There’s an action sequence in the first Uncharted game where everything suddenly clicks into place, and for a fleeting moment it feels like you’re starring in a Hollywood movie. It may only last about half a minute, but it has come to define the PS3-exclusive series as it stands today. How do we know this? Because there’s a mini-documentary included with the new game that explains exactly how those 30 seconds became the mission goal for subsequent instalments. It was notably achieved with Uncharted 2, a groundbreaking affair that provided a genuinely cinematic experience, specifically the cinema of the Indiana Jones films.
It’s pretty much the same format this time round, with titular antiques thief Nathan Drake again playing hard and fast with historical accuracy in a plot that embraces Francis Drake, Lawrence Of Arabia, and The Lost City Of Atlantis. New and familiar faces turn up for the ride, which takes in such exotic locales as France, the desert, and a London pub.
The story plays out via frantic action, playable flashbacks, and even hallucinogenic trips, with Drake almost constantly in peril and often surviving via the skin of his fingertips, which always seem to conveniently find something to cling to. Of course the drama is all captured by the dynamic camera, which practically swings round to show you exactly where to go next. Sometimes you even have to run towards the camera, all the better to show off the ensuing carnage happening inches behind you.
Antiques Road Show
It’s a trademark approach that provides for a relentless thrill ride that is probably almost as much fun to watch as it is to play. In fact, such is the predetermined nature of some of the action, you could question whether you’re actually playing a game at all, or simply pressing X repeatedly in order to watch an incomprehensible 11-hour film. Thankfully there are some more interactive areas: the melee system has been tweaked to include a dodge button, and there is of course a lot of shooting, with ancient tombs littered with fully functional guns and ammo.
That said, the aiming doesn’t feel quite as precise as its predecessor, something that is apparently going to be rectified by a downloadable update. On a purely moral level, the sheer amount of bloodshed does seem a little incongruous, considering that the lead character is essentially a younger, better-looking, and more dishonest version of Lovejoy. During the course of the single player campaign, we managed to kill 813 people, which seems a little excessive given that the main motivation was collecting a few archaic trinkets.
The Crystal Method
The puzzle sections do at least provide a change of pace, something of a cross between Tomb Raider and The Crystal Maze, albeit without a team of provincial accountants. It’s fairly unchallenging stuff, although if you do get stumped, simply standing around for a few minutes will activate the option to have the puzzle solved automatically – it’s all about keeping the action moving.
Suffice to say that action is portrayed via the very top level of graphical splendour, eking the best out of Sony’s machine. Allied to a rousing score, it is by and large compelling stuff, with some epic set pieces proving to be genuinely exciting. One of the more celebrated of these takes place on cruise ship, with a further cinematic homage paid to classic 1972 disaster movie, The Poseidon Adventure.
Lights, Camera, Action
The linearity of the campaign is emphasised by the fact that’s it’s broken up into chapters, and without telling you exactly how many there are, you should comfortably be able play through it in a handful of sittings. The point is that you will almost certainly finish the game, which is statistically not always the case these days. Such is the straightforward nature of the gameplay, you’re rarely in any doubt as to what to do next, and generally only minutes away from an explosive action sequence.
As for the story, you might occasionally lose the plot, but the cartoon villains pop up frequently enough for you to vaguely care what happens next, and there are a number of devious twists thrown in. The action frequently slips seamlessly into a cut scene, to the extent of sometimes catching you out, when you find yourself attempting to play a movie. Which was, of course, the original idea.
With the production values of a major motion picture, Uncharted returns in spectacular fashion. Indeed it is all about the spectacle, and the emphasis is on keeping the action flowing at all times. You’ll never get lost, puzzles are eminently solvable, and even death only sets you back a matter of seconds. There’s a suggestion that Uncharted 2 was the true breakthrough game, but number three carries on the tradition in fine fashion, providing a relentless action adventure that is accessible to anyone.