Uncharted 3: cinematic experience par excellence or dodgy sequel?

Developers Naughty Dog really had their work cut out for them. By creating Uncharted 2: Among Thieves, the Santa Monica-based studio set themselves the near-impossible task of developing a sequel to one of the greatest interactive experiences of our time. The formula was already in place, but they just had to get everything right: the gameplay, the shooting, the platforming, the set-pieces and the narrative. There were also the fans — legions of followers who worshipped at the altar of Nathan Drake and his companions Sully, Chloe and Elena. But like Nate, Naughty Dog laughed and jumped right into the chasm, despite being faced with insurmountable odds.

Uncharted 3's story kicks off with Nate and Sully meeting Talbot, a suspicious-looking English gentleman in an even more suspicious-looking English pub in an effort to conduct a ‘business' transaction. Talbot is looking to buy Sir Francis Drake's ring (which Nate religiously wears around his neck) for a large sum of cash. Several twists and betrayals later, Drake and Sully accompanied by Chloe and Jason Statham lookalike Charlie Cutter set off on an adventure to get to the bottom of Sir Francis Drake's ‘deception' — a secret voyage on which he had embarked on the orders of Queen Elizabeth I, of which all traces had either been erased or were awfully cryptic. Unlike previous games (in which Drake had been portrayed as a flawless hero), Drake's Deception exposes his flaws, insecurities and general obsession with Francis Drake. It shows that he is unrelenting in his pursuit — no matter what the cost. A lot of the game's cutscenes reflect this, with his companions often questioning his intentions. It would be an exaggeration to call the tone of the game ‘dark', but it's definitely not entirely as light-hearted as previous iterations. However, a lot of the game's trademark humour and one-liners are present, so there's no reason to fret.

In typical fashion, the game is an excellent mix of platforming, shooting, puzzling and set pieces that will have you on the edge of your seat, with each situation even more outrageous than the previous with a few, in particular, standing out. Some of the game's puzzles seem to make little sense, though, and this is a little disappointing, and while the graphics engine does justice to the game's environments, the locales themselves look a little dull thanks to a predominantly brown colour palette. Fortunately, the characters look better than ever and the engine does a great job of accommodating the game's over-the-top destruction. Each of the game's mechanics has been tuned to perfection and the game controls beautifully. The odd glitch is present but the game's checkpoint system is near-perfect, so you'll rarely have to repeatedly play extended sections of the game (save for some of the game's gunfights towards the end). The difficulty is excellently balanced in a traditional sense (the game gets harder as you progress through its levels) and the lack of any proper boss battles seems to fit in well with the theme. It's just a shame that a killer set-up is let down in the end by a final act that's less-than-spectacular.

There's no doubt that Uncharted 3 offers one of the most cinematic gaming experiences of the year thanks to some jaw-dropping set pieces, solid writing, fantastic voice acting and some of the best visuals seen on a console. It also helps that Uncharted 3 is the only competent third-person multiplayer shooter on the Playstation 3. However, combine a disappointing final act, iffy puzzles and an incredibly high bar set by its predecessor and you're left a little unsatisfied at the end of it all. On its own merits, Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception is an exceptional action/adventure game, but as a sequel to one of the greatest games of all time, it falls just a little short. Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception is available on Playstation 3.