Nathan Drake's latest journey is a treasure unto itself.
Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception is the reason I play video games. From the smile plastered on my face during the opening montage to the disbelief that swept over me as Chapter 2 began to the middle of the night text message I shot a friend about a relationship reveal, I couldn't stop loving this touching, beautiful, fun and engaging game. From the moment the music swells on the title screen to the moment the credits roll, Uncharted 3 is a masterpiece.
That shouldn't surprise you. The original Drake's Fortune set the bar for visuals and third-person adventures on the PlayStation 3. Uncharted 2: Among Thieves greatly improved on that, added multiplayer and climbed its way to the 2009 IGN Game of the Year award. Developer Naughty Dog spent the two years since then making bigger moments -- think platforming in a capsized cruise ship and surviving a cargo plane crash -- and working on the few complaints from the last title. Complaints primarily stemming from the fact that, to some, Uncharted 2 felt too much like the original Uncharted.
Uncharted 3's tale sounds familiar. We have the same cast of characters in our handsome hero Nathan Drake and his seasoned mentor Victor "Sully" Sullivan and the same general idea of a lost city that needs finding before the bad guys get there. But this isn't the games that came before. Uncharted 3's greatest strength is its unpredictability.
From the barroom brawl that opens the game and introduces its new melee system to a mid-game conversation between villainess Katherine Marlowe and Drake that literally redefines a pillar of this franchise, I didn't know what to expect in Uncharted 3. Naughty Dog sets aside the betrayal/twist formula used in the first two games and focuses on Nate and Sully's relationship. It takes you to the precipice of the Uncharted hallmarks you might expect, let's you stare at them, and then veers off in another direction.
Yes, the gameplay still revolves around climbing walls and shooting bad guys, but refinement found those mechanics. For the first time, the words "fun" and "useful" describe melee combat. Uncharted 2's clumsy stealth parts no longer exist. Running through levels and taking cover doesn't get old because Naughty Dog has done so much to merge the gameplay with the story, perfecting the pacing and making everything look fantastic in the process thanks to cutting edge graphics and excellent cinematography. The end product rises above what the buttons do and how you maneuver Drake. Calling it a game sells Uncharted 3 short. This is an experience, a complete package.
Well, ain't that pretty?
When I rant about why Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception is better than just about anything on the market -- about why I think it's my new favorite game of all time -- I don't talk about the firefights, the new ability to throw grenades back at enemies or collecting the game's 101 well-hidden treasures. I talk about the heart-wrenching section where Drake is by himself and completely lost. He's on his last legs, he's desperate, and I'm right there with him. I'm pushing him through the journey at hand and it's clear that it's a game, but as he stumbles, seeks shelter and loses hope, my heart breaks.
In a way, this is what Naughty Dog has been building to for the last four years. Players know the Uncharted cast. Most love the banter between Drake and Sully, the love affair between Elena and Drake or the one-liners Drake shouts to himself as the game goes on. Naughty Dog created a universe here that players feel connected with, but, again, the developers toy with that. They insert things that take the mentor/pupil relationship to another level. They flesh out backstories, they break bonds, and they make us face the characters' worst fears. And, no, those fears aren't clowns.