Unless you work at Naughty Dog, trying to imagine their thought process is always going to be tricky. In 2009 they created one of the best games of this generation, but here we are in 2011 looking at Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception, their own attempt to wrestle that crown from themselves. You have to admire that kind of attitude, it can't be easy to top such an acclaimed piece of work, but here we are again gazing at another stellar title.
After stopping terrorists from unleashing a horrible plague on the world and then stopping an evil madman from attempting to become immortal, you'd think Nathan Drake would want some kind of a break. Fortunately for us, he's a bit glutton for punishment, so he's back yet again trying to solve another mystery that's related to Sir Francis Drake.
This time it all revolves around a ring that Nathan Drake has in his possession, a ring which he stole many years ago from a rather menacing woman called Katherine Marlowe.
Deception is a core theme in the third game, and this is very prevalent early on. While in London, Drake and Sully attempt to flush out Marlowe in order to get their hands on a decryption wheel, and when they do, they follow the trail to many different places around the world.
You'll visit sunny France while also exploring some of the finer parts of Yemen and each of the different locales feel nice and refreshing - you even get to do some potholing in some environments which is a nice touch. However, it doesn't feel as though enough time is spent in each of the locations and when you're there, it often doesn't feel as though you accomplish much.
There's also the problem of, often when you accomplish something, you've been followed - a perennial scenario from both of the past two games. The difference is, that it worked in those instances, because it was in keeping with the story and felt natural, but in Uncharted 3 it starts to get rather tedious. How can someone who's as streetwise as Drake be followed to a remote part of France and not even notice? There's also the question of, how many times can Drake go into a secret place only to be followed and have to fight his way out? It's baffling.
The characters featured throughout are also riddled with inconsistencies. We are all very familiar with Chloe Frazer and Elena Fisher, but this time the story focuses on Nathan Drake as a solo entity a bit too much. Other characters have what seems like cameos and then disappear, while even the bad guys suffer from a lack of face time. There's also the problem that Talbot and Marlowe pale in comparison to Harry Flynn and Lazarevic. Small resolutions do happen, but they seem awfully shallow and it's a shame that the strides made with Uncharted 2's cast and story-telling couldn't be improved upon this time around. Nonetheless, Uncharted 3's story is still a fun ride and you may even learn something new about the relationship between Elena and Nate.
Much of the core gameplay remains the same in Uncharted 3, with its roots being a cover-based third-person shooter. Its hook, as a franchise, has always been its fluidity and the vertical aspect that is possible due to Drake's traversal abilities. This means you're able to shoot people from ledges and even throw people off of them if you can climb up and catch them off guard.
Improvements have been made again to the platforming element of the game. You will encounter fewer instances where Drake doesn't seem to know what he's doing and flails randomly in the air instead of doing what you want him to. They're still in there though, and they rear their ugly head in some of the new chase-style sequences. It can be rather annoying when you jump on something only to either only just make it, or fall off. Both instances will lead to Drake grabbing a ledge, but somehow he doesn't seem capable of climbing up it.
There's a decent array of weapons to be found, with there being three core types - side arms, primary arms and explosives. Each category has numerous options, but most of the time it will depend on what you can salvage from your enemies. This makes the gameplay a bit more interesting, because you can't just go through the game using one gun. You're bound to run out of ammo, forcing you to adapt your strategy.
If this is the case, you'll be pleased to know that the melee combat has been improved even further this time around. It's now much more fluid and even gains context sensitivity. It's introduced in a classic London pub brawl, but the main points are as follows. Combinations are much easier to pull off now and you can counter attacks from enemies that you aren't directly facing. You can also throw people against walls and pummel them against the surface, or even use objects that are lying around.
Melee combat does seem to be a much more integral part of the gameplay with Uncharted 3 and at times it does get a bit fantastical. Somehow seeing Drake take on an army with his gun seems plausible, but seeing him take on 6-7 guys at a time in a fist fight seems a little far-fetched. There's also the fights with the "brutes" which appear a lot and are identical every time.
One of the most improved areas with Uncharted 3 has to be the puzzles. There are more of them and they're much more interesting - they give you a sense of satisfaction once you a) figure out what you're supposed to do and then b) complete them. It strikes a nice balance between being challenging and not too difficult, so kudos to Naughty Dog for getting this spot on. There's a small puzzle in France which epitomises this ethic. It may seem a little confusing at first, but it makes perfect sense once you figure it out.
Another area where things have improved is definitely presentation; Uncharted 3 takes things to a whole new level. There are numerous set pieces throughout that will dazzle you, but the best example has to be the entire boat segment. Not only does it nail the atmosphere, but the physics are spot on. Objects sway along with the waves and when the storm picks up, it gets rather crazy. That entire section just gets better the longer it goes on and it tops the legendary train sequence from Uncharted 2 with consummate ease.
Fire and sand were a big focus throughout the development process and they're in there attempting to wrestle the spotlight away from the fantastic water effects and physics. They aren't up to the same standard, but that's not to say they're bad. Watching the fire burn parts of the chateau away is stunning, until you see that it only burns a set amount until you move a bit further. It ruins the illusion a bit, which is a shame, but that's the kind of standard that Naughty Dog has set.
The sections that feature sand are also pretty good and there's a great segment that takes place is a bustling sandstorm that may well have you cursing and swearing due to a lack of visibility - but in a good way of course.
As we've come to expect, almost every aspect of the game's presentation is spot on. Going through some of the new location types, such as the London Underground or the Shipyard, creates a wonderful sense of adventure. It's quite eerie to look out from one of the rooftops, only to see parts of a city that you actually recognise. But it's also great to do the same across a shipyard that's being battered by a storm.
Yet again, Nolan North does a great job as Nathan Drake, but shout-outs should also be given for Cutter (Graham McTavish), Marlowe (Rosalind Ayres) and Talbot (Robin Atkin Downes), who provide perfect English accents for the roles their characters fulfil.
When touching on Uncharted 3's replay value, it's difficult to know where to begin. The campaign feels a little short this time around, which is doubly disappointing given its lack of focus. It should take the average player around 7-8 hours to complete. Once this has been done, you've got three choices; play through the game again on a harder difficulty; play local co-operative action; or play the online multiplayer.
It's great that Naughty Dog were able to add a split-screen option for those who don't want to go online or who couldn't acquire an Online Network Pass. Once you get used to the reduced screen size, it can be a whole lot of fun, but it does feel a bit more challenging than the online counterpart.
When going online, the game seems a little less focussed. Uncharted 2 knew exactly what it was doing, but Uncharted 3 seems to venture out far too much. There's a ton of customisation now, which all revolves around what levels you've acquired. This means you get scenarios where the higher players are more likely to win because they have much better items - not just better perks. And because there's now the option to choose your starting weapon, it's been made even more frustrating.
Somehow Naughty Dog has managed to lose what made Uncharted 2's multiplayer fun. Its gameplay seems less tight and even the addition of a "hardcore" mode doesn't alleviate the problems. It's good that they've tried to improve things, but a lot of the reason Uncharted 2's multiplayer was so loved is because it followed the less is more mantra.
Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception is a fantastic game and will be seen as one of the best games of this generation. But despite all of its achievements, in many ways it struggles to climb out from behind the shadow of Uncharted 2. The story feels a lot less structured this time around and some of the new gameplay additions overstay their welcome a bit. The multiplayer also feels as though it's taken a turn for the worse. But despite these negative points, Uncharted 3 still features fantastic core values and amazing spectacles. If you only play one game this year, you can't go too wrong if that game is Uncharted 3.
|Once the storm starts, the shipyard segment.|
|Puzzles strike a nice balance.|
|Fantastic presentation yet again.|
|Multiplayer has taken a turn for the worse.|
|Campaign feels much less focussed.|
|Drake keeps getting followed far too easily - it gets rather boring.|