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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 DeanoXD

why isn't uncharted out tomorrow instead of BF3, i will be getting both but i want to play UC 3 so much more.

Good review Brad but in my case you could have wrote one short sentence "Play this game" and i would have been happy

Posted by phrosnite

Batman: AC will probably be GotY unless Skyrim is amazing too. Uncharted got 4/5 on G4. lol

Posted by AngelN7

If I get the chance to buy a PS3 this holiday this game will be probably the first one I get *covers Mass Effect 2 ears*.

Posted by PLWolf

One more week!!

Edited by Scodiac

I cannot wait to play this. I'm a little jealous of Mr. Shoemaker at the moment. Like everyone else, I expected it to be great and this just confirms it. More Uncharted sounds great to me. It was damn near perfect anyway.

I can understand what Brad means that if you don't nail the scripted action sequences perfectly they can fall apart. If you end up repeating one over and over it can take the awesome out of it but I still really enjoy having control during what in most games would be a cut-scene. The most amazing sequences happen in games and you rarely have control in them but in Uncharted 3 you're right there, you fire the shot, you make the jump, or whatever it is and you feel fucking amazing. It's cool to see the the reviewer agrees with me on this.

Oh it's gonna be such a goddamn treat! The worse thing is I bought it online to get a deal and I doubt I'll get it on launch day. It's going to be torture. The campaign is gonna wreck me and then my buddy and I will probably play the co-op a billion times. Fuckin' Uncharted 3!

Posted by shotgunsullivan

wish this was out this week, good review.

Posted by louiedog

Outside of 5 minutes with the first game at a demo unit in the Sony Store at the Metreon, the worst place in the world to play video games, I've never played any Uncharted. I just got a PS3 two days ago. I think I need to get this and the Uncharted Double Pack. I hope both it and this get some good sales this holiday season.

Posted by bybeach

This one of the big remaining year games I am looking for. I simply enjoy the Uncharted series, not much more to be said. So I am very much anticipating this game in a week. Great review, especially since it is what I wanted to hear!

Posted by Solh0und

Wow review already?

Posted by StriderNo9

Thanks for the honest review Brad. With a 8-10 hour main story I can totally get this on the 1st and beat it before Skyrim takes over my life.

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Posted by eternaLightness

Congrats to ND! Much deserved!!

Posted by SuperJoe

The only thing I want out of Uncharted is better boss fights.  Train boss and Tree Sap boss were annoying because they soaked up too much damage.  Train boss wasn't even wearing a shirt.

Online
Posted by Evan_Buchholz

Lot of high praise for this game so far but I'm trying to keep my expectations low since I went into Uncharted 2 waaay over-hyped. Not that the game was average I just got tired of the actual gameplay in the game by the end of it. Which they never seemed to find a way to make it fresh. With each mission it felt like you had to follow a path of climb this thing, run away from that, shoot dudes, climb again, cutscene, repeat... I would like to see if they find a way to make the climbing and shooting aspects more interesting throughout rather then relying on scripted events.

Not that scripted events are not good! But I would also like to have fun playing the game as well as having fun seeing the awesome scenes!

Posted by TBird13

Uncharted 3, Gears 3, Batman: AC, and Skyrim are going to make me poor.

Posted by sixpin

GOTY podcast deliberations should be a real treat this year. November is jam packed with great games. I'm still collecting Riddler trophies. Finishing Batman: AC just before Uncharted 3 releases and then Skyrim a week later... I need more time in my day!

Posted by morrelloman

This is one of the many reasons I love Monday's. Great review. Can't wait.

Posted by Wuddel

@tactis said:

@Marz said:

get the feeling GOTY deliberations will be tough this year :)

The 2009 showdown of Uncharted vs Batman will continue in 2011!!!

Oh, yeah! But this year Portal 2 and Dead Space 2 will also enter the fray. Maybe even Skyrim.

Posted by Brake

I hope there aren't any blue guys this time around.

I need to finish Batman before this comes out and squeeze some Dark Souls in there somewhere as well. I'm kinda glad I won't have the PC for Battlefield or Skyrim until December. Too many games! Eff you industry!

Posted by 617_jbug

I honestly want to play Uncharted 3 just because of the story, I'm not a big fan of the gameplay and I hope they at least fixed the final boss fight.

Posted by Enigma777

Yup, it's a day one for me. Uncharted is the greatest franchise of this generation. 

Posted by razgriz417

Only issue I have with the review is the last sentence. We CAN'T play it today BRAD!. Thanks for rubbing it in :P

Posted by PenguinDust

More of the same goodness. I'm down for that.

Posted by PrioritySeven

@Wuddel said:

@tactis said:

@Marz said:

get the feeling GOTY deliberations will be tough this year :)

The 2009 showdown of Uncharted vs Batman will continue in 2011!!!

Oh, yeah! But this year Portal 2 and Dead Space 2 will also enter the fray. Maybe even Skyrim.

Sprinkle in some BF3, MW3 and a touch of Assassin's Creed and we've got one hell of a GOTY dilemma.

GAMES!!!!!!

Posted by Branthog

I call bullshit. I said this was going to get a 4/5 here and it would be because, while amazing, it's more or less doing what they did the first two times. Brad just gave this 5/5 to spite me and prove me wrong! Shenanigans!

Also, eight more days. This will come just long enough after BF3 that I'll welcome the break.

Posted by Ronald

I am shocked, SHOCKED to read that this game is great. One thing, the multiplayer is also similar to Gears in that everyone are bullet sponges, even more so than in Gears. Unless you are teamed up with someone shooting an enemy, chances are you'll run out of ammo and die as his partner helps him kill you.

Posted by Rowr

I would of like to know about the quality of the 3D

Posted by NekuCTR

"That's a question only time will answer, but today, right now,[currently, at this moment in time, immediately, without delay, and bearing no hesitation] you should spend some time playing Uncharted 3." Why must you tease us so Brad?

Posted by Stubee

Will get this when its cheaper, too many longer awesome games coming out. I have Skyrim, Arkham aslyum and the witcher 2 arriving in the same week. i may not survive

Posted by simian
Posted by prestonhedges

Sounds like a solid rental.

Posted by Crixaliz

@Rowr said:

I would of like to know about the quality of the 3D

Same here

Posted by dvorak

@PrioritySeven said:

@Wuddel said:

@tactis said:

@Marz said:

get the feeling GOTY deliberations will be tough this year :)

The 2009 showdown of Uncharted vs Batman will continue in 2011!!!

Oh, yeah! But this year Portal 2 and Dead Space 2 will also enter the fray. Maybe even Skyrim.

Sprinkle in some BF3, MW3 and a touch of Assassin's Creed and we've got one hell of a GOTY dilemma.

GAMES!!!!!!

I'm super excited to play BF3, but something tells me it's not going to be part of the GOTY discussion. Or it will be knocked off the list, right at the top.

Posted by Hizang

I'm not shocked by this score.

Posted by poveren

Surprised there's no mention of 3D gameplay or framerate.

Posted by fots

Nice review Brad. No big surprises. Playing 2 again just before i will play 3.

Posted by ArclightBorealis

I am ready for this game.

Posted by probablytuna

Expected nothing less from Naughty Dog.

Posted by FoxMulder

This and Batman are the only two games I'll be getting this year...the only two I'm really interested in. I hope they can last me a while!

Posted by Sander

Brad's reviews are my favourite.

Posted by Ares42

@bhhawks78 said:

All I really want to know is if there is that zombies/blue people moment that takes a gigantic poop on the story.

I'm 99,9% sure there will be. If you have yet to accept that Uncharted isn't 100% real then I dunno what to say. I'm gonna guess we're either gonna see mummies, some sort of sand creatures or some old Arabian order (like in The Last Crusade).

Posted by Yanngc33

YAY! Can't wait

Posted by Wuddel

@PrioritySeven: I kinda doubt that BF3/MW3 will even get five stars. MW3 is too much the same old stuff. It almost feels like a sports series. And BF3 is more about technical then gameplay innovation. Its the core BF2 concepts put on a new engine and some Bad Company sprinkled in. I also very much doubt that DICE can deliver a 5-star single player, which will hit the "average score". I will still play the heck out of it. AC: Revelations may also get hit by "same old", however we said this about Brootherhood as well.

Anyway. What I am saying is that Portal 2 and Dead Space 2 are 2011 games, which already got 5 stars on GB. Also I forgot "L.A. Noire". For me easily the technical most impressive game of this year.

Posted by spilledmilkfactory

Pretty much as expected. I can't see this not being my game of the year, as I was in love with the last one

Posted by Sackmanjones

Battlefield this week, Uncharted next week and Skyrim after.... you gotta be kiddin me

Posted by Mr_Spinnington

@Hamz said:

Great review, now to juggle the finances and find free time to sit down and play it! :)

it's like i already posted. unfortunately i'll get to watch Uncharted 3 sit on my desk until i somehow manage to find an hour a day to play it

Posted by travisg83

No surprises.. Will be a sure fire contender for GOTY :-)

Edited by Brackynews

@poveren said:

Surprised there's no mention of 3D gameplay or framerate.

Ditto. A Brad review without a mention of framerate (never mind "Solid 60"... *drinks*) is a very odd Brad review indeed. As for 3D, I'm fairly sure Jeff is the only one who owns a 3D TV, and unless he brought it into the office... I have never even heard the bombcast discuss it? Killzone 3 was the last time I remember any 3D debate.

Anyway the previews elsewhere said that the 3D effects during the chateau fire were great, and designed with 3D in mind. Looking forward to reading opinions on it.

@travisg83 said:

No surprises.. Will be a sure fire contender for GOTY :-)

"Un..Char..TED Game..of..the..YEER."

Posted by Vitor

@tactis said:

@Marz said:

get the feeling GOTY deliberations will be tough this year :)

The 2009 showdown of Uncharted vs Batman will continue in 2011!!!

I was certain of that until I heard all the talk on the bombcast about Batman being more of the same, and then seeing this feeling reiterated here. Sure, more of the same when it comes to the two best games of 2009 is no bad thing but, I wonder if they'll be looking for something a little more novel when it comes down to it.

Yet to play either of the above, and I know I'll likely adore them when I do, but thinking back to the likes of The Witcher 2 and Portal 2 and even LA Noire to some extent (it's myriad of issues aside), it's gonna be one hell of a year for games. I'd even go as far as to say it's one of the best ever.

Posted by Cyrisaurus

I FUCKING TOLD YOU ITS GOING TO BE THE BEST GAME OF ALL TIME.

Posted by ThePickle

VIDEO GAMES.

I want to play this so bad.

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