the end of the day, you are just a marionette being passed from one scripted event to another, but it's done with such seamlessness and polish that you no longer care about the not-so-subtle, yet inconspicuous loss of control. That's smoke and mirrors used to perfection. The game keeps the fun element intact by ensuring an uninterrupted experience that segues from one action sequence to another. Time a jump wrong or make a misstep, and Nathan will compensate by grunting and expending more energy to make the gap. That's a hell lot better than falling to your death and reloading to the last checkpoint.
The developers have their priorities right — this isn't supposed to be a Super Meat Boy, but a mainstream title meant for gamers of varying skill levels. Fortunately, that doesn't translate into dumbed-down puzzles. In fact, most of them combine the game's typical cinematic flair that gives you the freedom of using maps and notations to decipher devious mechanisms in the league of Tomb Raider or any challenging point-and-click puzzler. Naughty Dog employs clever temporal scripting, which lends a level of scalability that keeps the experience frustration-free even for the thickest among us.
Pimp My House: After.
This is achieved seamlessly without overly patronising hints cutting down your pride. Take a bit too long to figure out the puzzle and your comrades pitch in with a hint or two in general conversation. If you are still too dense to decipher the subtle clues, your buddies themselves will point out the obvious. It is only when all else fails that the game pretty much gives you the entire solution. Once again, the idea is to avoid frustration and maintain continuity.
A Balanced Narrative And Addictive Combat
The plot is well researched and, like the past few Tomb Raider titles, reinterprets history with a garnish of conspiracy theory. The scriptwriters have taken care to blend fact and fiction in just the right amount to keep the plot believable. Our intrepid treasure hunters are hot on the trail of the treasure left behind by Francis Drake and T.E. Lawrence, which takes them to the blistering deserts in search of the Iram of the Pillars - a fictional city, bang in the the middle of the UAE.
The main characters from the series — Sullivan, Elena, Chloe, and of course, Nathan return as the new story arc subtly builds on the chemistry between them, which has been developing over the past two games. I particularly like how the antagonist Katherine Marlowe has been fleshed out into the feminine equivalent of a Bond villain, replete with the characteristic sophistication and mind games. Fortunately, Naughty Dog has the good sense to tone the chemistry between Elena and Nathan down to a minimum. I couldn't have taken any of the lovey-dovey bullshit well, especially after the overdose of mawkishness evident in Gears Of War 3. The game knows how to strike a balance between an all-out adventure and just enough details to flesh out the characters.
Katherine Marlowe is the feminine equivalent of a Bond villain.
UNCHARTED 3 carries over the combat mechanics from the last game, which keeps things frenetic and interesting enough to serve as a perfect foil for the crazy cinematic sequences. Hand-to-hand combat is fun, but the limited quick time events make the affair repetitive. The tried and tested cover-based firefights are fast, dirty, and quite enjoyable until you square-off with a large number of enemies. Their dead accurate aim and the telepathic ability to hone in on your position is frustrating at times. That is, unless you ditch the assault rifles and submachine guns for scoped weapons and explosive munitions. Yep, weapons balance issues, combined with your foes' considerable appetite for lead makes certain firearms useless. However, this is restricted to only a few challenging skirmishes; the majority of the combat sequences kept me quite trigger happy.
When Technology Meets Art
UNCHARTED 2 was considered the most visually stunning game on PS3, but its successor takes it to the next level. It's one thing to boast of DX11 mumbo-jumbo such as tessellation and SSAO, and another thing to deliver a truly beautiful game. You need good art to go along with the sophisticated code. Naughty Dog delivers the former by the truckload, thanks to very talented level designers and texture artists.
This is evident in the fact no two levels look or feel the same. The Colombian and Yemeni levels, for example, feature distinct architecture and painstakingly crafted texture work. It's staggering to think of the number of man hours that must've gone into fleshing out each level. This is especially true when once you consider the stupendous amount of detail that has gone into segments that you will barely stay in for a couple of seconds.
The Rub' al Khali level is breathtaking.
Most of the levels pass in a blur of chases over rooftops, on horseback, jumping in and out of cars, and one particular level where you're free-falling off a cargo plane — a la No One Lives Forever. Even the levels that look seemingly mundane such as the cruise ship, are dramatically turned around. Literally at that. By the end of that level, the ship keels over and you have to contend with a fast sinking vessel, replete with procedural water and a clever blend of scripted and dynamic physics. Such visually diverse levels rendered with great attention to detail sets this title apart from your average AAA offering.
The desert stage is a good example of what can be achieved with six-year-old hardware. Naughty Dog has managed to recreate the physics as well as the hopelessness of the desert with a great blend of technology and potent cinematography. This level makes a good use of dynamic lighting, particle, and weather effects to show the effects of 600 square miles of heat and sand on Nathan.
Special mention goes out to the spectacular character animation. It isn't merely life-like, but it reflects finer aspects such as fatigue and exhaustion, which dictate how Drake interacts with the world. Stop moving in the desert sequences and the protagonist collapses realistically to the ground. Getting up subsequently requires quite a bit of coaxing with the analogue stick. The chase sequences see Nathan stumble, careen, and push against the walls, as he uses the leverage to make sharper turns. I can't think of any other game that employs such a wide gamut of animation loops tailor-made to suit such a variety of situations.
Bald European dudes with face masks is the reason why spies carry cyanide pills.
The sound department is equally competent, with well recorded DTS and Dolby Digital audio. The soundtrack is a blend of orchestral score and ethnic Arabic tunes that fit into the theme. The voice acting, foley work, and the aural delivery of the ensuing chaos is bang on. The multiplayer component is complex and rewarding enough to elevate replay value. Click here to read about it in detail. While basic multiplayer mechanics remain the same, the retail version gets extra maps and a splitscreen co-operative mode borrowed from the second instalment.
UNCHARTED 3 is a truly well-rounded game. It features a breathtaking single player campaign bolstered by a fun multiplayer component. The consummate perfection of the cinematic single player experience stands testimony to the endless beta testing and meticulous planning on the part of the developer. Naughty Dog has taken what it had achieved with Uncharted 2 to a whole new level of polish and flamboyance, to create one of the most stellar single player experiences you can have on any platform.
Yes, it has a few issues with combat and weapon balance, but these niggles are just as insignificant as a few scratches on a 100 Watt light bulb — one that's switched on. The game's fun quotient simply outshines any complaints one can come up with. It's one of the few platform-exclusive games that justifies purchasing a console.
Overall Rating: 4.5/5
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