Game Review: Uncharted 3 – Drake’s Deception.

(Note: this review does not account for Co-op mode, which I have yet to play)




Uncharted 2: Among Thieves is a fantastic game — no, really fantastic.  It’s not just one of my favorite video games from this generation, it’s one of my favorite video games, period.  The original Uncharted got me hooked to the series pretty quickly (though I will readily admit that it’s a flawed game), but the sequel completely gripped me with its huge gameplay improvements, dramatically better storytelling, and overall sense of polish.  Uncharted 2 has successfully sucked away countless hours of my life; so much so, that I think it’s safe to say that I know all the in’s and out’s of the game extremely well (I would have Platinum’d the game, if not for the seemingly hundreds of multiplayer-related trophies).  Naturally, I’ve been looking forward to the release of Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception for some time.  I very rarely (actually, never) buy games on launch day for full price, but, given my love for the second game, I actually did so for Uncharted 3.  Now that it’s finally here, does it live up to the hype?


First, a disclaimer.  For such a cinematic series as this, it’s really in your best interest to avoid spoilers.  Therefore, I will be avoiding any specific plot points in my review, though I will obviously reference the overall story quite a bit (especially given how inseparable it can be from the gameplay).


Interestingly, writing a video game review for an Uncharted game is a surprisingly difficult thing.  With most game reviews, you simply write about the quality of the gameplay.  Story can, of course, be included and be subject for criticism, but, for the most part, story plays second fiddle in comparison to the ever-important question, “How does it play?”  While thinking about what to write for the Uncharted 3 review, however, I often had to stop myself from treating it like a movie review.  Plot, character development, and emotional arcs all take such a prominent position in this third game that, at times, it feels impossible to separate them from the gameplay.  In fact, this game is probably more cinematic than any of the past Uncharted games (which says quite a lot, given the series).  The first two games have their standard gameplay moments (ie. shooting and platforming), but while the first two games would have you do all that in the context of the story, Uncharted 3 will actually introduce you to brand new, briefly used, gameplay mechanics, simply because the story calls for it.  Most of these work remarkably well.  Many feel completely effortless (like horseback riding), but there are a couple that occasionally feel a little awkward (mostly just a small handful of random quicktime events).  All of them, however, look amazing.  The game is pretty smart about giving you the appropriate visual cues, letting you know when you’re in control of the action and when you’re simply observing (though that line is blurred and toyed with more than any game I’ve ever played).


"I'm on a horse."


As for the story itself, Naughty Dog proves once again that they are masters of their craft.  I have yet to see another video game that takes storytelling to the cinematic level that Naughty Dog consistently does.  While a newcomer can jump right into the plot of this game and grasp it, players of the first two games definitely benefit the most from Uncharted 3’s story.  The characters are very real and extremely well-developed, and it’s a lot of fun to see their progression from the first game to this one.  Naturally, the story invokes lots of peril, globetrotting, and mystery (as with every game) — but the characters are really at the forefront of this one.  That being said, Drake’s Deception is still one crazy, awesomely fun ride.  The environments are somehow even more gorgeous than in Among Thieves, and you’ll be amazed at the sheer variety found in the locales (no, it’s not all deserts like the box art would have you believe).  Uncharted 3 somehow manages to deliver intimate character moments and gigantic, over-the-top action scenes in the same game.


The story this time centers around Drake's relationship with Sully. Expect lots of snappy one-liners and some well-told backstory.


The big question, then, is, “Does Uncharted 3 have a better story than the second game?”  My answer is, “No, BUT it is on par with it.”  There are tiny little things about the story that hold it back from being the best thing ever, but given that I just said it’s on the exact same level as one of my all-time favorite video games, that’s still high praise.  The villains in Drake’s Deception are easily the best in the entire series (though that fact also means that they feel underused — despite showing up as often as Lazarevic in Uncharted 2).  By this point in the series, it’s pretty established that the games follow a similar narrative plot structure.  Nevertheless, Drake’s Deception does a number of things different from its predecessors.  Having played the first two games, I occasionally found myself expecting events to unfold a certain way, only to have the game surprise me and do something different.  That’s not to say the game is completely unexpected, mind you — the bad guys will still figure out where to go next (even though you have all the clues), Drake will still get the snot beaten out of him through the course of your adventure, and there’s another hidden city with a secret to be found.  Most of all, the ending was suspiciously similar to that of Among Thieves (despite throwing a few great twists at you).  That’s still not enough to take away from the enjoyment of the story, however, but it is worth mentioning.


Katherine Marlowe is the most fascinating villain in any Uncharted game so far -- which makes the fact that she gets very little development a real shame.


Even if the story of Uncharted 3 isn’t particularly better than Uncharted 2, the gameplay most certainly is.  Drake’s Deception is the natural evolution of the Uncharted franchise, as far as gameplay goes.  It may not be leaps and bounds beyond its predecessor like Among Thieves was in comparison to Drake’s Fortune, but it still takes the already amazing gameplay found in its predecessor and improves upon it.  A few new moves for Drake include vertical takedowns, stealing an enemy’s weapon mid-combat, diving in water, and throwing back grenades.  The biggest gameplay improvement, however, is the combat.  Not only can you now fight multiple enemies at once, but you can actually use the surrounding environment to your advantage (I particularly like picking up bottles and smashing them on some bad guy heads).  At first, combat will come across like one big quicktime event, but you’ll quickly learn that you’re in full control during a brawl.  While not as fluid as the combat mechanics of Arkham Asylum (my textbook example of a perfect hand-to-hand combat system), Drake’s Deception does borrow a few really good ideas from the superhero game — making combat quick, simple, and effective.  As for the rest of the gameplay mechanics, the gunplay and platforming for Uncharted 3 are as solid as ever.  I’ve seen a few complaints on the internet that the guns don’t handle as well as they did in Among Thieves, but I honestly never noticed (though the guns in singleplayer do have considerably more recoil than the guns in multiplayer).  One minor complaint I do have about the gunplay, however,  is that the ability to switch aiming from one shoulder to the other has been mysteriously removed.  I used that feature quite a bit in the past two games, so its exclusion is more perplexing than anything else. [EDIT: Apparently, this feature is still in the game, but, unlike the past two, it’s turned off by default.  A strange change, but complaint withdrawn].  These minor quibbles aside, there really is very little to dislike about Uncharted 3‘s gameplay.


"You guys just made a big mistake - I can hit two of you at the same time now!"


Naturally, Drake’s Deception has a few awesome set pieces meant for some great gameplay — my favorites included a sinking cruise ship and attacking a convoy on horseback.  Interestingly, none of the set pieces left me in as much awe as the train sequence in Uncharted 2, despite the fact that, logistically, Drake’s Deception makes the biggest moments of Among Thieves feel like child’s play.  Indeed, Uncharted 3 has more over-the-top action than any of the previous games — with a few moments that will leave you thinking, “You’ve got to be kidding me.”  It would never be possible in real life, but, hey, this is Uncharted.  If anything, it’s immensely enjoyable.  I do have to state, however, that the game seems to have a very slight over-reliance on the giant set pieces, sometimes at the expense of smaller gameplay moments.  While the first two games definitely had large moments, they also had quieter moments when you were still in control (and most likely exploring).  Drake’s Deception definitely still has those moments, but the plot almost moves too fast to appreciate them (Almost).  Again, it doesn’t come anywhere close to ruining the game, but it’s worth noting.  For one thing, it means that the pacing is so breakneck that you’ll be hooked on the very first chapter.


Lastly, there’s the retooled multiplayer.  While Uncharted 2 successfully introduced competitive multiplayer to the series, it was my least favorite aspect of the game.  Sure, it could be fun, but there was a lot of room left for improvement.  When it worked, the multiplayer was fairly enjoyable, but, often, you could go for multiple rounds without actually feeling like you made any progress.  That feeling is gone in Drake’s Deception.  The multiplayer is far deeper, more developed, and, ultimately, a lot more fun.  There’s a constant sense of progression — even if you haven’t actually gotten any kills in awhile. New gameplay elements called Kickbacks and PowerPlays ensure that one single player doesn’t dominate the entire map, and they add a frenetic sense of urgency that was missing from the second game.  Additionally, the multiplayer is far more customizable.  While Among Thieves had its obvious winners and losers with regards to its loadout selection, Drake’s Deception gives you the ability to be a lot more flexible in your approach.  Whole characters can be customized, to say nothing of your ever-growing weapon and perk selections.  Finally, some of the maps in Uncharted 3 deserve a fair amount of praise for being so dynamic.  About halfway through the match, something about the map will change — which will inevitably force you to alter your strategy.  I haven’t spent a colossal amount of time with the multiplayer of Drake’s Deception yet, but I have a feeling that I’ll be returning to it a lot more often than I did in Among Thieves.


Multiplayer is all about shaking things up. In this map, you start on a cargo plane mid-takeoff, then move to an airport hangar halfway through.


Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception isn’t so much a game as it is an experience.  Like past games, the phrase, “It’s like playing a movie!” definitely still applies.  Sure, it’s linear (since when is that a bad thing?), but the Uncharted games are still unique in this medium.  For instance, I haven’t even begun talking about the little things that this game makes look easy — be it the lifelike animation, the top-notch voice acting, the phenomenal art direction, or the obsessive attention to detail.  Sure, you may not always get to pick where you’ll go in this game, but the ride is so much fun that you’ll hardly care.   And, ultimately, that’s what Uncharted 3 comes down to — being fun.  The gameplay is fun, the plot is fun, and the characters are fun.  There may be small things to nitpick over, and it may not soar leagues beyond its previous title, but, at the end of the day, you’ll still have a blast and you’ll still find yourself caring about the characters.  How many video games manage to do that?



Pro’s

  • Engaging, likable, and very real characters
  • As always, the visuals continue to impress
  • Some really amazing sequences
  • Gameplay is as fun as ever — even boasting a few, most-welcome improvements (especially with regards to hand-to-hand combat)
  • The plot does a decent job of departing from the norm established by the first two games
  • Multiplayer has been greatly improved.
Con’s
  • While just as good as Among Thieves, the plot never truly rises above it.
  • A few of my favorite characters (like Elena and the new villains) feel a little underused.
  • While mostly avoided in the second game, a few unnecessary quicktime events return for this one.  They’re not bad — they just feel unnecessary.
  • It has to end eventually
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~ by digitallysmitten on November 14, 2011.

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