Though often compared to Indiana Jones and his adventures in archeology, I’ve always personally felt that the tales of Nathan Drake share more in common with the James Bond series, only with a little more levity and a lot less suave. You have the exotic locales and scores of faceless henchmen to kill all wrapped up in a grandiose story about one man saving the world. Uncharted 3 continues the strong legacy of the series and delivers some of the finest escapism of this console generation. I would recommend it in a heartbeat.
Thus I understand that searching for flaws in something such as Uncharted 3 is practically the definition of nitpicking. The fact of the matter is that this game has been destined for high scores since the credits rolled in Uncharted 2. Drake’s Deception does nothing to ruin that legacy, but that isn’t to say that the game is without fault. More to the point, though, we have an obvious comparison to make with the game that preceded this – Uncharted 2: Among Thieves. On those grounds Uncharted 3 stumbles just ever so slightly.
Already lauded for its approach to cinematic gameplay and thrilling set pieces, much was expected from the Uncharted series after Naughty Dog’s good, but not great, Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune. The fact that Uncharted 2 came to exceed those expectations is part of the reason why I rank it higher than Uncharted 3. I’d go further than that, though, and argue that Uncharted 2 was simply a better game from beginning to end. It told a better story, was more tightly paced, and most importantly of all, was always moving forward. I said that there is no great flaw to Uncharted 3 and I stand by that completely. In contrast to 2009′s game of the year, however, Drake’s Deception occasionally moves sideways instead, and it is in those few moments you realize that the game isn’t quite as good as it maybe could have been.
Not that it lessens the over all enjoyment of the game (I did say this was mostly nitpicking after all). Uncharted 3 retains the emphasis on frequent fire fights divided up with puzzles and platforming sections that made both its predecessors such a delight to play. This is a game that lives by the adage “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” and anyone who’s ever played one of the Uncharted games will be fully aware of what they’re getting into with Drake’s Deception.
Much of the sideways movement occurs during the middle third of the game. Though punctuated with some incredible set pieces, and a great chase sequence through the streets of Yemen, most of your time is spent plodding around a visually uninteresting big gray box populated with an unending flow of pirate cannon fodder. These sections are a lot like the first game in that sense. Making matters worse, the story is stretched to its thinnest with a meager excuse for a twist that even someone half asleep could see coming from a mile away.
In general, the middle portion of the tale is noticeably weaker than the brothers that bookend it. A quick reminder to all writers out there – it’s never a good idea to have your characters spout vaguely meta-sounding lines about the neatness of the narrative, and this is something that Drake is guilty of more than a few times. For a game so hell bent on providing as thrilling and cinematic an experience as any available in gaming, it doesn’t help to draw the player out of the action like that.
Nor for that matter, while we’re on the subject of the player/game relationship, does it pay to limit the player’s control so often. I’m not simply talking about scripted sequences either – the worst moments for me were when the game would prevent me from drawing a weapon, dictate my movement speed, or just straight force me into one very specific path even while the rest of the game world stretches for miles around me. Again, this is a problem mainly confined to the that troublesome middle third. At either end of Uncharted 3, however, there are moments that seem unnecessarily restrictive and leave you little in the way of a tangible influence on the game world.
On the other hand, I did always wonder about that “playing a cut scene” comment that seems to apply to Uncharted 3. Wasn’t that exactly what we’ve wanted ever since the original PlayStation came along with its super fancy full motion video scenes? Say what you will about the hand-holding, but there’s little denying that Uncharted is an experience like few others in gaming. I mean, in what other game can you expect to leap onto a speeding plane, get thrown out in mid air, clamber back inside on a tail of cargo hanging off the back of the plane, then get sucked out again after a firefight in the fuselage goes horribly wrong, all the while in control. Uncharted 3 is exactly the sort of game we used to dream about in the 90′s.
As if that’s not enough in and of itself to be considered a great game these days, Naughty Dog sweetened the pot with one of the finest multiplayer experiences around. There isn’t much to be said about the online portion of Uncharted 3 that hasn’t already been said, seeing as how online multiplayer has been largely available for almost a month now. Suffice to say, though, that in any way the solo campaign stumbles, multiplayer more than makes up for it.
Something you won’t have played, however, is the co-op mode. It’s a fairly robust addition to the game divided between “Arena” matches that revolve around shooting all the things, and a five chapter adventure mode that draws loose-ish parallels with the main games. If there is to be a weakest portion to Uncharted 3, then this would be it. It’s unlikely you’ll find cause to run through the adventure mode more than once, and it certainly doesn’t hold a candle to the meaty narrative of the solo campaign, nor the more challenging gameplay of the online multiplayer. Still, with an overall package this good, adding co-op mode is like sprinkling diced walnuts on a doughnut you just dipped in melted fudge.
Uncharted 3 was almost guaranteed to be in the running for game of the year right from the start, and I’m happy to report that, even after the savage cynics and critics of the world have scrutinized the game’s every inch, Drake remains very much a part of that race.
Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception was released on November 1st, 20911 exclusively for PS3.