Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception Review
Uncharted 3 Review
By Walker Banerd
I’m just going to come right out and say it: Nathan Drake looks great soaking wet.
He also looks good in the light of a burning building or stumbling across sand dunes. In fact, there isn’t much that doesn’t look amazing in Uncharted 3, Naughty Dog’s latest third-person epic. The signature Uncharted marriage of great technical achievements with Hollywood blockbuster storytelling is back, making for another excellent game in the franchise. Make no mistake, Uncharted 3 is a definite success, but that said, cracks are beginning to show in the formula.
First of all, full disclosure: Uncharted 2 was my favourite game of all time. Uncharted 3, therefore, was my most-anticipated release ever. This means that I have a deep reverence for the franchise, but also that every minor flaw has been amplified one-thousand-fold by my expectations of perfection. So my review may make it seem as if I did not enjoy this game. Not true. I loved it. Thought I should make that clear before we begin.
The adventure kicks off with Drake and Sully selling an artifact to some shady clientele in a London pub. When the deal goes south, Drake and his allies are once more cast headlong into an epic adventure involving historical conspiracy, secret societies, mysterious potions, and lots and lots of guys with guns. So in other words, pretty much what we have come to expect from the series.
The first thing the game introduces is the modified hand-to-hand combat system. While it makes for a great opening sequence (there is no staple of fiction more reliable in my mind than the barroom brawl), the new melee combat is too slow moving and quicktimey to deserve the emphasis the game places on it.
Other than more fistfights, and a couple other new mechanics, the makeup of Uncharted 3 should look very familiar. Climbing, cover-based shooting, and puzzle solving appear in the usual proportions. The easy but inventive puzzles disappear mysteriously in the final third of the game, but otherwise the three gameplay elements are perfectly distributed, allowing for breakneck pacing and an experience that never feels too repetitive.
The shooting sections feel particularly fresh, due to a new AI system. Bad guys are aggressively mobile and creative with how they flank or rush your position. While this sometimes makes enemies appear completely uninterested in Drake as they turn their backs on him to find a new point of attack, the overall affect is that no two gunfights play the same. This is a particularly welcome improvement when replaying difficult sections over and over. The downside of this chaotic combat is that the game struggles to find appropriate respawn points. Many times I found myself working my way stealthily through a level only to die and reemerge at the other side of the room, unable to retrace my previous line of attack. This may seem minor, but can be a frustrating setback.
Speaking of frustrating, let’s get to those cracks in the formula, shall we? Drake looks pretty fit, but he must weigh 400 pounds the way things collapse under his weight. The gameplay never feels like it’s repeating itself, but the sequence of “Drake climbs on something, which then collapses, leaving him hanging by one hand”, is getting a bit tired. Much of the story of Uncharted 3 has this mildly tired feel to it. The plot suffers from what I call “Hangover Part 2 Syndrome” (which I will go into in depth in a separate article). If you are going to lift plot points verbatim, you could do a lot worse than Uncharted 2 for your source material. Unfortunately, the story of Uncharted 3 falls a bit flat in its rushed final act. There is no upswing in difficulty in the final levels, no strong climax or big final showdown. The revelations we are promised about Drake are never satisfactorily delivered, and the villains don’t live up to their initial potential for depth.
Where the story does work is in its focus on the relationship between Drake and Sully. Their father-son dynamic is the main thread through the story, and we understand their unusual bond much better by the end of the game. If that movie ever comes along, this relationship would be a wise place to focus.
I spent a lot of time on Uncharted 2 multiplayer, and found its simple game modes to be consistently exciting with deep replay value. However, it seems that the overall consensus was that the online modes lacked depth and enough sense of accomplishment or bonuses to accompany leveling up.
Uncharted 3 should silence these complaints with a new online system that takes what worked in the previous game and adds a ton of new features. Deathmatches now feature dynamic scenarios like gunfights on two speeding trains, and include larger maps to play in. New modes, both co-op and competitive, bring a variety of flavours. But the most important changes are the added features. Skins can be customized with money earned, weapons can be modified, extra boosters can be purchased before a match, and “power plays” granted to the losing team make most games close to the last bullet. On top of this, the co-op mode is deeper, and even allows for splitscreen play (which allows for high-fives). Overall, the online side of Uncharted 3 is a deliberately crafted experience that should develop a dedicated player base.
Visual: Uncharted 3 is a brilliant visual achievement. The developers pushed themselves into some of the hardest environments to animate (sand, water, fire) and came out with beautifully rendered interactive settings. The lighting is phenomenal, highlighting the detail of the levels. The animations are strikingly natural, as Drake will absentmindedly touch walls as he walks beside them, or tighten up his posture when danger is imminent. The facial animations are also stellar, conveying emotion and demeanor not just in cutscenes, but during gameplay as well.
Audio: An old-fashioned rousing score carries the adventure along with the right mood. The sound effects are rock-solid. And the cast is once again largely on top form, with the returning weak link of Emily Rose as Elena Fisher. Nolan North is right in his wheelhouse as Nathan Drake, and he justifies his status as the action-adventure go-to-guy with his performance.
Uncharted takes place in a unabashed video game world, where bad guys appear in waves, half-walls are the most abundant form of architecture, and everything you ever need is just a platforming sequence away. And it works just fine. This is not an exercise in realism. What it is, is the sheer joy of gaming pushed to its extreme. The Uncharted formula is a great place to start, and holds the potential for world-class gaming. But when it comes time for Uncharted 4, let’s hope that Naughty Dog’s technical ambition can be matched by a desire for innovation in storytelling as well.