Uncharted 3 is solidly entertaining despite not being any better
As arguably the best game of 2009, Uncharted 2: Among Thieves set the bar ridiculously high for Naughty Dog’s next outing with series. The cinematic flair of the action, the peerless character interaction and the incredible pacing of Uncharted 2’s globe-trotting romp has become the yardstick that the competition has failed to meet ever since. Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception doesn’t quite measure up to that yardstick. It proves that there’s still a ton of fun to be had with the formula, but the shortcomings prevent it from being the follow-up you were hoping for.
If you’ve played an Uncharted game before then the setup for Drake’s Deception will be immediately familiar. Nathan Drake yet again is searching for a lost city connected in some way with his ancestry and another notable explorer, in this case Lawrence of Arabia and his connection to the "Atlantis of the Sands". The key difference between Uncharted 3 and the previous games is that the story delves deeper into the more personal side of Drake himself than before.
It’s not entirely successful, with the sneering villain Katherine Marlowe failing to provide much in the way of menace and the sense that Naughty Dog don’t go far enough to put a question mark over what makes Drake tick. The story weaves an initially interesting tale with several well-executed red herrings and twists, but the structure is so familiar that there isn’t really any sensation of wonder or discovery. Series fans will get a kick out of seeing the relationship between the beloved Victor Sullivan and Drake expanded upon, but the more complicated narrative gives way to plot holes, neglected characters and inconsistencies that just weren’t present in the previous games. There’s always the nagging feeling that the witty banter between Drake and Sully is masking the issues with the overall story and filling in time between another slice of pure spectacle.
If spectacle is what you’re looking for then Uncharted 3 will nail your jaw to the floor with its set-piece action sequences. A few tricks are overused, especially running towards the camera from something, but there’s no denying that Naughty Dog go a bit further than they did before. Just like Uncharted 2 there are moments where you’ll be struck by the fact that they can actually pull off some of these technical showcases and the way each action sequence is framed makes it all look that much more impressive.
In fact, Uncharted 3 looks impressive full-stop. Anyone who said they couldn’t make a PS3 game look better after God of War 3 will once again be surprised at how excellent Uncharted 3 looks. The locations you’ll visit aren’t quite as varied as the last game but the artistic design and texture work together convey an impression of realism that’s unmatched in even the most technically proficient PC titles. The facial animations, lighting and sand technology especially are some of the best effects you’ll see in any game. Somehow, Naughty Dog’s engineers have managed to make Uncharted 2 look comparatively ugly when set in contrast to Drake’s Deception.
Given how well Naughty Dog manage to surpass themselves in the action and graphics department, it’s embarrassing how comparatively inferior the actual gameplay is to Among Thieves. The climbing is as simple and satisfying as ever and just as linear as it was before. The real issue lies in the gunplay. Simply put, aiming and taking cover just doesn’t feel quite right. The excessive attention to the details of how Drake moves makes movement feel like accurate control is being sacrificed for the sake of character animation. Now Uncharted has never really been about precision control but the combat scenarios are scripted in such a way that they require a level of aiming and movement fidelity that the controls don’t provide. The gunplay is still enjoyable but given how often you’re forced into it it’s difficult to ignore the fact that you’re not equipped to deal with the AI on a basic control level. Death will come out of nowhere in Drake’s Deception and it rarely feels like it was your fault that you died. I don’t say this often but Uncharted 3’s enemies frequently feel cheap, often charging you while soaking up too many bullets or sidling up behind you for an insta-death shotgun blast without giving you time to react.
This wouldn’t have been so much of a problem if the single-player didn’t feel as awkwardly paced as it does. The first third of game is a lovely slow burn, mixing some the series’ best puzzles and traversal with occasional bouts of intense combat. The pacing then places a heavy and repetitive emphasis on combat with little in the way of platforming or puzzling right up to the end of the game. It’s propulsive to be sure, but the balance between gameplay styles is obvious in its absence. All this being said, the singleplayer game is still a blast to play, and a couple of the none-combat sequences are so compelling the game is almost worth playing just to see them. Just keep in mind that the overall quality of the story and campaign isn’t nearly as consistent as you’d expect. It’s also important to note that replayability has taken a hit because the option to buy new skins, weapons and cheats to use in singleplayer is nowhere to be found. Meaning you’re probably only going to want to see the singleplayer once.
Happily the multiplayer has received nothing but improvement and extra features. The Modern Warfare model of character progression has been layered on top of the robust multiplayer engine of Uncharted 2 with a set of maps that fully take advantage of the traversal mechanics. In some ways the unlockable boosters and weapons break the skill-based gameplay of the previous game’s multiplayer as choosing a good loadout takes precedence over knowing the maps and controls perfectly, but that’s a reasonable price to pay for the added depth.
The real highlight of the multiplayer is the co-operative game types. In addition to your standard Hoard mode (which is thankfully mixed up by multiple objectives to avoid getting repetitive) and a new semi-competitive villains and AI versus well-equipped Heroes mode, the co-operative campaign returns with its own bespoke story to keep things interesting. The visuals receive a significant downgrade in quality to support the three players but the great series-spanning scenarios that incorporate a host of familiar locations add a lot of worthwhile content that’s worth seeing more than once.
Uncharted 3 disappoints. But that’s acceptable given how superb Uncharted 2 was and how difficult it would be for Naughty Dog to top that previous effort. There are missteps in Drake’s Deception’s design to be sure, but the few amazing moments in the singleplayer and the solid multiplayer offerings mean there’s no disputing that Uncharted 3 is a solid game nonetheless.