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CVG
27 Reviews

Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception

Unrivalled

You've seen bits of Uncharted 3. Giant, processor-stretching moments of scale like Drake being tossed about like frying scampi in a capsizing boat, or our hero clinging to an aeroplane's landing gear as it rushes vertiginously from the ground. You might have even thought that: "Wow, that's vertiginous."

But the game doesn't open with spectacle. It starts in the pub; a dusty, pleasingly authentic boozer playing host to Drake and Sully. There's a deal, suspense, London drizzle, East End heavies - but while it's not the eager-to-please attention grabber you might expect from the biggest blockbuster on PS3, it's packed with fine detail, nuanced performances, and a storytelling confidence that's just as gripping as any showy, cards-on-the-table opener you care to mention.

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Of course, as you get a little further, those moments of spectacle show up in force, in greater numbers and with greater impact than in previous games. It makes Uncharted 3 a refined juggling act of emotional smarts and technical muscle, the real trick being able to combine the two rather than having them run in parallel.

PUB CRAWL

How is that done? Well, take the pub level. At the same time as drawing an atmospheric night scene and laying the first brick of the game's twisting plot, it also casually introduces a completely overhauled melee combat system. A cash-for-artefact handover having gone fist-shaped, Drake and Sully fight their way out of an upstairs pool room, with basic kicks and punches now joined by Batman-style counter-attacks, crowd-managing shoves and thumping, contextual takedowns which leave the room littered with snapped pool cues and broken glass.

Even before the fighting - and after, in a languidly-paced flashback mission giving us our first glimpse of young Drake - the game's quality bursts through just in the way its characters walk. Drake raises a warding hand as he brushes up against walls and obstacles, twists his hips and double-steps as he changes direction, and sometimes gives a lingering look to some object as he's turning around.

Player-controlled motion will never look entirely realistic - we'd worry for the health of anyone seen shuffling toward a ledge inch-by-inch or jumping repeatedly for non-existent hand-holds - but Uncharted 3 and its much-discussed performance capture do a fine job of making movement more natural without compromising on responsiveness.

But enough of the sexy talk. If bar-brawling and improved walking aren't on your Uncharted 3 wishlist, pretty much everything else in the game probably is. Once the foundation of the story is laid - precisely, engagingly, with barely a fired bullet - the game picks up its stride and shows you what it can do.

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Think back to Uncharted 2's highlights - the train level (both in the opening climb and, later, the moving warzone), rifle battles on huge Himalayan bridges, the unexpected calm of a native village - and Uncharted 3 out-does them all, comprehensively. Its visual effects are more arresting, its action more hyperbolic. Dammit, even the peaceful bits are more peaceful.

The spine of the single-player you've seen already, if you've been following the game's breadcrumb build-up. The burning chateaux first, Drake and Sully's first stop for clues leading to the lost city of Iram ('The Atlantis of the sands,' according to Lawrence of Arabia).

What the videos can't show is the quality of the lighting effects as you move Drake through the inferno, the flickering shadows and richness that the flames paint across the screen.

You've probably also seen the capsizing boat, which fills with water as gravity is realigned and Drake topples into the foamy depths. Hands-on, this feels like the train level seriously upgraded - not just running and fighting on a moving vehicle, but falling and climbing through dynamic water simulations as that giant vehicle rolls and rebuilds the environment in real time.

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