I grew up watching Star Wars and Indiana Jones. During my childhood, I spent an awful lot of time saying I wanted to be a Jedi and/or an archeologist when I grew up. You can imagine how crushed I was when I found out that Jedi do not really exist in this universe and archeology is not the globe-trotting, Nazi fighting life of adventure that Indiana Jones made it out to be. But even as life laid its hard realities on me I kept a general love for the type of pulpy storytelling that Indiana Jones delivered.
Despite quite a few attempts to nail the Indy formula in games, including the popular Tomb Raider series, it was not until the Naughty Dog developed Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune came out that I felt it had finally been realized. Uncharted turned the ball on its head, taking cinematic storytelling and action packed gameplay to a new level, all of which was amazingly surpassed just a couple years later with Uncharted 2: Among Thieves.
Uncharted 2 was a watershed moment for the Playstation 3. Simply put, it was the best game developed for the console and despite some of its minor deficiencies Naughty Dog hit it out of the park. This all brings us to the hotly anticipated Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception. No other title in the Sony library has had the amount of hype and anticipation that Uncharted 3 developed and a lot of pressure is riding on the game to deliver the goods. So does it? I wish I could answer that with one simple word but sadly I cannot.
Uncharted 3 is a perplexing piece of gaming software. On one hand it is beautifully cinematic and an evolution in how interactive storytelling can be delivered. On the other it has a host of issues that make the game seem less polished than any previous entry in the series.
Uncharted 3, like its predecessors, puts players in control of the globe-trotting, treasure seeking hero Nathan Drake. Drake along with his stalwart pal Victor Sullivan are always one step away from disaster and things are no different at the outset of Drake’s Deception. Drake and Sully find themselves on the wrong side of a shady, backroom bar deal and have to fight their way out of it. Combining some of the best camera work and animation ever in a game, this bar room brawl is a sight to behold.
Often times when games attempt to deliver a cinematic experience they take control out of the hands of the player and that is what makes this sequence so amazing. Throughout this bar fight players are in complete control of Nate, the camera moves deftly around the environment framing the most cinematic angles. Better yet though the game controls wonderfully during this sequence and I never once felt that the camera was infringing on my ability to play the game.
After the opening sequence the game really starts to lay the brickwork for the overall plot of the game’s narrative. Being as the game is so story driven I am going to refrain from talking about it further here in this review, suffice it to say though that Drake Deception features all the globe-trotting and treasure hunting that people loved about Uncharted 2.
Cinematic storytelling has been one of the biggest hallmarks of the Uncharted franchise and as previously mentioned that tradition continues with Uncharted 3. In fact, Uncharted 3 is arguably one of the most cinematic interactive experiences to date in a game; unfortunately, this may also be its biggest downfall. Despite the impressive display featured in the opening chapter of the game, Naughty Dog’s decision to be so cinematic actually does impact the game in terms of its gameplay at times.
Much like in every Indiana Jones movie, Drake’s Deception features more than a few chase sequences. When done right, chase sequences can be thrilling events and those thrills are heightened even more when the player is the one in control of the situation. That is of course providing that the chase sequence plays out as scripted but in my experience with Uncharted 3, that is rarely the case. These chase sequences, especially the ones where Nate is facing the camera, can be quite difficult to navigate making death a near certainty. The game is heavily scripted but oftentimes it seems to forget that the player does not know the script.
As a long time player of games, I am used to failing sequences and trying them again, after all trial and error in games has been around since the early days. However, when approaching things from a cinematic perspective, as Uncharted does so often and so well, failing takes the player out of the experience. And sadly that is the weird dichotomy that Uncharted has with itself. At its most base level Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception is a game and as such is grounded by the conventions of its medium but it also attempts to tell a highly cinematic story and the two just don’t mesh here as well as they have in the past. These issues combine together to create a game that has some fantastic highs and some terrible lows.
The lowest of all the lows comes in the form of Uncharted 3’s gunplay. The Uncharted series has never been known for its great shooting, in fact I would go so far as to say it is the series weak point, but for some reason Naughty Dog thought the majority of Drake’s Deception should be spent shooting guns. Whereas the two previous Uncharted titles had a seemingly equal blend of traversal, puzzle-solving and combat, Uncharted 3 tilts very heavily towards combat, especially in the latter half of the game. Further complicating matters is the “refined” gun handling that Naughty Dog has used and by refined, I mean made worse than it has ever been.
Aiming is both slow and imprecise and guns now handle with far more kick. I suppose this was meant to deliver some sort of realistic gun handling but when facing down a battalion of mercenaries that soak up the amount of ammunition that they do, realism is the last thing on my mind. I found the gunplay so frustrating at points that I resorted to employing the much better and far more satisfying hand to hand combat system the game employs. Unfortunately, this was not a tactic that could be used throughout the entire game, what with the later levels matching Nate up against heavily armored enemies, snipers, rocket launchers and turrets.
A major complaint I have heard from gamers recently is that games are too easy. This of course is all a matter of perspective but early game design was in fact based on an arcade development model, one in which games were made to eat player’s quarters. No one played Jungle Hunt for the engrossing story; however, people do play the Uncharted games for that reason and game design has shifted in certain ways to accommodate for that, and some of that is the perceived dumbing down of game difficulty. Uncharted 3’s combat is not hard but it can oftentimes become frustrating and the most frustrating aspect about the combat was that it took me out of the overall experience. With a game like Uncharted that is the ultimate misstep.
As weak as the combat in Uncharted 3, there are some amazing highs as well. The platforming set pieces are fantastic, rivaling the best in the genre and there is nothing in any other game quite like when the camera pans out to present the overall scale of the situation Drake is currently in. The puzzles are fun and challenging. The characters are, as expected, top notch. And the narrative itself is a highly satisfying end to the Uncharted trilogy.
In addition to the roughly nine hour campaign, Uncharted 3 features a full multiplayer suite that improves upon a lot of the basic aspects from the previous title. At its core though, the multiplayer is a familiar quantity for those that played Uncharted 2: Among Thieves’ multiplayer. It is not the best example of competitive or cooperative third person multiplayer this generation but it is the best example of it on the PS3.
In the end, Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception is an Uncharted game and fans of the series will find much to like here, although they may also find much frustration. It is a good game that does some great things, especially in regards to animation, visuals and interactive cinematic storytelling in games, but it falls short of greatness. The game fails to capture the same essence that made Uncharted 2 one of the most beloved Playstation 3 games and that may be the most disappointing part of it all.
Pros: An evolutionary step forward in animation and cinematic storytelling in games
Cons: Pieces do not meld well together making the series weaknesses stand out like never before
4* out of 5