Let it be publicly known that Nathan Drake is a card-carrying member of the rather exclusive club of video game characters I have a whopping big man crush for. Is it the dashing good looks, those irresistible rapscallion ways, or that seemingly inexhaustible string of pithy comments? I can't tell. Either way, or perhaps because of my worrying infatuation, Drake has become one of modern gaming's bona fide stars.
Uncharted 3 knows this (well, maybe not the specifics of my feelings) and it's decided to weave a more personal tale for our half-tucked friend. Now we're gently airing the lovable rogue's dirty laundry, matching the game's industry-leading animations and script delivery with a plot that looks to Drake's recent past alongside its usual forte of ancient history.
But the real star, perhaps, is the stylised world that effortlessly cracks, crumbles, and explodes underneath Drake's feet, and it's here Naughty Dog has created a string of larger-than-life environments that are works of art married with extraordinary technical proficiency.
Take a moment about two thirds of the way through the game, as Drake bounds through a canyon underneath the glare of a piercing sun, spinning truck wheels kicking up sandy plumes as they grind through previously undisturbed terrain, the scene framed with a glorious panorama of jagged cliffs and the soft sheets of shadow hanging over. The aesthetic variety is also staggering: 90 minutes earlier, Drake is pushing his way through a rusty ship graveyard, rocking slowly from side to side in the middle of an emerald ocean, as foaming jets of water penetrate open cracks and shear open the hulls of abandoned metal.
Naughty Dog also deserves credit by aiming for a different vibe than that of the simply phenomenal Uncharted 2. The last adventure opened with Drake regaining consciousness in a train carriage dangling precariously over a cliff; Uncharted 3 starts with him going to an English pub. The resulting punch-up finds our hero comfortably nestled within the series' signature mix of scripted sequences, gorgeous cinematography and pithy one-liners, but the overall tone is less bombastic and more muted than the second game.
Even when Drake is having his head cracked into a grimy toilet seat in a British boozer, it's rare to see a game that offers such a glorious escape from the dreary confines of humdrum reality, where players are thrust into a gorgeous, free-flowing world of rugged adventure and sparkling vivacity. The basic approach to Uncharted 3's design has been to cajole players through its rolling landscapes and ornate sunken tombs with an ever greater aplomb than before, shunting Drake from area to area with an insistence that not even a single footstep is spent lingering.