Naughty Dog has fetched Nathan Drake and his companions for another adventure in Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception. Following on the massive success of 2009’s Uncharted 2: Among Thieves, Drake’s Deception had a lot to live up to. This third installment is gorgeous and polished, and involves more puzzles, grander set pieces, explosive gunfights, and plenty of satisfying platforming. But it’s the story of Drake’s Deception that left something to be desired. Is the lack of story enough to ruin the game completely? Or will Drake sweep all of the Game of the Year awards again this year?
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Developer: Naughty Dog
Genre: Platforming Action-Adventure 3/4 Shirt-Tuck
Release Date: November 1, 2011
ESRB Rating: Teen
Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception takes us through another one of Nathan Drake’s treasure-hunting adventures. This time, he’s in a race with the villainous Katherine Marlow to find the secret Sir Francis Drake tried to hide: the location of the Atlantis of the Sands, the Iram of the Pillars. Drake teams up with Sully and Chloe, along with a few other familiar – and unfamiliar – faces along the way. But the real story here is the history of Drake and Sully, the way their relationship was established and cemented, and the very real familial love the two have for one another.
As always, you’re thrown right into the middle of things, in a hard and fast attempt to immerse you as quickly as possible. The new brawling mechanic brings another level of fun to melee combat, and that’s the first tutorial. Mixing in elements of the original hand-to-hand combat, they’ve added another more intimate level. This addition makes the game feel like Batman: Arkham Asylum, which isn’t necessarily a good or a bad thing. It just places more emphasis on fisticuffs and gives the fights another layer of Quick Time Event button presses, which can be a lot of fun.
The game’s pacing from that point on is nigh on perfect, a solid balance between fighting, puzzles, platforming, and cutscenes. The gameplay flows well, with each chapter leading seamlessly into the next. The story alone was the only thing lacking for me – at the risk of revealing something that might be a spoiler, they may have lost me when they introduced some sort of mind control substance. But this game has a long list of pros and cons.
The very first thing on a list of pros about Drake’s Deception is absolutely the lighting in the game. I have never seen anything quite so breathtaking in a video game as when Drake first steps into the chateau in France and the lighting adjusts the same way that my own eyes would adjust when leaving the brightly lit outside and walking into a dark place. It felt like a summer day in a beautiful, quiet place, in which I had just ducked in somewhere to get out of the sun and I could almost feel the cool dampness within. Naughty Dog is arguably one of the best studios out there, and they’ve pulled out all the stops for this game, without question.
Another amazing thing about the game is the platforming, which has gotten impossibly smoother since Uncharted 2: Among Thieves. I didn’t think that was possible! I’d actually refer to some of the scenes in Drake’s Deception as “platforming paradise.” They satiate all of my platforming desires, without making me feel like a glutton. The climbing is easier, the wall fighting is more responsive, and the platforming is just generally more intuitive.
Other pros are the amazing water physics – I can’t spoil those parts for you, because they are so epic they must be experienced without any foreknowledge, but the physics involved in those sections of the game are spot on. I was impressed. Another new addition is the fact that when you find a treasure, it isn’t just a blinking spot on the ground anymore – it looks like the actual treasure. So if you find some kind of scepter, or a crown, the item you see that you can pick up actually looks like that. It’s this attention to detail that makes this game stand out.
But there are some cons as well. One thing that bothered me was that the game either gave you hints way too soon – like, immediately after you discovered a room or a puzzle – or it didn’t give you a hint for twenty minutes, at which point I was banging my head against a wall. Also, switching my gun from one shoulder to the other was always one of my favorite things about the Uncharted games. For some reason, I could not switch shoulders with my gun, even when I restarted the game and used other controllers. I don’t know if it was a glitch or what was going on, but I could never get that to work.
In addition, the game relies heavily on stealth which, for some people may be great, but for me is a disaster. I felt that in Among Thieves, the game rewarded you for being stealthy, but now, in Drake’s Deception, you get punished if you’re not. The difficulty of the fights seems to skyrocket if you break stealth. And I don’t know about you, but there’s only so much stealthing I can personally do before I want to blow a propane tank up in a guy’s face.
Are these factors bad enough for me to not recommend the game to someone? Of course not. I would not, however, recommend the multiplayer to anyone, especially if you were a die hard fan of the second game’s multiplayer. It has been watered down and made more like all the other generic online shooters out there. I was so disappointed with it, and I haven’t been able to bring myself to play much of it, because every time I load it up, all I want to do is play Among Thieves again with all my friends.
Speaking of friends, where is my cooperative campaign? I would much preferred to have been able to play the entire campaign cooperatively than to play the silly adventure missions, which basically feel like arena missions with cutscenes tacked on. I’ve barely spent any time on any of the multiplayer aspects of this game, mainly because I’m too disappointed to give it much of a chance after my initial impressions.
Strangely, the story was the thing that confused me the most. There were aspects of it I didn’t understand, things that seemed a little too loose-ended for me, and it doesn’t help that the ending itself felt contrived and bland. There are aspects of the story that answer many questions about Drake, especially concerning his relationship with Sully. Fans will love learning more about Drake’s past. Those were the parts that saved it – but, for some reason, the game just felt like it was lacking something. It felt more like the story I would expect from a PSP game, which went by quickly, focused more on the gameplay, and had a story that loosely tied in with the already established timeline.
Is Drake’s Deception worth playing? Absolutely. I would even venture to say the game is worth the full price. The incredible set pieces, the awesome platforming, the challenging puzzles, and the interactions between the characters – who you love more than ever by the end of the game – make this an experience that is worth the money. My gripes, while many and potentially serious, are easily overlooked, and to some may not even seem like cons. While the game looks and feels epic, these minor disappointments left me feeling empty when I got to the end of the game – where I re-started Uncharted 2 as soon as I was finished it, all I did at the end of Uncharted 3 was start reading the novel… and seriously consider replaying Among Thieves again.
Review Disclosure: A retail copy of Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception was purchased by Warp Zoned for the purposes of this review.