The Uncharted series is well-known for its over-the-top, awe-inspiring moments — moments that make you want to lay down your controller for a minute and reflect on how awesome and immersing video games have become.
In Uncharted: Drake's Fortune, this happened when I came across an enormous, rusting World War II-era submarine that had been washed up on a jungle mountainside by a tsunami decades ago. In Uncharted 2: Among Thieves, it was when I had to climb and jump my way along a moving train to rescue my friend, fighting an entire army along the way.
In Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception, which hit stores this month, it happened during a less grandiose scene. While chasing a pirate through a ship graveyard, it began to rain. Video games have done rain before, but while the rain comes down in Uncharted 3, the sunlight is still shining. Each raindrop looks like a tiny crystal falling from the sky against the bright backdrop.
You have probably seen it in real life — when a rogue rain cloud drops its load in the middle of a sunny day. There is something indescribably eerie about it.
Naughty Dog, developers of the Uncharted series, managed to capture that feeling perfectly, once again flaunting an eye for detail and realism unparalleled in the game development community.
Of course, things get a little less real and a little more action-packed after that. Following the rain, as the sky grows darker and darker, you're swept off your feet by a tsunami. Unphased by nearly drowning, you then fight your way through an enormous yacht before blowing a hole in it and fighting your way back out as it sinks sideways into the ocean.
This back and forth is what the Uncharted series does best. Huge, explosive sets straight out of a big-budget action movie are pockmarked by elements of realism, such as a character placing his hand against a wall to steady himself or swatting bugs from his face.
Uncharted 3 does realism better than any game in the series, and that, unfortunately, extends to its storytelling.
Drake's Deception tells the most believable story in the series. In the previous games, you always had to fight some difficult, supernatural force. Not so in Uncharted 3, and I feel like the game lags its predecessors somewhat for that reason — I always liked it when, after fighting hundreds of pirates or mercenaries, you suddenly found yourself face-to-face with zombies or super-strong holy guardians.
In Uncharted 3, you still play as Nathan Drake, the everyday hero of the previous two games. Your goal is to unravel the mystery of the fabled Iram of the Pillars, a brass city long lost in the Rub' al Khali desert.
While the graphics, puzzles and character animations are a step up from previous games, the storytelling as you search for the lost city is not quite as solid as the first Uncharted entries. The game doesn't do quite enough to explain the motivations of its characters and certain plot points this time around.
Why is Drake so bullheaded when every historical clue he tracks down tells him to call off his search for the city? What does the villainess want to do with a box of what might be demons dredged from the bottom of a lake? Are Drake and Elena — Drake's on-again, off-again love interest throughout the series — married?
I love nothing more in a video game than to be told a good story, and while Uncharted 3's story is slightly more fractured than prequels, it's still pretty great thanks to the lovable and relatable cast.
I imagine that if I never played Uncharted 2 — my favorite game of all time — I'd have no complaints about this one. But because I have, it's easier to see the game's minor faults.
That is, unless we're talking about multiplayer.
In Uncharted 2, multiplayer was fun, but it seemed tacked-on to add a little bit of replay value to the game. In Uncharted 3, competitive multiplayer has come into its own, offering the player a suite of customization options and gameplay as fast-paced and addictive as Call of Duty.
You can play as every major character from the campaign as you battle foes online, or you can create your own character from scratch. (Personally, I prefer to play as Elena. Nothing beats hearing a sweet, little blonde yell, "Take it!" as she punches some dude in the face and steals his rocket launcher.)
You also can play a cooperative story mode, but I haven't tried this because my regular gaming companions have not bought Uncharted 3 — they can't afford it on top of all the other blockbuster releases coming out this season.
In the face of a glut of winter blockbusters, I urge PlayStation 3 owners to give Uncharted 3 a chance. The game is nearly as good as its prequels, which makes it better than 99 percent of the games on the market. When you add improved multiplayer into the mix, the overall package is an unparalleled value.