A Second Opinion: Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception

What do you look for in a game? If you said “fun,” you should probably pick up Uncharted 3. If you said “kick-ass action,” you should probably pick up Uncharted 3. If you said “deep and addictive multiplayer,” you should probably picked up Uncharted 3. If you said…

Okay, you get my point. If you own a PS3, you should prob–scratch that, you want to have a copy of Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception in your library.

Uncharted 3 represents, to my eyes, the pinnacle of Popcorn Gaming: in the same way I lined up to see Avatar, plan on lining up to see The Dark Knight Rises, and regularly line up to see every Steven Spielberg movie (well, blockbuster-mode Spielberg at least), I will probably never not — after the unbelievable Uncharted 2: Among Thieves — accompany Nathan Drake, his pal Sully, and the gang on their globetrotting adventures.

If you’ve played the first two Uncharted installments, you know what you’re in for here: Fun shooting action (with reworked melee mechanics), platforming that ranges from enjoyable to phenomenal, a brisk, action-packed story, killer multiplayer, and — last, but the exact opposite of least — the most jaw-dropping setpieces you’ll ever experience in a video game. It has its weak points — the brisk story could also use a little creativity, more on that in a moment — but my complaints are moot when discussing Uncharted 3, the new high water mark for action games.

Uncharted 3 picks up a spell after Uncharted 2. Lazarevic, El Dorado, and the quest for Marco Polo’s secrets are a thing of the past, and Nate is now on a more personal mission that, once more, involves his ancestor, Sir Francis Drake. The beginning is a (relatively) low-key bar brawl after a, um, business associate attempts to screw Nate and Sully. While maybe not as memorable as Uncharted 2’s cliffhanger (hee hee) of an opening, it’s a clever way to introduce you to the new melee system. Shooting endless numbers of anonymous men with a variety of awesome weapons — sniper rifles, sniper pistols, grenade launchers, and RPGs are just a taste of the fun — is nothing new to the series, but taking them on in intricate, prompt based hand-to-hand combat is. Imagine a combination of the fighting from previous Uncharted games and the Batman: Arkham series. It’s great, and it makes the melee flat out matter more. I had a handful of issues with hit detection — in both melee and gunfighting — but the experience was generally smooth.

The platforming is back, as good as ever. You’ll travel to London, Yemen, France, Syria, and Egypt, and each environment provides a multitude of fantastically designed locals that are just as much fun to look at as they are to climb on. Add to that a few special areas — all I’m gonna say is “boat,” cause holy fuck — and there can be no denying that Uncharted 3 provides some of the coolest platforming in the industry.

A regular complaint about the series is that these sections are rather restricted — only a handful of times is there more than one way to go through an area — but hey, in terms of both narrative and gameplay, the Uncharted series is a very linear, action & story-first experience. In a time when open world is the way to go in the industry, I’m happy there’s a series that wears its linearity on its sleeve — and works. inspired by the best kinds of action cinema, and it’s a hell of a lot of fun.

I’m playing yin and yang in my mind with the story. (“Some critic you are!”) On one hand, it entertains. The characters are great. Nate and Sully’s back-and-forths had me laughing out loud more than a couple of times. Charlie Cutter is a fantastic, funny new addition to the cast, and Chloe and Elena return to add their particular brands of femininity.

Few video games have created such a solid returning cast I can genuinely say I have affection for. The voice acting and character models are scary, scary good. I don’t think I’ve ever played a game in which the characters moved, behaved, and interacted with each other so naturally. It’s a step forward for video game storytelling.

Unfortunately, there’s that pesky gap between storytelling and story. Uncharted 3 mostly rests on its laurels in terms of plot. There are inspired moments, to be sure — playable sections as young Nate are great — but for the most part this is post-Raiders of the Lost Ark, pulpy action fantasy. (In fact, part of me thinks Spielberg might be collecting royalties.) For example, anyone who’s played the earlier Uncharteds knows that Nate’s character is a bit of an airhead who doesn’t quite think his actions through, yet in Uncharted 3 he knows exactly what to do at exactly the right time, and the third act of the game is basically a complete copy/paste of Uncharted 2’s finale.

What makes Uncharted 3 frustrating is it comes so close to breaking that mold. There are two parts in particular that made me think, “Hey, this game is really playing with my expectations! Good for them for taking risks!” But neither came to fruition. (Being the anti-spoiler gent that I am, any readers can feel free to e-mail me for a discussion.) I really, really, really wanted Uncharted 3 to toss a big, risky wrench into the cogs of the plot, something that would’ve just fucked everything up for the characters; that, I believe, would have made it the undeniable and instant classic is comes so close to being. I guess I’ll just have to settle for one of the greatest action games ever made.

Speaking of action, once the game ends, there’s the multiplayer, that perennial requisite of of the modern action game. (Or so one might have thought before Batman: Arkham City knocked off a whole lot of socks [almost] completely offline.) To be completely honest, I’m not a huge competitive multiplayer kind of guy. I’ve done my Modern Warfare, Halo, and Team Fortress 2 stints. I had a bit of a TF2 obsession, but generally, I’ll play a few rounds and be done with it. Additionally, when it was announced pre-release that Uncharted 2 would have a multiplayer component, I simply could not see how the Uncharted gameplay would transfer. Holy hell was I wrong. Uncharted 2’s multiplayer, which somehow managed to incorporate the gunning, melee, and platforming in nicely sized, well-balanced arenas, was fantastic, and I was hooked.

And yup, you guessed it, the multiplayer in Uncharted 3 is much improved. There are more levels, each bigger and more varied. Most of all the levels have a lot more to climb on, up, down, and over — much appreciated. The leveling system (with a much higher level cap), boosters (different effects, such as faster reloading and sprinting, quicker climbing, stealthier movement, etc… which can greatly turn the tide of a match), medal (for certain achievements in a match) and payment systems return. Each one has been impressively polished. There a more boosters and much more to purchase. Medals now earn you something called a “Medal Kickback,” a very helpful enhancement that can be activated mid-match after attaining a certain number of medals. Maybe the biggest addition is that of a Buddy System. At the beginning of a match you’re partnered with another player; you have the ability to constantly see each other on the map, do entertaining co-op taunts, and spawn to each other after you die. With all these improvements, Naughty Dog has definitely crafted something I’ll be coming back to for a long time.

But the true spirit of a game like this lies in making your jaw hit the floor in utter disbelief at what’s happening onscreen. But not just what’s happening onscreen — what you’re playing onscreen. From escaping collapsing buildings and cities to chasing long convoys to rooftop chases to one motherfucking hell of a plane crash to BOAT, wild video game action just does not get any better than Uncharted 3. These sequences tend to be a bit on the easy side (even playing on hard), but I still died regularly because I was just in awe of what was going on around me. (I’m not ashamed to admit that panic set in a couple of times.) Whether in awe or in unbearable anticipation of what was coming next, I was always on the edge of my seat. All I can say is bravo Naughty Dog, bravo. How this series isn’t a Call of Duty killer, I’ll never know. (Actually, I do. Multiplatform. Hint hint.)

So there you have it. Is it safe to say I enjoyed my third go around with Nate and the gang? Better believe it, sister. I will definitely play the game again (bring it, Crushing difficulty), and be hooked on the multiplayer for the foreseeable future. Honestly, if the story hadn’t hewn so close to a familiar formula and really blasted my expectations out the window (“ELENA IS A DUDE!!?”), I would probably right now proclaim it the game of the year. But it doesn’t, so it’s sitting in my head like a killer action flick. I am in humble awe of Naughty Dog’s technical achievement, but for all the pulse-pounding thrills, it really could have been better.

The irony is Naughty Dog comes so close and pulls away at the last second.

That doesn’t feel like something Nate would do.


Posted on December 24, 2011, in Game Reviews and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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