Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception – The Verdict

Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception – The Verdict

Well, something had to be left off the list: there were simply too many games. From August onwards we were buried under a huge pile of games that were not just hugely exciting, but typically expansive and demanding in review terms. Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception was as exciting a prospect as the rest, but it slipped through the net anyway.

But then, in this generation of scant exclusives, Uncharted is the single well established bragging point for Playstation owners: the perfect, colourful, lightish-hearted counterpoint to the 360’s one major new exclusive (Gears of War, dummy). It’s the birthright of any Playstation 3 owner and, as we have already established is quite good. And the third instalment was always likely to continue on that theme. And it does.

And yes, I did this ‘do I really have to review this for you people? You’re going to buy it anyway’ schtick with Assassins Creed Revelations. But don’t mind me.

Mechanically, Uncharted 3 changes very little. A wider array of animations and context-sensitive actions builds upon the fine gunplay of the first two games, and the melee combat builds a little further on Uncharted 2‘s efforts, adding a greater range of moves, multi-directional attacks and temporarily grabbed objects. This is most ably demonstrated in the game’s opening sequence, set in a nearly distractingly English pub frequented by a fine gathering of cockney football hooligans.

Nathan Drake walks away from the camera in a seemingly endless desert
Uncharted 3 features an unparalleled visual representation of a desert: but the real achievement of this section is its sense of isolation and disorientation

On the negative side, perhaps the exhaustive selection of guns blur into one, and perhaps there could have been a few more changes to the core gameplay. It certainly would have given me more to say in this paragraph, though the stealth sections are still an awkward inclusion. Supposedly they too have been streamlined, but I can’t say I ever fully understood why the AI had sighted me. And aside from the two achievements you get for playing stealthily, there isn’t really any incentive to play with the system.

Graphically, it’s still the finest looking series on the Playstation 3 and the performances of the digital actors and the real-world actors speaking their lines are so neatly fused by Naughty Dog’s process that ‘performance’ is a word that you can actually get away with using. But you know that. You also know that the story is the main reason for putting money down for this game. One thing I particularly love about the Uncharted series, is that even after three games there is no grand conspiracy, no over-arching plot tritely lashing the game together.

Instead, we have a focus on the characters. Seemingly embracing the all too common comparisons with the Indiana Jones series (right down to the chapter played as a youthful Drake), Uncharted 3 is more about Nathan Drake’s relationship with father figure Victor Sullivan than it is about the antagonist’s motivations. These are characters that have been built effectively for our love – not hugely complex or nuanced, but superbly well constructed all the same.

Cigar Smoking Victor Sullivan addresses the player
Sully may have seemed like a simple stock character in Drake's Fortune, but he ably carries Uncharted 3's most effective plot points and themes

The thing is, beyond the parts where Uncharted 3’s characters open up to each other, or do things motivated by their relationships, it’s actually a rather weak outing. Villain Katherine Marlowe is memorable only as a facsimile of Helen Mirren, and the game openly admits that it’s not sure exactly why it’s making you stay one step ahead of whatever her schemes involve. For the first half of the game, it doles out enough about Drake’s past and enough touching moments between its heroes that it really doesn’t matter. But the central mystery – the location of the lost city of Ubar – is then essentially solved halfway through the game and it the game launches into a meandering sequence of events where character interaction is entirely thrown out in favour set-piece after set-piece after set-piece.

If Uncharted 3‘s second half were a film, no producer would sign off on it. And whilst a cinematic experience free of the constraints of budget and common sense sounds great in theory, here’s it’s just borderline tiresome. Again and again the player runs, rides and drives after a mode of transport specifically so they can be thrown around in it then off of it dramatically, always accompanied by the rat-tat-tat of the antagonist’s bizarrely dedicated henchmen. Despite fantastic environmental design, solid action fundamentals and elaborate scripted sequences the game really becomes less than the sum of its parts, and it’s surprising to see it flail around in this way.

Beat for beat, this later half also becomes too similar to Uncharted 2. You get teamed up with a local tribesperson in the eleventh hour, seemingly for no better reason than how well that worked last time (sorry Salim, you have nothing on Tenzin). From there you once again chase a convoy and blow me down if an elaborate, derelict, ancient metropolis doesn’t turn up in the middle of an inhospitable location and promptly fall apart in an entertainingly platformable way.

Sully and the player crouch behind cover in a gunfight inside a burning chateau
It has been observed elsewhere, but the gunfight inside the burning chateau is just beyond bizarre. And it's far from the last time you'll be dodging bullets inside a medium scale disaster.

You never stop having fun when it’s happening, it just strikes you all as a little much – and in the absence of something greater to criticise, or any dramatic kind of innovation, it’s what I’m stuck harping on about. There is of course the debate over whether the series is too cinematic (thus linear, hand-holding, unmalleable) for its own good, but this seems to me almost a side-effect of the genre it’s so enjoyably imitating (the classic adventure movie).

The idea that there’s a certain compulsory level of interactivity in a game is one that is creeping into a lot of games writing at the moment, and I’m not sure it’s entirely useful. Even as we welcome artsy, indie games where gameplay is more incidental, we seem to turn our noses up at any action game that takes back even the slightest fraction of control. And even if Uncharted 3 ought to stop serving up the solutions to its puzzles and put some of the challenge back in its ledge grabbing, its environments are still open enough and filled with enough collectable trinkets and visual rewards that it’s far better than the ‘one long corridor’ problems of a lot of contemporary action game design.

Uncharted 3 is everything Uncharted 2 was, just a touch less interesting – and not just because Uncharted 2 was a hard act to follow, but because of a lack of just one or two new ideas, or a little tighter control on the glut of scenarios that attempt to pass for those ideas. Nevertheless, ample multiplayer modes (including co-op and split-screen mode, an apparently heroic effort in this day and age) complete a package that you really ought to have purchased by now.

Verdict – Head Shot

Platforms Available / Reviewed – PS3

For more information on our scoring system, please read this post.

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