Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception Review

Uncharted 3: Drakes Deception (PS3)
Developer: Naughty Dog
Publisher: Sony
MSRP: $59.99

Cinematic is the first word that comes to mind when describing the Uncharted series. It’s the closest thing there is to a playable Mission Impossible game infused with some Indiana Jones for good measure. Meaning: huge, gorgeous, and often exploding set-pieces, a briskly paced plot that strings these locales together, and a cast of likable characters. But now that we expect such aspects from series, Uncharted 3’s narrative focuses on humanizing its protagonist, while its mechanics don’t inspire like they used to.

Protagonist Nathan Drake and friend/father figure Sully are in search for the “Atlantis of the Sands” which has them zipping to and from several stunningly rendered locations. But that doesn’t have too much bearing on the narrative, which focuses on humanizing Nate and his dangerous globetrotting treasure hunts. This is done through a playable young Nate early in the game, but best explored during a scene where he’s lost in the middle of a desert. It’s a risky and unexpected narrative detour – you wander aimlessly through mini-sequences that are neither cutscenes nor gameplay that leads to a better understanding and considerable empathy of Nathan Drake. As for the rest of the games plot points, expect countless encounters and narrow escapes from the enemy, humorous one-liners, and billions of dollars in property damages.

Nathan doesn’t discover or inherit any new abilities as the adventure unfolds, thus putting immense amounts of pressure on its level design and small goody-bag of mechanics (brawler, shooter, platformer with brief puzzles: all of which feel and play almost identically to Uncharted 2) to create variety. A solid chunk of playtime is devoted to set pieces that take place on the ocean, and those excel at affecting the core gameplay in exciting ways. Boats bob over waves, adding a tiny wrinkle to the gunplay – not all cover is as effective and aiming becomes more difficult as you preempt such forces. While on a cruise ship in the middle of a storm, furniture, and therefore cover, slides across the boat, adding another layer of both immersion and complexity. And then having to escape the boat after its been flipped on its side is wonderfully disorienting. It’s not that the other locations aren’t engaging – they are – it’s just that they don’t find interesting ways to explore the established mechanics.

Shooting remains difficult and is only exacerbated by occasional poor design. Some battles will start with multiple enemies already targeting you with rocket launchers, requiring multiple deaths and quick reflexes in order to take them out before they do. These situations become far more frustrating when you’re provided limited cover while heavily armored thugs with shotguns draw near. (There’s no fucking reason at all that a grenade, let alone two, doesn’t kill them – they have far too much health. When they start teleporting behind your cover in the penultimate act, you’ll convince yourself that it’s impossible…because it practically is.) However, the larger and more open battlefields are always better, as deaths provide new ways to approach the enemies, yielding better weapons and tactics. No other cover-based shooter compares to Uncharted when it’s at its best, something I wish would happen more frequently.

Hand-to-hand combat is tweaked and featured more prominently with poor results. These brawls behave more like slightly interactive quick-time events than actual gameplay as button prompts are prominently displayed. Bigger foes are introduced, but they’re easy and you’ll grow tired of fighting them, seeing as how the same order of animations is repeated.

Remember how everything would collapse in Uncharted 2, resulting in those nifty cinematic platforming sequences? Naughty Dog certainly did and made sure every set-piece would crumble into itty bitty pieces, but in doing so, each one becomes less of a surprise, and more like a formula. Half of them end in this manner, so when you finally do arrive at the Atlantis of the Sands, you can already anticipate how it’s going to end. What was once novel has now become numbing, and you can practically feel the studios overconfidence unsuccessfully woo you into thinking their flourishes, rather than innovations, are still as exciting as ever.

It’s difficult to maintain and improve upon established mechanics when the protagonist’s repertoire of abilities isn’t being added to. 2011 was a year of sequels to sequels that share this issue: Gears of War 3, Killzone 3, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3. All of these titles try to top what came before, but when what came before was as polished and memorable as they were, it appears as if it’s difficult to find aspects to improve. Uncharted 3 will always live in the shadows of what came before even though it’s still Uncharted and still one hell of a ride.

 

 

 

Quick tidbits:

– I beat the game in exactly 8 hours and 12 minutes (on Hard difficulty!), so it is shorter than Uncharted 2’s campaign.

– Often after gunplay sections its hard to determine where exactly you need to go to progress, and the hint button takes a little too long to point out my navigational inadequacies.

– The monsters in this one were a total letdown. They weren’t that cool visually or mechanically. They ended up being really really frustrating. More yetis please!

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