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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.

194 Comments
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Posted by Vitor

@Wuddel said:

@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.

Early reviews of BF3 have been super high so far. Campaign has been cited as average though so I doubt it'll be a contender. Frankly, it is just a prettier version of BF2 which, while incredible at the time, may not be enough for it to stand up to the likes of this, Batman, Portal and Skyrim. And my personal favourite, The Witcher 2.

Posted by cstrang

Surprise!

Posted by spazmaster666

While this is definitely a game I will play, I never really understood the hype surrounding UC2 and of course, UC3. Yes these games look great on what is basically 6-year old hardware and are probably two of the best cinematic games of all time but I can't say that I really enjoyed the gameplay of UC2 all that much, compared to say other third person shooters like Gears. I certainly hope the gameplay has been improved in UC3 but from the the reviews I've read it seems like Naughty Dog has chosen to taken even more freedom away from the player in order to make the game even more cinematic. While that may result in some very impressive visual setpieces, I'm not sure I would enjoy such a game more than a game with more gameplay freedom.

Posted by Gordo789

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

That's great! My favorite part of a game is the part where I play it!

Posted by MasterVader

Looks like I going to be poor this season. :(

Posted by charlie_victor_bravo

Why did Brad review this?

He has done everything to telegraph that this game will get 5 stars. On the top of that, he is seriously unreliable judge when it comes to games that put emphasis on mood or "complex" plots.

Posted by IshimuraD

I really hope I don't have to work next Tuesday. And that I don't have assignments to do. Pleeeeeeease.

Posted by laserbolts
@gladspooky

Sounds like a solid rental.

What would be a purchase six out of five?
Posted by ErgoProxy77

After all the praise Uncharted 2 got, I eventually got around to playing it. It was painful every step of the way, I was just not into it at all. Uncharted 3 will remain untouched by me, no matter how much hype it gets.

Posted by AngelN7

@spazmaster666 said:

While this is definitely a game I will play, I never really understood the hype surrounding UC2 and of course, UC3. Yes these games look great on what is basically 6-year old hardware and are probably two of the best cinematic games of all time but I can't say that I really enjoyed the gameplay of UC2 all that much, compared to say other third person shooters like Gears. I certainly hope the gameplay has been improved in UC3 but from the the reviews I've read it seems like Naughty Dog has chosen to taken even more freedom away from the player in order to make the game even more cinematic. While that may result in some very impressive visual setpieces, I'm not sure I would enjoy such a game more than a game with more gameplay freedom.

Uncharted has the traversal stuff that to me feels more fun than anything in a Gears game , I think that should be their focus for the series and expand on that and I think that element is what sets it apart from other 3rd person shooters I can see your point but I feel the same way towards Gears is a great shooter but I could never get into the mechanics even less the way the characters handle and that´s just gameplay wise. I have only played U2 but that one is the best of the series thus far.

Posted by Roger_Klotz

Seriously there are too many good video game coming out. My wallet can't handle it. I may...I can't believe I'm writing this...have to get a game fly subscription.

Posted by Chubbaluphigous

My pants are thick with mighty boner....

I hate pants

Posted by Munkippo

I think I'm going to have to freeze myself, cause I can not wait another second for this game. I want it now!

Posted by FutureNewbApps

Great review Brad! Very much excited for Uncharted 3.

I need more time in the day or full time jobs need to be 32 hours without less pay.

Posted by RE_Player1

DAYTONA!!!!!!

Posted by PillClinton

Nice review, Brad. Looking forward to playing for sure, but also another game I have to buy day one...

Posted by Galiant

@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 agree, but what about Skyrim? I'm so excited for all these games I can't afford!!

Posted by ABritishNerd

@Joeyoe31 said:

Good Review!

I concur!

Posted by McShank

@Chubbaluphigous said:

My pants are thick with mighty boner....

I hate pants

This is why I dont wear pants at home.

Posted by phantomzxro

@AngelN7 said:

@spazmaster666 said:

While this is definitely a game I will play, I never really understood the hype surrounding UC2 and of course, UC3. Yes these games look great on what is basically 6-year old hardware and are probably two of the best cinematic games of all time but I can't say that I really enjoyed the gameplay of UC2 all that much, compared to say other third person shooters like Gears. I certainly hope the gameplay has been improved in UC3 but from the the reviews I've read it seems like Naughty Dog has chosen to taken even more freedom away from the player in order to make the game even more cinematic. While that may result in some very impressive visual setpieces, I'm not sure I would enjoy such a game more than a game with more gameplay freedom.

Uncharted has the traversal stuff that to me feels more fun than anything in a Gears game , I think that should be their focus for the series and expand on that and I think that element is what sets it apart from other 3rd person shooters I can see your point but I feel the same way towards Gears is a great shooter but I could never get into the mechanics even less the way the characters handle and that´s just gameplay wise. I have only played U2 but that one is the best of the series thus far.

Yeah i agree with angel gears never did it for me and i was pretty bored going into gears 2 but i understand they are good games just not for me. it's ok to not like every great game. But i don't understand your point of uncharted taking freedom away from gamers, i feel it gives gamers freedom which has been a trademark of uncharted and why they are so good. You are always in control when crazy stuff happens. You are not just watching a video or doing a quick-time event which is more freedom then most games give you.

Posted by KamasamaK

@Brad: Yea, but I think I speak for everyone when I ask... How's the 3D?

Posted by Krakn3Dfx

Need to finish BATMAN this week, because THIS is next on my list. Also, need to finish THIS in time for the midnight launch of SKYRIM.

Then I'm done until I can pick up Saint's Row The Third on the cheap.

Posted by Legend

Totally didn't expect this game to get 5/5. :P :P :P

Posted by Chaos_Bladez

But Brad I can't spend time right now playing Uncharted 3! It's not out yet!

Posted by confideration

PS3 died just in time for this release :(

Posted by kerse

I hope you guys don't forget about Dead Space 2 when goty stuff rolls around, thats still my favorite game this year.

Posted by ptys

Uncharted 2 was the reason I bought my PS3. This game would be great for any new players, I'm going to stick with 2 however as I've only played through it once anyway.

Posted by Redbullet685

I can't wait for next week. Definitely a first day purchase.

Posted by dezvous

Brad sure writes great reviews.

Posted by AlwaysBeClothing

5 Star annual sequel review season is here! Also, all the games are amazing

Posted by iAmJohn

This is a video game I will be purchasing with the greatest of haste.

Posted by tourgen
@Evan_Buchholz said:

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!

naaah, that's pretty much the uncharted formula.  so if 2 didn't do it for you it's not because you are missing something, it's just you are looking for something different.
 
It's a more linear version of the Tomb Raider formula with more shooting dudes and some scripted events.  I think the Uncharted games are pretty cool for what they are, but maybe a little over-hyped.
Posted by Nihilius

Already pre-ordered and I can't wait to let the adventuring begin.

Posted by Yummylee

Dood wut. This came outta nowhere! Solid review, Brad, and exactly what I would of expected. Even if the story is wholly predictable with its motifs and sense of quality (which naturally is far from a bad thing) you can tell it was the multiplayer that they were putting the innovation effort towards with all the expansive improvements and so forth - which, judging from the beta(s), they've succeeded on expertly.

Cannot wait till November. Very intrigued to finding out what other characters show up in the cooperative missions, too! Not like there's all that many people left from the prior games, so I'm imagining it'll be Tenzin and possibly Rika.

Online
Posted by mrcraggle

This, Batman, BF3 and Skyrim all out in a short time of each other. I guess I should be cheering but even if money wasn't a problem for me right now, time certainly is.

Posted by Vorbis

I have little interest in the gameplay but I'll still pick it up because I love the characters and want to see what happens to them.

Posted by Roomrunner

Woah, the review embargo for this one dropped early.

Posted by solidejake

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

Posted by TheHT

Just over a goddamn week to go. I don't think I'll be able to finish playing through Dark Souls before then, but it'll have to wait once 11.1.11 comes around.

Online
Posted by TheMasterDS

@kerse: I reckon that this won't be the one that beats it regardless since if Arkham Asylum and Uncharted 2 were head to head 2 year ago, and this year Arkham City is miles beyond Asylum where U3 is only a few yards before U2 it should be simple to see that Uncharted 3 can't beat out City. Course my hope is that Skyrim takes that prize, but that's another story.

Posted by MikeFightNight

"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,"

You got it Brad, can't wait to play it!

Posted by Arrested_Developer

They shouldn't let people put up reviews of the game until after this weeks new releases had come out, it's too confusing.

Posted by radion_null

nice review. Video Review?

Posted by Ujio

I can't believe this game comes out next week! After all the waiting and suddenly, BAM! It's time. Can't wait to get it. November is turning out to be chock full of awesome games and not enough money to buy them all.

Posted by bell8033

Great review, Brad, I'll be all over this one when my PS3 is repaired!

I just want to say that I came over from some other gaming sites and the class level of the forums compared to this one is like night and day. The fan-boy-ism and lack of decorum in their communities is disturbing, for sure.

Kudos to the Giant Bomb community for showing other sites that gamers can have a bit of class!

Posted by csl316

Game's gonna be awesome, I'm sure, but I'm curious if the puzzles are any good.  Brad seems to enjoy them, but I always found these to be the weakest links in Uncharted games.
 
I find Crystal Dynamics makes the most untouchable puzzles in 3rd person games (from Legacy of Kain, all the way to the more recent Tomb Raiders).  Maybe I shouldn't compare the two.

Posted by SpecDotSign

@Sogeman said:

Played a bit of the burning building part on Saturday and damn if it doesn't look great. But also, damn if it doesn't control like shit. The PS3 controller is the downfall of this game. The sticks were totally used out because it was an event but still I'd much rather play this on the 360 controller. But enjoy, I'm sure it's awesome.

Yo Dawg, you serious? Shame on you. How can a controller dictate anything but personal preference (besides fighting games)?

Posted by Sooty

Wouldn't say the second re-wrote anything, it was a good game though.

Posted by KingX

Oh, Its gonna be a nice autumn. Batman city (which is really fun), skyrim and this.

Posted by SkatzFanOff

Nope

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