Giant Bomb Review

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Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception Review

5
  • PS3

Nathan Drake's new adventure doesn't rewrite the book like his last one did, but damn if it's not a great action game anyway.

Hey, look who it is!

If I were to tell you Naughty Dog has just delivered another superb Uncharted game, would you be the least bit surprised? Actually, the only thing that might surprise you about Uncharted 3's relentless roller coaster ride is that it doesn't advance the standards for video game action like its groundbreaking, mind-blowing, superlative-generating predecessor did. But it certainly does match them. There's a slight sense of "been there, done that" in the way this game hews so closely to Uncharted 2's masterful blend of puzzle-solving, parkour, and dizzying action scenes. I was more than ready to continue being there and doing that the moment the last game ended, so I'm thrilled just to play another sequel that hits all those right notes, even if they're the same notes, with such precision. And you probably will be too.

By now, you should know if you're onboard with Nathan Drake's smirking brand of globe-trotting adventure or not. If you are, you could just stop reading here, because anyone who enjoyed the previous games should play Uncharted 3, full stop. The storytelling is certainly familiar; our hero visits numerous far-flung locales, invokes some ancient explorers, twiddles a few antique cartographer's instruments, and gets shot at with disturbing frequency on his way to rediscovering a long lost land of supernatural significance. At least you're seeing some brand new sights, with memorable levels set in places as wide-ranging as an ancient stronghold underneath London, and a brutal desert that seems to go on forever. In a slight tonal shift, this third game replaces the series' overtly evil mercenaries and warlords with... an old lady. But that old lady has a smoldering inner malevolence of her own, and she's got ties to the pasts of Drake and his cigar-chomping mentor Sully, to boot. One of Uncharted 3's quieter joys is getting to see a glimpse of the history between these two, what drives them to risk life and limb in the pursuit of ancient wealth that always seems just out of reach. This game provides back story and context in a way the previous games didn't.

By Uncharted standards, Marlowe is an understated sort of villain.

In a lesser game, there's a good chance you wouldn't even care. It's true that Uncharted presents a by-the-book action-movie milieu populated by characters who fit into tidy genre archetypes, but even in this third game it's still a little startling that they aren't all boringly one-dimensional. The primary credit for that belongs to the dialogue and voice work, which remain as snappy and artful as they've always been. I don't know if it's more remarkable that the game seems to have a pithy remark ready for every conceivable occasion, or that so many of them are actually funny and natural without being cheesy. But there are also a few moments with emotional range, in between all the swashbuckling, where you realize there's a toll taken on Drake and the people close to him in exchange for his driving obsession with the past. This is still an action-movie storyline, but it's a damn good one, with people who feel relatable and real.

The basic act of playing Uncharted--the shooting, the climbing--hasn't changed at all, though a few things feel improved here and there. You'll see some neat touches in the hand-to-hand fighting where Drake will contextually grab nearby objects and incorporate them into the brawl. And I felt like the stealth gameplay, though entirely optional, worked a little more smoothly than in the last game. Enemies still soak up a few too many bullets--you've decided by now how bothersome that is--but for a game that offers so much variety, it's impressive that the combat is as intense and challenging as it sometimes can be, especially on harder difficulties. And like the last game, Uncharted 3 also excels at letting you interact with its lushly detailed environments in unexpected ways. It's still genuinely impressive how an organic-looking scene in a village or old temple or even a capsized cruise liner can break down into a logical series of handholds for you to climb and jump across, nevermind how conveniently placed those handholds are.

The part where you play the game is as great as it ever was.

The core game is familiar, but Naughty Dog continues to have plenty of fun within those confines, even managing to insert some meta-humor in a couple of places that pokes fun at the very mechanics that drive the game. And though the shooting and the climbing occupy the vast bulk of your time, one of my favorite things about Uncharted is the occasional foray into an ancient temple or crypt. This series is especially good at offering puzzles that blend into the level design, making you reference your in-game notes and really look closely at everything around you to see how it all fits together. Some of my favorite moments in these games are the ones when you slide some clockwork mechanism into place and, stone grinding against ancient stone, the truth is revealed. Those are the instances where you feel like you're actually touching a small part of the long-forgotten, mystical past Drake is so eager to recover, and there are several great moments of that sort in here.

And then there are the set pieces. Man, those set pieces. Think back to Uncharted 2, and the first things you remember are that building collapsing, or the fight on top of the speeding train. Uncharted 3 has its own healthy list of action sequences the likes of which you've never seen in another game... except Uncharted 2. Do you want to dangle a hundred feet above a roaring inferno as an entire castle collapses around you? How about fist-fighting a seven-foot strongman on the lowered ramp of a soaring cargo plane? Maybe shoot an RPG at a speeding convoy from horseback? (Who wouldn't?) The way the game frequently transitions almost seamlessly from gameplay to cinematic cutscene back to gameplay in short bursts is just as exciting as it was when you'd never seen it done before. There's still nothing else quite like it.

Discovering ancient stuff is one of this game's primary joys.

There's a danger, though, to meticulously hand-crafting your action sequences the way these games do, with all the fixed camera angles and split-second timings. Some of the game's more tightly scripted action sequences, particularly the ones where you're running somewhere at breakneck speed, can fall apart if you don't do exactly what the designer wanted you to do exactly when they wanted you to do it. When you're running toward the camera from a giant wall of water and can't really see where you're going, one split second's hesitation or missed jump means you're going to repeat everything you just did, which is a detriment to the frenetic way these games move. This isn't at all troublesome from a gameplay standpoint, since the game liberally checkpoints your progress. It's more about maintaining the momentum of these fast-moving segments which depend on the action never stopping. When you miss your cue, it stops, and suddenly the excitement is gone. But the benefits of this kind of design are worth the occasional collapse, and moreover, this style of sequence tends to work more often than not. And when it works, it works.

Actually, the other danger of such a tightly scripted experience is that you only get to play it for the first time once. There might be more and better thrills per minute packed into this game than any competing one, but once you've seen it, you've seen it. So it's a good thing that there's as robust a multiplayer component in Uncharted 3 as you could possibly want, once you've gone through the eight-to-10-hour storyline. Both the cooperative and competitive elements are incrementally improved over the similar modes in the last game, with a rich progression system that ties them together and offers more ways to customize your weapons and appearance than most players will probably ever unlock.

The game does some great stuff with its playable camera angles.

The competitive multiplayer still feels a bit like Gears of War, not just because you snap to cover but also due to the relatively slow movement and aiming speeds. There are plenty of interesting modes here to keep you busy, and some interesting things going on within the matches, such as a random bonus that's sometimes granted to the currently losing team. There's plenty on the cooperative side as well. The standout is a five-chapter adventure mode that has three players fighting through a coherent storyline set in a variety of the story maps, with some light dialogue and cinematics added in for context. There's even an appearance by some old familiar faces in there. Then there's Hunters, which feels like a nod toward Left 4 Dead since it pits two fully equipped player characters against two other, weaker human players who are joined by a bunch of AI guys. And the Horde-like Arena mode has evolved a bit, so you're not just taking on wave after wave of enemies. Now, the rules shift between waves, so in one wave you might only get credit for kills that happen while you're inside a small territory, and in the next you might have to fight your way through the enemies to deliver a treasure to an objective point. You may not much relish the idea of playing deathmatch against people who have way more time to play deathmatch than you, so it's great that there's a good bit of value in the co-op offering as well.

Naughty Dog achieved an incredible feat in Uncharted 2, elevating the basic action video game to such a cinematic height that, as clichéd as it sounds, you could almost believe you were playing an action movie. That game set the bar so perilously high that it's no crime this sequel merely rises to meet it, and not surpass it. Both games are so impressive that it's tempting to wonder whether there's even much more to be done in this style of game on this generation of hardware. That's a question only time will answer, but today, right now, you should spend some time playing Uncharted 3.

Brad Shoemaker on Google+
194 Comments
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Posted by Olivaw
You'll see some neat touches in the hand-to-hand fighting where Drake will contextually grab nearby objects and incorporate them into the brawl.

I swear, every single time they release one of these games they do some minor little bit that no one else notices but that blows my goddamn mind.

Posted by gerp

Wow this showed up out if no where they ahven talked about uncharted 3 in awhile

Posted by Grixxel

Welp, 2011 has been an amazing year for gaming it looks like!

Posted by Napalm

@solidejake said:

Uncharted 3 got a perfect score? What a surprise...

That's what I said. There would be fires in the streets if this game was scored a star less.

Posted by Godlyawesomeguy

Man, only if the combat felt at all satisfying in these games, I would totally get them.

Posted by Cloudenvy

Can't wait to pop this into my PS3, my most anticipated game this year.

Posted by solidejake
@Napalm said:

@solidejake said:

Uncharted 3 got a perfect score? What a surprise...

That's what I said. There would be fires in the streets if this game was scored a star less.

Oh believe me, I would be leading the army of resistance against Giant Bomb if it got anything less.
Edited by cavemantom

"Enemies still soak up a few too many bullets..."

Dammit. This aspect of the combat has stopped my enjoyment of both Uncharted and Uncharted 2 dead in its tracks. I just can't get past the tedium of pouring round after round in to nameless, faceless jerks until I'm out of ammo, then scrambling to find a refill or replacement gun so I can continue the slog-- all so I can get to the story and platforming bits that I actually enjoy. The worst part is that dropping the difficulty to "easy" doesn't have the slightest effect on how many bullets an enemy will eat before dying.

It bothers me when games that have so few flaws to start with can iterate repeatedly without addressing what few flaws they have.

Posted by Longevitous

@Brad said:

today, right now, you should spend some time playing Uncharted 3

How do I do this? HOW? I hate these early review embargos. Makes the wait that much more difficult.

Posted by YoungBuck

... no PS3.

Posted by PandaShake

I hope there will be a follow up article about the 3D as others have mentioned. Since I think it was the e3 podcast where people were mentioned saying they were getting a 3d tv just for this game after seeing 3d gameplay, it would be great to know more about it.

And, awesome review!

Posted by Askherserenity

Someone has to help me figure out what the appeal is for the Uncharted games. I feel like they are highly praised for no reason. The gameplay seems like its been done so many times before and I'm not just talking about this game, the same thing could be said about the first game. It brought nothing new to the table when it first appeared on the PS3. It all seems like something so extremely scripted that it just boggles my mind it could get praised this much by so many people. The gameplay seems repetitive and old, the characters seem so generic and cheesy, and everything you go through in the game just seems like you're going on rails.

No wonder this is what Tomb Raider is going to turn into. Just a bunch of scripted scenes, quick time events and the occasional bland shooting at some bad guys. Someone help me out!

Online
Posted by Godzilla_Sushi

My copy is all pre-ordered with some bonuses and ready to go! I'm very excited to play this nearly back to back off of Uncharted 2. Drake, making the PS3 something worthwhile as always!

Posted by gunslingerNZ

Still have to go back and finish Uncharted 2 on crushing, probably a good time to go do that right now actually...

Posted by bonbolapti

@Askherserenity: maybe you're just asking too much.

Posted by habibyjohnson

What, no video review for this one!??

Edited by Stealthmaster86

@Askherserenity said:

Someone has to help me figure out what the appeal is for the Uncharted games. I feel like they are highly praised for no reason. The gameplay seems like its been done so many times before and I'm not just talking about this game, the same thing could be said about the first game. It brought nothing new to the table when it first appeared on the PS3. It all seems like something so extremely scripted that it just boggles my mind it could get praised this much by so many people. The gameplay seems repetitive and old, the characters seem so generic and cheesy, and everything you go through in the game just seems like you're going on rails.

No wonder this is what Tomb Raider is going to turn into. Just a bunch of scripted scenes, quick time events and the occasional bland shooting at some bad guys. Someone help me out!

Have you ever played the games before?

Posted by AssInAss

@Askherserenity said:

Someone has to help me figure out what the appeal is for the Uncharted games. I feel like they are highly praised for no reason. The gameplay seems like its been done so many times before and I'm not just talking about this game, the same thing could be said about the first game. It brought nothing new to the table when it first appeared on the PS3. It all seems like something so extremely scripted that it just boggles my mind it could get praised this much by so many people. The gameplay seems repetitive and old, the characters seem so generic and cheesy, and everything you go through in the game just seems like you're going on rails.

No wonder this is what Tomb Raider is going to turn into. Just a bunch of scripted scenes, quick time events and the occasional bland shooting at some bad guys. Someone help me out!

Don't worry, there are enough people who don't like Uncharted games, games to be like movies, or just such heavy scripting in games. Brad Shoemaker explicitly states if you didn't like previous games, you're not going to like this. I'm not a fan, so I wouldn't bother with this game.

Posted by Askherserenity

@Stealthmaster86: I've never owned one but I have played them. But I mean...do you even have to play this type of game to know what it's all about? The person sitting down next to you watching you play is probably getting the same sort of enjoyment you're probably getting out of it...all the theatrical elements to it. I think it looks great too, amazing even, but I don't see what makes it such a compelling video-game.

Online
Edited by Antihippy

@Askherserenity: Uncharted 2 actually added a pretty shallow but somewhat satisfying stealth mechanic that opens up the combat.

Uncharted 1 on hard can turn into a pretty satisfying combat puzzle game where clearing out a room can actually be pretty challenging.

It's for the thrills really. Watching it can be fun but playing adds alot more engagement. I honestly don't think that they're comparable at all, unless you just plain don't like the combat and so called "platforming".

Posted by Vegetable_Side_Dish
@Askherserenity: While it is at the forefront of games that claim to be 'an experience' or 'a rollercoaster ride' that doesn't mean you dont feel like you influence the outcome of the game. Naughty Dog have found a sweet spot between cinematic thrills and genuine gameplay involvement.  
 
Whether your actions truly influence the passage of the game or not, it feels like they do, because of brilliant animations, convincing voice acting and environments and satisfying combat. 
 
On the characters, they're cheesy in the way that any good (non-seriousface) action movies' characters are cheesy. It works. It's a formula. They've perfected  it. 
Edited by Cirdain
Posted by fetchfox

@habibyjohnson said:

What, no video review for this one!??

Probably coming as this is a big release.

Posted by Akiikun

Great review. Out of all the major releases coming out this month, UC3 is the one game I'm willing to drop $60 on. The first two games were incredible and this one seems to improve on almost everything.

Posted by Paboned

@Askherserenity: You should play Uncharted 2 or 3 (when it comes out) and decide for yourself instead of someone telling you why you don't find it interesting. You say the word "seem" a lot , just play and find out.

Posted by Boopie

quieter joys?

Posted by geirr

Enemies soaking up bullets ruin these games for me some. I find the shooting in Uncharted to be tedious at large although Nathan's quips and reactions help a bit compared to other shooters which only have man grunts and jelly splatting over your camera; but damn just make a difficulty were enemies explode if hit once or twice. It would make the awesome ride more enjoyable for some of us and it wouldn't affect the hardcore shooter duderbro players either.

Posted by MordeaniisChaos

Jesus, that first screen looks pre-rendered. MAKE A PC GAME PLEASE DEAR GOD.

Posted by Jaxley

I bet missing your cue doesn't break the flow as much as Brad will during the Quick Look when he keeps stopping every couple of steps to talk about something while standing still in-game.

Posted by fantasyfreak07

Oh man I can't wait! C'mon Tuesday get here faster!

Posted by g6065

Can't wait for the 19 hour GOTY podcast(s).

Posted by firecracker22

@Askherserenity: I love the Uncharted series, and I can truly hear where you're coming from. I think that while the gameplay style, and use of set pieces and scripting is all a matter of taste...I think the biggest appeal of the Uncharted series is the writing, the characters, the characterizations, the voicework, the dialogue. I think that's where the appeal begins. The shooting, the melee combat, the puzzle solving, the platforming...that's all well done (in my opinion) stuff that simply supports and holds up the most important aspects of Uncharted. Which is the storytelling, basically. Not the stories per se, because the stories themselves are pretty much like every Indiana Jones film - pretty simple. But, the same reason Raiders of the Lost Ark is a masterpiece is why I think Uncharted 2 is as well. It's not the story it's telling that makes it stand out. It's the way it's telling the story that makes it stand out.

And I think that in an industry where storytelling can be so horrendously, brutally, mindbogglingly bad...and it doesn't even matter so long as the gameplay and controls are sound, and that (nameless) game go on to be enjoyed and praised. I think it only makes sense that if a game can hit the nail on the technical side of gaming, and manage to deliver something merely a handful (if that) games can in a year, which is a compelling narrative, then to the victor go the spoils, my friend.

Naughty Dog makes technically sound games, too. There's only a few developers that I can think of (Rocksteady is one, Kojima Productions is another) that makes and ship games unbroken. It's sad that something like this is considered a standout, but I think it is. Not having download a patch on day one, if ever, does count for something.

Posted by RagingLion

I called it! Sweet lovely points to reinvest in another sure thing many months early - that's my plan, even if not the most lucrative.

Posted by skrutop

I know that Brad is a big Uncharted 2 fan, but he spends far too much time talking about it in this review. I don't know that I've ever seen a review that spends so much time talking about another game as this one does.

Posted by Impossibilium

I love me some Nathan Drake but the first flashback level is just terrible. The mechanics are a mess. You don't know where you are supposed to go and the moment you stray off the path you end up trying to jump over obstacles you can't jump over or fall to your death because you jumped at the wrong place even though the distance is similar. Then a second trying to adjust the camera to compensate means you get captured.

Posted by 2kings

After playing this I'm shocked it got five stars. While the story and dialogue are top notch the core mechanics are utterly abysmal. Shooting is a chore and unresponsive and Drake controls sooo squirley it makes getting him where you want to be a nightmare. I think this one may get brought up at GOTY discussions but will inevitably be shot down. Rightfully so.

Posted by Helios1337

I just finished this game on normal difficulty. For those of you about to start, I suggest playing it on easy. Yes, I know, lame and it's something I never do. But it makes the combat much more enjoyable. No use getting frustrated at it taking 15-30 rounds to kill a person.

Posted by Sammo21

I think U3 is far from a 5 star game mostly because of the unbalanced, obnoxious, not fun, and obligatory fight sequences crammed into the last 1/2 of the game. Also U3 has more "you're not doing it right" moments that can cause frustration, even on normal difficulty. Not to mention the story is nearly the exact same as Uncharted 2. Here, I'll explain:

In Uncharted 2 you start with flashbacks, you get caught up in an ancient mystery involving a lost city that isn't supposed to really exist, you meet back up with your former love and acquaintance, you go through some crazy mobile set pieces to get to your destination (substitute boats and plane for train and cars), you find lost city that is being struggled for by some form of military power (2=mercs/warlord, 3=clandestine society), hidden/lost city is protected/watched by indigenous peoples, you fight obnoxious enemies inside said city, you stop bad guys in city, city starts falling apart and you have to run out while it is crumbling, and you end with you, Sully, and the girl walking into the sunset together.

Close enough to each other...

I also feel the set pieces in 2 are more impressive even though the tech behind the new set pieces is impressive.

Posted by GreasyWeasel

Great game, literally had my mouth open wide a a few points. Technically impressive, beautiful, great characters, good story, ok shooting. I kind of wish they could just be the adventuring/story stuff without the shooting though.

Posted by thehowlingman

so this adventure game is better than the newest nintendo legend of Zelda, which practically invented adventure games and makes great advancements and iterations on the entire genre with each new release.... whereas this is the same schlock that came out two years ago.... i'm having a hard time believing this. i'm going to the store to get more doritos

Edited by m0nty

Now that I've played a large part of Uncharted 3 I understand and agree with the issues people have about the combat sequences. They really do detract from the whole experience. The set pieces are nowhere near as powerful as Uncharted 2 either. I think Naughty Dog would be the first to admit that Uncharted is now finished, at least as far as Naughty Dog is concerned. SCE may have other ideas.

Interestingly enough I stopped at more or less the same point in both Uncharted 2 and 3.

The blue men/fire henchmen were so contrite and out of context that after all the tedious combat in the lead up I simply just walked away from the game. It was as if they just decided the game needed to be harder at the end so they made up those enemies.

After playing Enslaved earlier this month I noticed the other flaws attached to Uncharted. Enslaved put the platforming on rails. I don't recall ever dying due to jumping the wrong way, glitching on an edge, clipping on cover or performing the wrong move. All of these have occured in Uncharted and it really does break the cinematic experience Naughty Dog aimed to create. Some would see Enslaved as limiting player interaction, but I see Uncharted's platforming and animation prioritization as flaws in another otherwise highly polished movie like experience. Nothing comes close for that seat of your pants ride, but when it breaks it's downright terrible.

Posted by Strafer

Great game.

Posted by csl316

The slow start had me doubting this for a bit, despite the cool story stuff. But about 2 hours in, I started to realize that this series is still one of the best. The gunplay and combat scenarios kept me engaged even more than 2. Just finished it, and between the campaign, multiplayer, and absolutely incredible audio/visual front, this is easily in my top 5 of 2011. Maybe even top 3.

Posted by ClaytonW

I haven't had much interest in playing video games much at all in recent years, but I'm tempted to buy a PS3 so I can play through these Uncharted games. I feel like I've missed out on what might be the best series of this console generation.