The one ring to rule them all.
For what it was, Uncharted 2: Among Thieves was near perfect in my honest opinion. It bridged a chasm of platforming, shooting, puzzle and some occasional stealth obstacles, all smoothly fitted and handled like a dream (well, some of the stealth stuff was a little kooky). The storyline wasn't particularly deep, but it had style, flair and a great cast of characters. It's completely subjective of course, but many would likely consider Uncharted 2 as one of the greatest games of this current generation.
Suffice it to say, Nathan Drake's latest globe-trotting adventure of insanity in Uncharted 3: Drakes Deception has a pretty huge mark to hit. And it does hit it, with an almighty force, but probably not in the regards of what you'd expect. In some aspects it appears as if it wails on the mark far more than it needed to; it wanted to prove how further it can eschew from the shadow of Uncharted 2 and become its own bigger, better game. To put it lightly, Uncharted 3 attempts to fix what wasn't broken.
Much like its predeccesor, Uncharted 3 is built around the same three components: a bombastic single player campaign, a loose cooperative rendition of said campaign, and a sizable suite of competitive multiplayer modes to wrap it all up. Now while the single player campaign is the most appropriate place to start, it is unfortunately also where Uncharted 3 falters within the grand scheme.
The campaign at this point still offers up a beautiful array of locales to traverse through, the same likeable cast of adventurers rogues and villains (now with 200% more British) and simply speaking: the production values may yet again melt your eyes down into a gooey stain on your shirt--and possibly your pants. But at the same time, it feels like Uncharted 3 is simply going through the motions; Drake will yet again contend against a juxtaposition of luck as he continually finds himself thrusted into death-wish situations, and then survives them mostly unscathed. I'm hardly trying to write off the predictability as an absolution damnation; this is a video game sequel after all. It's just Uncharted 2 got many of its mark for absolutely wowing you for the intensity and sheer excitement that you simply didn't find in many other games. Multiple large-scale set-pieces occurring around you while you are still playing. A fantastic feat of gaming, but one that loses just a wee bit of its luster the second time round. There are only so many floors that can crumble beneath Drake's feet before it gets tiresome. With that said, some of the set-pieces during Uncharted 3 are pretty damn good--even if some are a little derivative of Uncharted 2's. One in particular, which is possibly my favourite, that has Drake riding horseback chasing trucks, jumping onto them and murdering whoever's on board, then rinsing and repeating is very similar to the truck-leaping set-piece from Uncharted 2. The actual tale weaved into all of the ensuing malarkey and madness is also the best of the three, too. Make no mistake, this is still first & foremost an action-movie storyline, however the characterisation and the relationships within deepen to an extent that you... may of expected given where the series was headed proven by Among Thieves, but still made for some great drama all the same. Most notably the relation between our series hero Nathan Drake and the forever cigar-chomping, tropical shirt sporting Sully reaches some new notes and touches on a few old ones.
The opposing forces this time around are significantly different than what we've seen in prior entries, too. Sure they still happen to have a seemingly never ending supply of nameless grunts and thugs to throw your way, but both Katherine Marlowe and her insidious right hand man Talbot prove to be a different kind of beast over Lazarevic, Flynn, Eddy, Navarro and Roman. They apply a much more subtle approach to their villainy; alongside their overt British-ness, there's a particular aura of evil (the snobby evil, too) that lingers around them which you can almost see with your own eyes. Talbot in particular, with his stash of hallucinatory drugs he would more than likely dump in your tea just to witness the reaction given the chance, is reminiscent of a 60s/70s era Bond villain--and a damn good one at that.
There's no quarrels to be made that Uncharted 3's campaign looks superb, and is no doubt a wonder to watch. Playing the damn thing, however, is where it starts to drop the ball. Firstly I want to put it out there that I loved playing Uncharted 2; all aspects, even including the stealth, I enjoyed immensely and was never one to lambaste against its un-originality or the ''bullet sponge'' problem or anything like that. But Uncharted 3... just feels weird. It's, for whatever reason, been made to play much slower than during the almost arcade-y smooth twitchy-ness of Uncharted 2. The shooting is what took the largest brunt, now made to feel considerably more stiff and skewed; headshots are now harder to pull off, the reticule tends to wildy wary during the aiming and firing fazes, and weapons in general just didn't feel all that fun nor accurate to fire. Automatic weapons once they started firing were so sluggish that it was like the control has been taken away from you and you're forced to fire on that one spot; I'd wager it has something to do with a severely faulty aim-assist, but I can't say for sure. Putting the unsatisfying shooting aside, however, some sections even with the more fluid mechanics from Uncharted 2 would prove a detriment to the whole campaign. Some parts that seem to simply delve into combat arenas made me wonder if Naughty Dog outright forgot about the improvements they made between Drake's Fortune and Uncharted 2. I mean for starters, the enemies are genuinely bullet sponges this time around. And I'm not talking about the heavily armoured fellows you should expect to get comfortable with, either; standard, generic, regular ass dudes not even flinching as I puncture their bodies with a whole handgun clip.
AI patterns are much more aggressive now as well, with a significant increase of flanking to be had. Ordinarily that should instead be complimented under the reasoning for solid AI tropes. But during the later combat stages when you're simultaneously receiving eye laser-surgery from two snipers, more or less stuck in place by more of that god-like accuracy Drake's foes are always keen to take advantage of (such as literal situations when as soon as you're out from cover you're shot dead by five M9 toting mercenaries) it can become less tense and exhilarating, and more so downright frustrating. The difficulty and situations featuring a seemingly never-ending stream of bad guys was skimmed down for Uncharted 2 for that very reason for those exact kind of situations that plagued Drake's Fortune, and it's mind boggling as to why Naughty Dog would feel fit to return to more of such lazy encounters.
Some of these combat flaws wouldn't of been so noteworthy if the game wasn't so damn slow and sluggish to play, though. Even Drake's default movement during combat is slower than usual--and I recently played a bit of Uncharted 2 to compare. Guess Drake really did have one too many foot long sandwiches in between the two years? But it isn't all a wash; the melee combat has been greatly expanded upon--even if it does defeat its original purpose of quickly getting out of a jam--with all kinds of melee finishers and counters. And when Drake is surrounded by enemies he can drift between them like he's the goddamn Batman at times. Grenades can also (finally) be thrown back should you find one bleeping under your arse, and the platforming is still pretty much as smooth and easygoing as it was in Uncharted 2. Puzzles naturally return all in their splendor, mixed splendidly into the grandiose environments you'll find yourself in.
As such, some of the reasons why Uncharted 2 left such a daring mark on video gaming in general are still there. But with the baffling drop in quality for the combat portions, it leaves you with a lot less to be enamoured by and makes those very situations stand out more as being essentially more of the same in some regards. Even if it all really hasn't been matched until now, Uncharted 3's campaign is less wondrous to behold because of the very fact that we've seen all of it's motifs done in its predeccesor. I'm not harking against the linearity of it all, either; a damn good roller coaster ride is still a damn good roller coaster ride. It's for the sake of how Uncharted 3's gameplay is ironically made to be significantly worse, that the fact that no substantial improvements or alterations were made standout all the more. They even removed all of the unlockable doodads, cheats and modifiers, too; no more running around as Doughnut Drake in slow-motion with an infinite ammo RPG, I regret to say.
On the plus side, I would at least like to point out that the multiplayer side of things is fantastic. Returning in full swing from Uncharted 2 is a huge bevvy of cooperative and competitive options, now greatly expanded upon in near enough every facet. And you know what the weird thing is? The shooting is brilliant in both competitive and cooperative modes! It's much smoother, sleeker and easier to control. You can sprint, you will pick ammo automatically and both make Uncharted 3 play with a surprising haste that you simply couldn't have predicted after playing the single player.
The cooperative brings with it three modes of play, including a horde mode that dynamically switches between objectives, a Hunter mode that mixes in a flair of competitive as two players side with the AI to thwart the other two players, and there's still the Adventure mode. This essentially allows up to three players to conquer many of the set-pieces (thrown into a vastly different context) found within the single player--with a few of its own exclusive obstacles to combat against, too, for which I shan't spoil so you can potentially squeal like a fan girl yourself when you encounter them.
The competitive imports a lot of what was seen in Uncharted 2, with the unique mix of shooting and platforming. The customisation options have been massively expanded, however, with many more substantial boosters (perks) and now kickbacks, which function similar to kill-streaks but are fueled with medals, which are supplied by many a different means instead of just killing. You can customise your online avatars more so now, there's more taunts, there's weapon Modifications, Power-Plays that'll offer up handicaps to the losing team during deathmatches, multi-stage levels and treasures and... while the core component is the same, everything surrounding has been amped up to such a high degree that it'll still look to be a whole heap different from Uncharted 2's multiplayer. The only complaint have towards the multiplayer is there are a few too many deathmatch variants, though both Plunder (Uncharted's take on CTF) and Team Objective (a mishmash of team modes, including the likes of Conquest and King of The Hill) make for a great source of variety.
Regardless of the middling quality within the single-player, Uncharted 3 is a substantial package. The campaign is still a worthwhile tour around select sections of the world, just one that's best played on the easier settings to better allow you to sit back and bask in the 10-12 hours worth of pretty production values. The multiplayer side of things is where the Uncharted series has finally started to grow, as disconcerting as that no doubt may be. But it makes for some brilliant fun with friends all the same, and can now more than ever hold its own against some of the more prevalent standbys within the industry.
This isn't how I wanted the Uncharted trilogy to end; what was supposed to carry on Among Thieve's legacy was a quick dip back into why this series had such a rough start to begin with. The multiplayer may be some of the best on the PS3, but the single player is what should be standing upfront, strong and impregnable. Drake's Deception may not have crumbled that metaphor completely, but wherever the series goes, it now more than ever could do with a fresh new coat of paint.