Review: Uncharted 3 Drake's Deception / Developer: Naughty Dog / Format: PS3
Were you a tiny bit apprehensive? Were you concerned that Naughty Dog may drop the ball? Let’s cut to the chase and dispel any fears you may have been harbouring about Uncharted 3 Drake’s Deception. It’s phenomenal. The solid foundations of pitch perfect game play, engaging characters and rip-roaring adventure laid out by the previous two instalments have been built upon to the nth degree, with the envelope being pushed so far with regards to what can be achieved on Sony’s little black box that we have, essentially, been hand-delivered this generation’s defining title.
The Uncharted series, on paper at least, shouldn’t work. Meaning it shouldn’t work as incredibly well as it has. It’s a globe-trotting, character driven, treasure hunting, action spectacle. Yet if you boil it down to the bare essentials what you are left with is a linear, third-person, cover based shooter with some platforming and puzzle solving thrown in for good measure. Not that any of those elements are a bad thing. On the contrary, it has been the template for a thousand entertaining titles in the past and will be, fingers crossed, for many years to come. But what makes each entry of Sony’s flagship IP pop is what developer Naughty Dog brings to the table in terms of story, characters, visuals, game play and every little detail in between. Now, with the release of Uncharted 3, everything Naughty Dog has been working towards since Uncharted Drake’s Fortune has come together to form a near-flawless masterpiece of entertainment.
The sheer confidence Naughty Dog has in Uncharted 3 is evident in the opening moments. There’s no need this time for an attention grabbing, cliff hanging first chapter with charming, cocky yet vulnerable lead Nathan Drake dangling by his fingertips in some perilous, how-the-hell-is-he-going-to-get-out-of-this predicament. Subtlety is the key this time as Drake and cigar-chomping, womanising, father figure sidekick Victor “Sully” Sullivan strut through the darkened, rain soaked alleyways of London. This opening chapter kicks things off with a focus on the revamped melee system and it’s an incredible amount of fun. Like last month’s Batman: Arkham City you’re given punch, counter and grapple options. But, whereas the Dark Knight’s fisticuffs resemble some sort of beautiful, orchestrated ballet, Drake’s hand-to-hand combat is more loose, more rough and ready. Throw in some contextual moves such as pulling the pin on an enemy’s grenade and kicking him out of the way to grabbing a nearby object and instantly knocking them out and you have a valid reason to occasionally holster your weapon and get your hands dirty.
As you progress through the opening chapters you’ll find refinements in almost every aspect of gameplay. The cover and shoot mechanics are as tight as they’ve ever been and taking a breather behind a pillar to work out your next move as bullets whizz all around you still has that same dramatic punch. You even have the option to throw back live grenades and, quite frankly, any game that features grenades should include this feature. Stealth has been improved and is actually useful this time as opposed to the afterthought it was in the previous two games, with you thinning the ranks of unsuspecting thugs in certain areas thus tilting the odds in your favour before opening fire. Each combat section is designed in such a way that you’re encouraged to mix up your tactics if you are to have any chance of succeeding. Staying in one spot for a game of pop-and-shoot will invariably lead to your demise as enemy AI has seen a vast improvement and these guys, particularly in later stages, will actively search you out and flank you.
The rest of the game is made up of the usual linear platforming and simple puzzle solving that has entertained players since Drake’s Fortune, all contained within the series best storyline to date (which I won’t even touch on for fear of game ruining spoilers). There’s not a missed beat from the moment you press start to the instant the credits roll. The game is full to the brim with setpiece after thrilling setpiece and I’m not just talking about what you will have seen in trailers and demos prior to release. Yes, we’ve all seen the burning Chateau, the capsizing cruise liner and the mind-boggling cargo-plane sequence, but those were just a small taster of what Naughty Dog has in store for you over the course of the 8-10 hours the campaign will take to complete. Yet, it’s not just these huge, technical, show-stopping moments that impress, as there are quieter moments that you will also marvel at. A guided tour of a Yemen market by series mainstay, and Drake’s squeeze, Elena Fisher is a wonderful nod to the Tibetan village chapter in Uncharted 2. The authentic sounds of stall holders and civilians going about their daily routine as you soak up the sights only adds to the sequence and you really do feel you’re in a living, breathing environment. Also, in a section involving Drake stranded, alone, in hundreds of square miles of empty desert, we may have one of the most creatively impressive moments of any game this year. Beautifully directed, with you in full control of Drake, it’s a brave move for such a huge, triple A game release and Naughty Dog pull it off with style.
Every minute of Uncharted 3 is a technical marvel. Despite the naysayers, this instalment is leaps and bounds above its predecessor in terms of visuals, but not all of it is look-at-me, in your face showing off. It was only on my second play-through that I realised that the wallpaper in the burning Chateau sequence was actually peeling off the walls in real time. This almost insane attention to detail is evident throughout and it knocked me for six that the vast majority of it will be missed by a lot of players, which included myself, who are too swept up in Drake’s latest adventure to notice.
If I had to pick a flaw, the melee system could do with a bit of polish. It can be, at times, a little cumbersome and on more than one occasion I found myself grabbing a thug by the lapels instead of rolling away from a grenade or barrage of gunfire. It could also be argued that a 10 hour campaign is too short, but I don’t think that can be applied to a game such as this. The story is solid, it moves at a breakneck pace and if the game was any longer it would lose some of its momentum. The game demands to be replayed just for the experience, plus there are the usual higher difficulties (including the signature ‘Crushing’ mode) to fight your way through and the now obligatory treasure hunting to keep you busy after your first run through. Besides, once you’ve had your fill of the single player campaign, the online multiplayer awaits.
As mentioned in our feature on the multiplayer beta, Uncharted online is something special. Everything that made the previous online an unexpected joy has returned. But this time it’s packing a lot more bang for your buck. Featuring six competitive and three co-operative modes spread out over 12 maps (8 original Uncharted 3 maps and 4 re-mastered maps from Uncharted 2), there is a lot more to achieve aside from just ranking up. From simple aesthetic unlockables to adorn your chosen character with (sunglasses, beanie hats, cat ears!), to fully customisable weapons mods to suit your style of play, the online portion of the disc doesn’t leave you wanting. The initially confusing addition of ‘kickbacks’ alongside the returning ‘boosters’ from the previous game really does add to the longevity and, with a bigger focus on co-operative modes than the last title, I fully expect the community to keep the servers full for the next year or two.
Yet, in spite of everything mentioned above, the real reason we keep coming back to Uncharted is, arguably, Nate and the gang. For three games now we have watched a relationship between Drake, Sully and Elena unfold and it is a testament to, respectively, actors Nolan North, Richard McGonagle and Emily Rose that we actually care about these characters as the stories play out. Though this chapter in the series is essentially the ‘Drake and Sully Show’, everybody involved has their chance to shine. The inclusion this time of a female antagonist is a refreshing change and the icing on a particularly delicious cake.
Criticism is often levelled at the rigid linearity of each Uncharted game. Critics and players alike point fingers at the lack of freedom within the series. I think these people are missing the point. Naughty Dog have set out each time to make an incredibly fun adventure game in which character and story take top billing. To let the player have complete control would cause the story to lose focus, so it’s within the player’s best interest to have the developers pulling the strings at certain points. It could also be argued that this game doesn’t have the ‘wow’ factor of Uncharted 2. The reason for this is the simple fact that Uncharted 2 came out of nowhere to blow everybody away. It was completely unexpected. With this game, you are fully intended to be blown away, and you will be. Yet it’s this expectation that will lead Uncharted 3 to lose some of its impact and that, right there, is a crying shame.
Uncharted 3 Drake’s Deception is everything this current generation aspired to be. It’s what we knew it was capable of but was yet to show us. It’s a game for everybody, not just an arbitrary target demographic. It’s a game that pushes not only the limits of the Playstation 3, but the very medium itself.
'Uncharted 3 Drake’s Deception' is out now for PS3