Review: Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception

Review: Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception

Four years ago my perspective on action adventure games completely changed when I met Nathan Drake, whose first foray into the wild blue yonder of video games was a complete crap shoot as nobody really knew what to expect.

Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception

Thankfully, it only took but a few minutes for me to realize that what I was playing at the time would have a rather massive impact on the world of gaming in the years to come.

Fresh off the heels of Drake’s latest adventure, I sit asking myself, ‘Has the series really changed all that much?’ Initially, my answer would have been a resounding ‘no’, but as has become custom, I tend to beat a game and then let it sink in for a good long while before I pass any official judgment one way or the other.

My early gaming days were filled with action adventure titles the likes of Tomb Raider, but their appeal has since waned and I find myself looking at the genre with a weary eye. It’s begun to seem like everything that can be done has been done and everything that anyone wants to have done won’t be done. (How’s that for a sentence!) Nevertheless, I can say with all honesty that the Uncharted series is solely responsible for my return to the action adventure scene, and Uncharted 3 has ensured I will be sticking around for quite some time.

For those who are uninitiated, Uncharted spawned as a series that resolved to break the traditional mold and offer up a truly unique and cinematic gaming experience aimed at fleshing out some of gaming’s most entertaining and relatable characters. It may be safe to say that any self-respecting PS3 owner would place Nathan Drake in their top 10 list of favorite gaming characters, if not the top. He’s charismatic, adventurous, determined, has fingers like iron vices, and is capable of what many would consider to be mass genocide. All without thinking twice. You know, just your every day down-to-Earth, witty dude.

However, it’s apparent that Nate and his rag tag band of treasure hunters have evolved over the course of three titles as their connections have deepened not only between each other, but with the player as well.

The series has always pulled me in and managed to actively engage me right up until the very end, but it wasn’t until Uncharted 3 came along that I realized just how invested in these characters I had become. The whole time leading up to putting the disc into the system found me blabbering about what I thought was going to happen, who was going to be making a return, why certain things wouldn’t happen, and predicting how many people Nate was going to murder this time around.

Needless to say, the story is fantastic.

It’s hard to expand without divulging critical information that may reveal some of the finer points of the game’s story. But, in a nutshell, Nate stumbles upon some farfetched truth about one of history’s most famous explorers and sets out to prove its validity. This time Nate wants to prove that Sir Francis Drake wasn’t entirely truthful about one of his voyages and in fact stumbled upon the fabled Atlantis of the Sands. So without so much as thinking it through, Nate sets out to figure out just exactly why the truth was covered up.

Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception

The story isn’t much different than what can be expected from an Uncharted game, but how it unfolds is what truly sets this game apart and launches it into a league well its own.

The whole concept behind the Uncharted series is the feeling of playing and interacting with a Hollywood blockbuster. The first two titles showed that that can be achieved, but they both ultimately fell short in several respects

The first Uncharted was a bit scarce on over the top cinematics, and rightfully so. It was far more concerned about establishing the series and introducing many of the gameplay mechanics, many of which had been seen before, but not to that extent. The title still blew the lid off traditional storytelling and Uncharted 2’s incredible train scene really whetted everyone’s appetite for a truly immersive cinematic experience.

Enter Uncharted 3.

Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception

This entire game is one gigantic action movie from the word go. The set pieces are beyond massive and the scope of the game is next to unprecedented. Never did I find myself not completely blown away by what I was seeing or creeping toward the edge of my seat in anticipation. The visual aesthetics of this game are bar none and the action is right there to match it.

Everything from basic Middle Eastern Bazaars and rich Italian forests to windswept deserts, crashing airplanes, and storm ravaged cruise ships have been put together with one simple goal: to immerse you.

In particular, there is one set piece that is worth noting: the cruise ship. Many of you may say that ocean going vessels have been a mainstay in the gaming world for a long while and that they are nothing new. Well, Uncharted 3 begs to differ.

This isn’t just your typical floating level. No, this level is completely at the mercy of an independently constructed ocean that behaves exactly how it wants to behave. There are no predetermined animations that dictate how the ship is going to toss and turn in the waves nor can anything be judged ahead of time. It’s as if you were truly aboard a tossing cruise ship in the middle of a raging storm. Furniture shifts around, garbage cans roll with the waves, and giant chandeliers list from side to side, making your jump from each a nail biting guessing game. And that’s just the first few minutes aboard.

Uncharted 3’s sets push the boundaries of the PS3 and challenges what can and can’t be done within a game. An entire chateau that catches fire literally burns and crumbles around you as you struggle to make your way out. Sand -largely considered equally as difficult as water – blows, shifts, and collects on Drake’s clothes as you make your way through several of the game’s sprawling desert sets.

Again, I don’t want to spoil anything, but I will just say that that isn’t the half of it.

Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception

You can always count on a nice romp around the world with Nathan Drake, filled with gorgeous environments and exotic locales, but perhaps the most impressive improvement with Uncharted 3 comes from how Nate interacts with those environments.

Game characters are a funny breed. Barreling down a hall at full speed and executing a perfect 90 degree turn without so much as nudging the wall or stumbling one bit is something that is usually overlooked within a game, but not anymore. Uncharted 3 may have just raised the bar for character animation and environment interaction ridiculously high.

As you meander about the levels, Nate is constantly readjusting himself according to his surroundings. He will often reach his hands out to brace himself against a wall if you get to close, or simply to touch something of interest. Tearing down a hall and making sharp corners will find Nate slamming from side to side into walls and pushing off in an attempt to regain speed.

Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception

Even during the game’s numerous fight scenes – the fist fighting being the newest and perhaps most exciting – Nate is interacting with whatever is around him. Again, these animations are not predetermined as one might think. It wasn’t until I found myself engaged in fist fight with a bunch of dudes in a fish mart that I truly realized just how interactive things were.

In the middle of the market sat a table with a random assortment of fish and as I brawled my way around the table, hammering on the square button, Nate would occasionally pick up a fish from the table and cornobble (which means to hit or be hit with a fish, in case you’re wondering!) the guy I was fighting. Thinking it was scripted, I made my way around to the other side where more fish lay in waiting, and lo and behold, the same thing happened. I noticed this time and again through various levels including markets and bars. The game doesn’t necessarily draw much attention to the fact and you may miss it if you aren’t looking for it, but nevertheless, it’s just one more indication of just how detailed this series has become.

Also worth noting is Nate’s overall appearance and general demeanor as you progress through the game. There are obviously going to be times of high stress and others of pure relaxation, rarely has a game’s character displayed such awareness of emotion as in Uncharted 3. During the many times you’ll find yourself slowly ambling to your next objective, simply walking, Nate’s body language looks calm, cool, and relaxed, as it should. But when being chased or dodging a  plethora of bullets and outrunning tidal waves, Nate’s body language screams tense and aggravated.

However, perhaps the most mind blowing display of body language ever to rear its gorgeous head in a game comes from Nate’s aimless wandering through the desert. As you progress  his body language will become more dejected with every step. He will stumble, sway, and even fall to the ground if you stop entirely. Yet, thanks to the complete and total immersion that Uncharted 3 offers, you have the ability to not only control, but become Nate and encourage him to soldier on.

It truly is something that has to be seen to be believed.

Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception

As for the gameplay mechanics, much of them remain largely unchanged, and that is a good thing. Far too many game companies think that change is progress. It if isn’t broken, don’t fix it. Now, that doesn’t mean improvements haven’t been made. They just fall more into more a technical realm than a visual realm.

Gunplay has remained almost entirely unchanged, save for the fact that it seems a lot tighter compared to the looser controls of past titles. I am not sure if this qualifies as a good thing or a bad thing because I frequently found myself struggling to hit distant targets or zero in on close range enemies’ heads.

Another massively satisfying addition worth pointing out is the inclusion of a special cinematic that occurs at the tail end of the new fist fighting mechanics. If you, like me, prefer to bare knuckle your way through shooting games, Nate has a special treat for you. Whenever you defeat an enemy while unequipped, the enemy’s gun will go sailing into the air and Nate will dramatically catch it before continuing to plow forward through the next wave.

Additionally, the jump detection has improved drastically as well. Before, Nate would launch himself with wreckless abandon across an impossibly large chasm and magically connect with the other side regardless of how short the jump ended up being. There is still the obvious ‘Oh, yea right!’ factor that creeps in every once in awhile, but a simple reminder that he is Nathan Drake is all it takes to settle that internal debate.

I’m sure I could go on for ages about Nathan Drake and his ability to fall off anything and inevitably catch something, but I feel as though some fair warning is needed. For as revolutionary as the Uncharted series is, Uncharted 3 left me scratching my head a bit at times.

Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception

Over the course of two whole games, I grew accustomed to running and gunning for a solid 8-10 hours while enjoying some of the most engaging storylines in gaming, but I can honestly say that feeling was a bit watered down this go around. I would venture a guess that at the very least one third of this game is spent doing nothing but walking around doing absolutely nothing. Now, that doesn’t equate to a whole lot as the game is only about 8 hours long, on the conservative end. But nevertheless, the slow moments in this game are very slow.

They aren’t without merit though as they are used as clever storytelling devices and can be a nice break from the insane difficulty spikes found sprinkled throughout.

Generally, Uncharted manages to stay fairly balanced throughout, but Uncharted 3 actually left me rather frustrated more than a few times. It seemed like I would only hit these brick walls after a long sequence of doing nothing, so it very well may have just been re-acclimating to the whole process of murdering everything on the screen, but I will admit that some sections saw me die upwards of 20 times before I managed to get through it.

The whole concept of multiplayer has seen a rather pleasant overhaul with a bevy of new upgrades to keep you coming back for more. I rarely touched the Uncharted 2 multiplayer once I had beaten all the co-op missions. There just wasn’t enough to keep me engaged. Although Uncharted has never really been about the multiplayer, I just can’t seem to pull myself away from it this go around.

The new buddy system increases the level of cooperation between squad mates during team deathmatch and the new random power plays help keep the teams balanced and play a bit fairer. However, what I cannot seem to stop playing is the Co-op arena where you and two other players face ten rounds of randomly generated objectives ranging from survival to gold rush and siege. Each level becomes progressively more difficult and forces you and your teammates to reevaluate your approach while at the same time trying to administer as many hugs of death as possible.

In all, Uncharted 3 is a gigantic bag of mixed emotions. On one hand it is the most cinematic experience available, chock full of pulse racing action scenes, while on the other hand it can be a rather dreadfully boring experience at times. That coupled with a somewhat incoherent storyline where characters arrive and disappear without any explanation whatsoever leaves Uncharted 3 a few notches below where I expected it to be.

By no means do any of these criticisms warrant passing this game by as Uncharted 3 is by and far one of the most entertaining titles on the system. Nathan Drake is quickly solidifying himself as the unofficial PlayStation mascot, similar to Link and Nintendo. If your PlayStation 3 library is without at least one Uncharted title, it’s essentially incomplete and what better way to fill that void than with Uncharted 3?

Score: 9.5/10

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