Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception review: Precious moments

If you were to take all the good parts -- you know, "Oh, guys, you have to see this one part," or "Watch! Watch! My favorite part's coming up!" -- of Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception, and strip away all of the filler, you'd be left with the same game you had when you started. It's not one to play host to unextraordinary moments: Every plane must crash, every truck must flip and every ancient, long hidden civilization must be discovered (and, as a natural result, destroyed).

The sequence of events that propels Uncharted 3 from start to finish has clearly been the subject of the same brilliant centrifuge which separated wheat from chaff in the series' previous outings. The moments of thrilling peril which punctuate Uncharted 3's every chapter have been daisy-chained together with exhausting proximity -- they're so close, in fact, that it's sometimes a little difficult to see the thread that ties them all together.

If the story driving Uncharted 3 sounds a little formulaic, it's because it's a little formulaic -- Drake (Nathan), with lifelong paternal partner Victor Sullivan in tow, is in pursuit of a secret hinted at in encoded passages penned by Drake (Sir Francis). His search for treasure, or rather insinuated treasure, takes him on a whistle-stop tour of the entire planet, unearthing hidden tombs, relics, puzzles and ancient, conveniently outcropped ledges to climb along the way.

He's joined by a few new friends and a great many old ones -- all of them, in fact -- but Drake's Deception is truly the Song of Nathan and Sully. It's long overdue; their unswervingly trusting partnership (rare, in a profession largely populated by scoundrels) desperately needed explaining, a treatment received in flashbacks and dialogue more substantial than the usual, vague hints: "Hey, remember Barbados?" "Oh, you would mention Barbados." Guys, what happened in Barbados?

Despite the exploration of the duo's history, so much of Uncharted 3 is fueled by a rehashing of the elements which made Uncharted 2 so loveable -- the playful dynamic between Drake and Elena, the sultry strength of Chloe, the insatiably lecherous comments of Sully. They're still the most compelling cast of characters ever assembled in a video game; they're just not much deeper this time around.

Those "good parts," however, make the series' previous installments look downright boring -- an impressive feat, since the opening of the last game saw you hanging from a cliff and off a train. That seems like small potatoes compared to the life-threatening situations Drake is now thrown into, each more memorable and pulse-quickening than the last.

I've actually got a hastily scrawled list I compiled while playing the game for review. I won't rewrite them all here, as removing the veil of ignorance between you and the thousand explosions of Uncharted 3 would be doing you a colossal disservice. Know only that the manner in which I scribbled the words "sinking frieghter [sic] holy shit" might be the most succinct and effective way to describe the punch this game's events pack.

It might not be the most erudite way to consume games, but Uncharted 3 is best viewed as a collection of remarkable moments. It's the best (and perhaps only) way to see past its faults: Its unwaivering dependence on the last game's structure, the oftentimes unclear motivations of both Drake and Drake's adversary, or the lackluster, over-before-you-know-it ending. It's all explosion with little exposition, yet the "good parts" far outweigh the weaknesses of the sum, further proving the game's piecemeal strength.

Of course, Drake's Deception has plenty more going for it. There's a multiplayer component which possesses a mind-boggling suite of customization options across both competitive and cooperative modes. The former features a collection of objective-based gametypes which will be familiar to fans of the last game's multiplayer offerings -- though the hugely fine-tunable loadouts make it equally rewarding for curious newcomers.

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The cooperative modes proved particularly gripping, with an objective-based Arena mode and three-hour mini-campaign to explore. I completed the whole campaign in a single sitting; not just because it was brief, but because I couldn't wait to see what new weapon upgrades and killstreak-esque Medal Kickbacks would unlock with each level. Naughty Dog smartly made cash earned in these modes transferable to the competitive half of the game, making it more than a distraction for the community's more aggressive players.

It's also an astonishingly beautiful game on every conceivable scale: From the ancient structures Drake's tasked with plundering, to the unique movement animations characters seem to constantly execute, all the way down to the plumes of sand Drake kicks down the glass-smooth face of a dune during an obligatory, Lawrence of Arabian desert trek.

It's just an inch further from perfection than Among Thieves -- but that's still closer than most game franchises get within their lifetimes. Moment to moment, it outshines just about every other game on the market, and while it doesn't exactly break the action-adventure mold, it fills it with such practiced substance that you don't really mind the familiarity of its shape.

This review is based on a final retail copy of Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception provided by Sony.

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