Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception
Uncharted 2: Among Thieves was one of my favorite games of this generation. Taking a cast of indelible characters through a thrilling adventure packed with jaw-dropping set pieces, it was a masterwork of video games as pure entertainment. Sure, BioShock might have had more on its mind, but with Uncharted 2 Naughty Dog delivered a perfect piece of pop fun.
Uncharted 2 raised the stakes for this franchise, setting an almost impossibly high bar for its successor to live up to. I’m happy to report that it does not disappoint.
As expected, the game takes off like a runaway train – though this time we find Drake not dangling from a wrecked train car but fighting a cast of London thugs pulled straight from a Guy Ritchie film. It’s here we first meet Katherine Marlowe, a cunning English villainess who quickly becomes Drake’s most memorable antagonist. The plot device this time around involves an ancient 16th century artifact that has ties to a lost chapter in the life of Sir Francis Drake, whom Nathan claims to be descended from. As usual, Drake’s quest takes him across the globe, from France to Syria, while he untangles an increasingly complex conspiracy that involves secret organizations, occult powers, and even Queen Elizabeth.
However, the real story at hand is a more human one. Uncharted 3 is really a game about relationships between people. While the on-again off-again romance between Drake and Elena Fisher still resonates, the focus of the game is on Nathan’s longest and most complex relationship: his long, fraught partnership with his father figure Victor “Sully” Sullivan. The two have been through a lot, and longtime fans will be rapt at seeing the origins of their friendship. By the end of the game, you’ll feel even closer to Drake and Sully.
While the plot provides an emotional element to the experience, Uncharted 3 also delivers several summer blockbusters worth of frenetic action. No one does set piece moments like Naughty Dog. From fleeing swarms of poisonous spiders to assaulting a military convoy on horseback, this game has half a dozen sequences that would be the highlight of most games. The already stunning visuals have been upgraded once again, making for a title that – against all odds – looks even better than its predecessor.
While I don’t think anyone doubts Naughty Dog’s ability to deliver high-octane thrills, gameplay is still the most important part of any game. On this front, Uncharted 3 makes some significant advancements – and a few missteps. Melee combat is vastly improved. I’d always avoided using my fists in past games, but new stealth attacks and a tighter combat system made hand-to-hand combat one of my favorite parts. The solid platforming mechanics also benefit from some subtle refinements. Finally, I was impressed by the puzzle design, which I think is the best in the series to date.
However, the gunplay – never this series’ strong suit – still feels like it’s taken a small step back. This is mostly due to the basic character movement. Naughty Dog has added some new animations to Drake’s run, which I add an unnecessarily convoluted jumpy quality to running and gunning (this feeling was confirmed when I pulled out Uncharted 2 to test my opinion). Interestingly, this is not a problem in the multiplayer, where the toned-down animations allow you to move in and out of cover and shoot more accurately.
Also of note are a couple of levels that feel somewhat poorly designed and messy – particularly a battle that takes place in a graveyard of ruined ships. In this segment, you’re beset on all sides by pirates and are forced to swim for your life. If the swimming were better, this might not be a problem, but I found it downright frustrating. Given how much Uncharted 3 offers the player, these are minor quibbles. If anything, Naughty Dog’s expert craftsmanship makes these small flaws stick out more than they would in most games.
Naughty Dog also continues its commitment to multiplayer. Co-op returns with a Horde-style survival mode called Co-Op Arena and more elaborate, objective-based missions. Competitive offers the usual deathmatch, team deathmatch, and capture the flag modes (here called Plunder), as well as a more interesting Objective mode and three-team deathmatch. A new “buddy” system pairs you with another player, giving you bonuses for working together. While I don’t think the base mechanics are solid enough to rival the best first-person shooters on the market, it’s certainly a good experience.
Around the edges of Uncharted 3, there’s the vague sense that things are a bit too pat, that it’s all beginning to feel a little formulaic. You could draw comparisons to Call of Duty, another series that relies heavily on high production values and popcorn-movie bombast. However, Uncharted 3 still affects me, not only because it’s such sublime fun, but because it’s telling the tale of characters I have a real affection for. In the end, you hope Drake makes it out of his latest impossible predicament, that Sully lives to deliver another wry one-liner, and that maybe – just maybe – Drake and Elena will finally settle down. Uncharted 3 is one of the biggest, most impressive games ever made, but the scene that stuck with me the most was a small one: a tired Drake resting his head on Elena’s lap and saying, “I’m sorry.”