In 2009, the release of Uncharted 2: Among Thieves not only solidified the series as a noteworthy entry into the current generation — it also gave the PlayStation 3 its first must-have franchise. On top of winning numerous game of the year awards, Uncharted 2 became the standard that other modern action games are judged against, most notably in terms of its voice acting, writing and unbelievable set pieces.
For two long years, gamers have waited for the follow-up to Naughty Dog’s smash hit, and in a year of other contenders, a question mark has hung over Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception. Could it live up to the earth-shattering release of its predecessor? And even more unthinkable: could it surpass it? In this unique GamerSushi review, a number of the GS staff weighs in for a consolidated effort to analyze one of the year’s most anticipated titles.
The premise for Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception should be no surprise for anyone familiar with the misadventures of one Nathan Drake: people try to steal stuff and everything goes to hell because of it. Uncharted 3 features another globe-trotting story that treats gamers to huge spectacles, memorable characters and more thugs than you can shake a stick at. The game opens with the typical series MacGuffin: Drake must unravel Francis Drake’s secret by beating arch-criminal Marlowe to the punch.
Along the way… well, that’s the game now, isn’t it? Here’s how we broke it down.
Despite the great reverence I have for Naughty Dog’s attention to characters, I feel that the story in Uncharted 3 was pretty sub-par. Stories in games aren’t anything to write home about usually, but Uncharted 2 managed to be pretty awesome, so it’s kind of sad that not only did I fail to connect with Uncharted 3’s story, I actually actively disliked it.
Uncharted 3’s story is a fun romp across the globe that occasionally doesn’t make a lick of sense. But there are some moments of true greatness here, mainly involving a flashback where you play as a young Drake in his first meeting with his mentor, Sully. This flashback does a great job of filling in their relationship and making me see the two of them in more of a father/son dynamic than two buddies hanging out and shooting lots of people together. Naughty Dog did a really nice job at making me love these characters even more and that’s no easy feat. Even the new villain is memorable, a welcome improvement over the generic warlord of Uncharted 2.
The villain, who at first seems rather scary, never really gives you any reason to be afraid of her. For much of the game it’s hinted that she has ties to a shadowy conspiracy, but this thread ultimately goes nowhere. She goes out of her way to keep Drake alive at turn after turn, and her mind games are even laughed off by the main character. On top of that, one of the most memorable points of the game, the sinking cruise ship, is a complete deviation from the actual story and has no bearing on it.
Although I do think the Uncharted games have some of the best writing in the medium, I don’t think they’re actually that great at storytelling. Eddy pointed out that the cruise liner section doesn’t actually make sense. What exactly are the pirates hoping to achieve? The whole thing feels a bit like Naughty Dog wanted to throw in a giant set-piece and bent the narrative into shape around it, rather than coming up with something more organic and story-driven.
First, the platforming: it’s awesome. The climbing and jumping are smooth, fun and I wouldn’t have minded if the game had much more of it. Drake’s amazing ability to latch on to a ledge with just the slightest of grips is always fun to see. On to the so-so section: the shooting. Uncharted 2 had a great shooting mechanic, one that was tight and fun and (for me) even gave Gears of War a run for its money. Sadly, that has changed in Uncharted 3. The aiming controls feel loose, wobbly and even a bit buggy at times. I wouldn’t go far as to say it is broken, but it feels different right away and not in a positive manner.
This iteration of Uncharted really gave us a look behind the curtain and revealed how trial and error the combat is. The game is often unclear on whether the current scenario is going to be stealth oriented or whether things will turn heated. Often times you’ll be facing down huge armored enemies and grenade launcher carrying foes will appear and turn you into dust with no warning.
That’s not even touching on the aiming, which is noticeably different from Uncharted 2 despite what Naughty Dog says. Given the touchy nature of combat, being unable to aim effectively really killed the fighting for me. Melee is better, but after Arkham City it felt a little lack-luster.
I’m not sure if I played too much Gears of War 3 before Uncharted 3, but the shooting felt sloppy and dare I say broken. I don’t remember ever feeling like Uncharted 2’s shooting mechanics got in the way of my enjoyment of the game, but in Uncharted 3 I found myself dreading every single shooting encounter. When I’m rolling my eyes for half of your game, you’ve got a pretty huge and borderline unforgivable problem. While I hear the new patch has made things better, I found the shooting tedious and the encounters poorly designed from a gameplay perspective.
I’m not sure why, but I was never really bothered by the shooting in Uncharted 3. I distinctly remember hating the shooting in Uncharted 1 with a passion, and occasionally getting annoyed with parts of the second game, but for whatever reason it was generally a non-issue for me in this game. Part of the reason may be that I still haven’t played Gears of War 3, so I wasn’t comparing the experience to the game generally considered the standard-bearer of cover-based shooters.
Despite complaining about the logic of the cruise liner sequence, I think the game actually could have used a few more set-pieces of that caliber. I spent the first few hours of the game wondering when something cool was going to happen. Mostly it just made me want to play Uncharted 2 again so I could experience the train level, and the falling tower, and a good half-dozen other astonishing sequences that I’d consider some of the best videogame levels of all time. Uncharted 3 pales in comparison, sitting somewhere above the flawed first game, but far below the heights of the second.
Uncharted 3 is probably the most forgettable experience for me this year aside from Dragon Age 2. All of the cool sections were shown before release so there were no surprises. The story was non-existent and even the excellent characterization couldn’t get me to come back. Add that to the frustrating combat and this whole game left me with a sour taste in my mouth.
Let’s be clear: there are few games out there that can compete with Uncharted 3 when it comes to experience.
The majority of Uncharted 3 is great, but there are a few things that leave the experience feeling like a lesser version of Uncharted 2. The short length of the game, the step backwards when it comes to shooting and the ridiculous detour with the pirates all detract from an experience that could have been one of the all-time best, but instead simply ends up being one of the year’s best. Not a steep drop, but a significant one, in the end.
As many problems as I had with Uncharted 3, few games can compare to this series in terms of experience. For every minute I found myself swearing at the shooting mechanics, I also found myself grinning ear to ear during one of the game’s memorable sequences. It’s hard for me to recommend that people skip the cruise ship, or the out-of-this-world cargo plane level, or the The Last Crusade style horse chase. Uncharted 3 feels like a step back from Uncharted 2, there’s no doubt about it. But Naughty Dog knows how to deliver a better experience than most other developers out there. The game’s got its issues (and supposedly a new patch makes things better), but in short: Uncharted 3 is still worth it for those few moments where it reminds you what you loved about Uncharted 2.
We normally link to our review scale at the end of our reviews, but we are currently working on a new scale that will change scores across our entire site. Under this new scale, C’s and B’s are still considered games worth playing, A’s are some of the greats, and S’s are rarities in their generation. Look for more soon!