Arguably no video game has had more to live up to than Naughty Dog's latest release, Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception. After 2009's critical darling -- Uncharted 2: Among Thieves -- raised the bar of storytelling in the genre and received nearly every award, expectations reached a fever pitch leading up to the unveiling of this PlayStation 3 exclusive. Does the third installment live up to the hype?
You once again fill the shoes of Nathan Drake, a globe-trotting treasure hunter who has a penchant for thrilling adventure. Drake's latest undertaking has him and his mentor -- Victor Sullivan -- searching for the legendary lost city of Iram of the Pillars and the immeasurable fortune that could be awaiting them. But their old nemesis, Katherine Marlowe, and her nefarious organization is out to stop Drake and Sullivan from collecting this 16th century treasure.
The story is rich in intrigue, helping Uncharted 3 pull off the rare feat of making cutscenes as engaging as the action sequences. Naughty Dog has once again weaved a captivating story that incentivizes the player to uncover the mysteries behind this latest tale. The voice acting and camera work -- a few of the staples for the franchise -- continue to be the best video games have to offer. The actors breathe life into these characters, compelling the player to care about each throughout the 10-to-12-hour campaign.
One of the most striking upgrades from Uncharted 2 is the improved melee system. Naughty Dog has added depth to a once-shallow hand-to-hand combat system, allowing players to counter an enemy's attack in more cinematic ways. Ducking, dodging and blocking are pulled off by pressing triangle at just the right time while unleashing haymakers is controlled by the square button. It's an entertaining mechanic that breaks up the monotony one cover-based shooting sequence after another.
Uncharted 3 really excels at providing players with different challenges, whether it's solving a puzzle, traversing steep structures, battling foes with your fists or gunning down a room full of enemies. Add to that the breathtaking scenery, phenomenal graphics and blockbuster-worthy musical score, and Uncharted 3 is the rare video game that can be enjoyed by someone just watching it in action.
Another of the franchise's calling cards is the over-the-top set pieces. Though Uncharted 3 doesn't have as many jaw-dropping action sequences as its predecessor, the two that stand out are still technical marvels. One is on a massive ship, which rhythmically sways to the ferocious waves. Objects inside the ship also move in unison to the sea. Another highlight is a battle that takes place on a plane, which eventually begins to lose its cargo while you take on foes. These moments are part of what makes the Uncharted series one of the best of this generation.
After introducing multiplayer in Uncharted 2, Naughty Dog set out to flesh out the experience. The latest iteration brings boosters -- upgraded abilities that are unlocked after reaching a specific rank and then they must be purchased. These abilities can do anything from improving your character's speed to dropping a grenade after dying. Two of these boosters can be used during a match and with 30 to choose from, there is enough variety to taylor your choices to your play style. Once the boosters are selected it's time to choose a medal kickback, which grant you a perk for a limited time. There are 19 to choose from and need to be unlocked and purchased just like the boosters. But the kickbacks are only triggered once you reach a specific medal count during a match. Medals are earned for a wide-range of actions -- like racking up a number of kills without dying or running around the map for a predetermined distance. But Naughty Dog has also added chests throughout the maps that randomly offer a treasure that sometimes can grant you three medals toward your kickback amount.
The customization doesn't stop there. You can choose a custom character and deck him in a number of different outfits or you can select one of the heroes or villains from the story. Weapons also need to be unlocked and purchased along with attachments that can improve aspects like your aim or reload speed. The depth that Naughty Dog added to their multiplayer suite is quite impressive considering the series began as a single-player only experience.
Naughty Dog also added its own touch to multiplayer with some of the maps, which attempt replicate the heart-pounding single-player set pieces. One of the standouts begins with one team on a plane preparing for takeoff while the other team is in trucks trying to board the plane. Attempting to leap from one moving vehicle to another while trying to avoid the enemies' attacks is something no other multiplayer game has ever pulled off. It's one of many multiplayer levels that accentuate what the Uncharted series has done so well for so long.
The action online is fast-paced and hectic. The traversal system gives Uncharted a unique take on multiplayer as players will climb up the side of structures and leap from one crevice to another either escaping or hunting down an enemy. The one gameplay flaw is the melee system, which is relegated to awkwardly throwing an elbow when facing an enemy. There are silent takedowns, which are performed when surprising an enemy from behind, but it's a shame the developers could not add the single-player's deep melee system.
There are nine multiplayer modes -- six competitive and three cooperative. One of the co-op modes offers story-based missions with up to three players. Another pits you and two others against waves of soldiers. The co-op modes are nice for those who shy away from competitive clashes, and with Naughty Dog adding splitscreen, you and your friend can play locally.
Though it might not have eclipsed its much-heralded predecessor, Uncharted 3 is no doubt a worthy addition to one of the greatest franchises in gaming history. Naughty Dog continues to push storytelling in ways that are unmatched in the industry. The set pieces are in a class by themselves, providing one of the few true cinematic experiences in the genre. When coupled with the deep multiplayer, Uncharted 3 is a must buy for any PlayStation 3 owner and continues to be the definitive franchise on the PS3.