Game Rant’s Ben Kendrick reviews Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception
It’s hard to believe that it has only been two years ago since Uncharted 2: Among Thieves won our coveted Game of the Year 2009 reader poll - along with plenty of other industry accolades. Among Thieves was a step-up in every way for the series and while a few lingering problems remained, such as uninspired gunplay and underwhelming boss encounters (to name a few), the title was easily one of the most satisfying games on the market in 2009.
However, 2011 has already seen some truly incredible gameplay experiences that featured the same brand of Uncharted-like over-the-top action. As a result, does Sony’s franchise follow-up, Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception continue to raise the bar for action-adventure titles or is Nathan Drake’s latest adventure a stale and disappointing step down for the series?
Fortunately, Naughty Dog offers another robust step forward for Sony’s Uncharted franchise – it’s not just that the title features bigger action scenes or refined multiplayer offerings, Uncharted 3 continues to blur the lines between our traditional understanding of “video games” and interactive storytelling. Drake’s Deception features plenty of playable moments that are designed to add impact to the Uncharted story – not just compelling gameplay set-pieces. While the game still suffers a bit from the repetitive “pirate shooting gallery” combat set-ups, that have been present ever since the first title, there are also plenty of intriguing character moments and cool cinematics that stitch everything together – to come across as a natural progression not a series of isolated encounters.
Naughty Dog clearly understands that over-the-top action set-pieces may sell Uncharted games to non-fans but character development is a major reason why established fans keep coming back to the series. As a result, the Uncharted 3 story not only brings back nearly every fan-favorite hero from the series, it also fleshes out each of the relationships in interesting and compelling ways – Sully enthusiasts will have a lot to be excited about as will dedicated fans of team Elena. The larger story arc is tied, loosely, to Drake’s past (allowing players insight into his humble beginnings) and, while the leading man’s motivations this round are (at times) a bit one-dimensional, the journey offers plenty of strong character moments and intriguing historical conspiracy.
Much like prior installments, Drake’s Deception follows Sony’s mascot treasure hunter on a globe-trotting adventure that provides for a number of memorable gameplay sequences. Drake must jump from locale to locale to uncover clues as to the whereabouts of an ancient city hidden in the Rub’ al Khali desert – all while outpacing this installment’s antagonist, Katherine Marlowe, who shares a complicated history with Drake and Sully. Along the way, Drake, and subsequently the player, face-off against bad guys in a number of beautifully-rendered locales – each one offering some interesting gameplay experiences (limited visibility, unstable ground physics, stealth opportunities, and inverted environments).
Some of the earlier locations, such as the London Underground, may come across as a little “samey” for fans of the series but, as the game progresses, Naughty Dog succeeds in throwing plenty of fresh and jaw-dropping eye-candy at the player. That said, it’s hard not to escape the fact that the progression of the game is very similar to prior installments and while some players will brush the familiarity off as “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” there’s no doubt that the creative minds as Naughty Dog could have done a better job of differentiating the experience, especially the last few chapters, from their earlier efforts. Similarly, the “supernatural” element this round offers a more grounded story twist as well as challenging (and diversified) gameplay – but is surprisingly brief.
In general, it’s clear that Uncharted 3 is supposed to up the ante while at the same time refining a lot of game mechanics. This tenuous balance can, at times, lead to some frustrating trial and error moments – especially in the game’s platforming and chase sequences. As a result of the the enormous scale and highly detailed environments, many players will likely find that, from time to time, it’s hard to differentiate exactly where they are supposed to go or what they’re supposed to be doing. It’s not a problem when the player is put in a room and asked to solve a puzzle but when they’re scrambling along roof tops with enemies in hot pursuit, it’s easy to slip off the beaten path or get hung-up on obstacles – resulting in checkpoint to checkpoint experiences and undermining sequences that were supposed to offer a fast-paced rush.
Similarly, Uncharted 3‘s camera placement doesn’t always do a great job of making it clear exactly where gamers are supposed to fling Drake – seemingly highlighting unobtainable objects in a variety of enormous rooms. In the end, four out of five times times the game succeeds in subtly hinting where to go next or successfully leading the player through a chase – but the other one out of five times can result in a number of cheap deaths and a lot of frustration.
However, where Uncharted 3‘s platforming and chase sequences can be frustrating once in awhile, the refinements to the combat definitely make the “pirate arenas” a lot more engaging this round – as players have more tools at their disposal than merely hiding behind cover all the time. The new melee moves improve Drake’s ability to be stealthy – enabling him to drop down on unsuspecting foes as well as duke it out Arkham City-style with a room full of thugs. The hand-to-hand combat isn’t as refined or deep as Batman’s fisticuffs but definitely adds an extra way for Drake to incapacitate enemies.
Similarly, swimming mechanics have been updated, so Drake can dive underwater to avoid gunfire – only to surface and surprise unsuspecting foes (like Ezio in the Assassin’s Creed series). Gunplay and the game’s arsenal have also been balanced, meaning aiming is more precise but realistic recoil has been added, so that players actually need to test out weapons in different scenarios – instead of merely relying on the AK-47 for the entire adventure.
The updates to the arsenal are especially noticeable in the game’s multiplayer offerings this round – since weapon attachments and customization are a big part of the experience. Much like Call of Duty, Uncharted 3 features a robust leveling system that unlocks various upgrades as well as perks (not to mention full avatar customization) and, much like Call of Duty, this means that the multiplayer is a lot more intense this round – since higher level players have a serious advantage with improved weaponry and better perks. For some players, the multiplayer will be frustrating at first but the XP system does provide a steady stream of upgrades that will, gradually, make it easier to dispatch enemies and acquire killstreak rewards.
Of course, for players who are intimidated by Deathmatch action, the co-operative offerings have also been refined and now, in addition to the basic (Survival) horde mode, Uncharted 3 repackages the franchise Objective mode in a story-based map Adventure that allows up to three players to tackle waves of enemies while collecting treasures and completing other objectives. Two players can also join-up for a co-op/competitive mash-up, Hunter, where teams take turns moving treasures across the map/defending drop points. Similarly, the deathmatch and plunder (capture the flag) competitive modes from Uncharted 2 carry over along with the addition of a Hardcore more with no boosters or medal kickbacks as well as a variation on deathmatch, Three Team Deathmatch.
Both the competitive and cooperative modes also feature local splitscreen functionality as well as include action beats that build a mini-narrative around each match. The story beats aren’t intrusive but, for anyone hoping for a co-op experience on par with the campaign, don’t add too much either. They’re a fun addition that emulates the Uncharted 3 action experience by adding context (co-op Drake and Sully loot a castle stronghold) and mixes up the gameplay (deathmatch players square off on moving train cars – until they arrive at a traditional subway station map). For more info on the finer online offering details check out our E3 demo coverage as well as our multiplayer beta impressions.
There’s no doubt that Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception is an excellent package – with plenty of incredible visuals, addictive online offerings, fun gameplay moments, as well as intriguing (and mature) story beats. While a few core elements stumble, as a result of the game’s enormous scope, it’s easy to forgive Naughty Dog and relish in a threequel that improves upon the groundbreaking series in nearly every way.
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Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception is available now exclusively on the PS3.