Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception ReviewSean Kelley
Uncharted 3 is everything people expect of the series: it's big, it's funny and it's still a true showcase for narrative focused action games. However, it is not the same leap forward that Uncharted 2: Among Thieves was, compared to Drake's Fortune. Expectations are at an all time high for Drake and company, following a game that many considered to be 2009's Game of the Year. Does Uncharted 3 need to significantly improve on its predecessor to be a great sequel? The answer, apparently, is no.
With this third iteration, Naughty Dog proves time and time again that they do spectacle better than anyone else. Like Among Thieves, Drake's Deception trots the globe, following Drake and Sully from France, to Yemen and eventually to the desert. Each of these places shares a couple of things in common: at least one jaw dropping sequence or set piece, and rather comically, a tower - apparently Drake is drawn to high places. Traversing these magnificent landscapes, cities and ruins is still an exercise in following the 'yellow brick road', which consists of a predetermined path of handholds, pipes and any other surface Drake can grab hold of. Though routes in Uncharted 3 still remain clear thanks to handy camera angles and unique paint jobs, they generally blend in with their environment better than before.
Drake's Deception is told once again with the same great motion capture and voice acting that the series is known for. The story revolves around the relationship of Drake and Sully, giving the player a glimpse of the events that lead to the duo's unlikely partnership. The writing is the same mix of small, poignant moments juxtaposed with the normal assortment of quips from Drake and his crew. Unfortunately, like the previous games, the new villains are given little opportunity to develop, though Marlowe is provided more screen-time than either of Drake's old rogues. Both Chloe and Elena return but are underused, leaving Drake's romantic entanglements on the back burner. Considering most fans love the Drake/Elena dynamic, it's disappointing to see that story made secondary.
For the most part, little has been done to change Uncharted's formula. Hand-to-hand brawling takes a more prominent role, but the cinematic implementation of melee combat leaves a bit to be desired. Naughty Dog wants fistfights to look exciting, yet remain simple enough for anyone to succeed. The results are clumsy, devolving into a pattern of punch, punch, counter-attack. Brawling remains secondary to firearms, but quickly becomes repetitive once you've exhausted all the unique animations. Early in the game there's a large bar fight where context sensitive moments like breaking a bottle over a thug's head or tossing someone out a window are common practice. While these moments don't' actually change combat, the cinematic attacks create a welcome illusion of depth.
Following up their initial foray into multiplayer with Among Thieves, the expanded competitive and cooperative offerings seem to be Naughty Dog's biggest priority. Building on the fun, frenetic 5v5 matches of its predecessor, Drake's Deception drops with a ton of customization options. The amount of content is staggering, especially combined with the significant sums of cash Uncharted 3's form of multiplayer experience points required to buy all the equipment. Some players may relish the ability to minutely fine tune their loadouts, but it seems like an unnecessary hassle, one which caters to the type of player likely to spend their fall with another notable franchise.
Mid-match, Uncharted 3 is just as manic as you remember it. Dynamic moments add intrigue, such as a sandstorm that blinds everyone, while others like the oft mentioned truck sequence, leading into the airfield, are gimmicks that you'll quickly tire of. The maps continue to offer the same emphasis on finding and making use of higher ground, which is what truly separates the series from other third-person shooters. The Chateau, one of the stages featured in the beta, is a standout level with a number of small arenas that are ideal for firefights and objective game types. But what makes the map truly great is the clarity of its design, allowing new players to find paths quickly and concentrate on the task at hand, rather than orientation.
Beefing up its co-op, Drake's Deception has a five stage co-op campaign separate from the normal narrative. Outside of a few objectives that require object manipulation and a defender, it hasn't significantly evolved since Among Thieves. There is a nonsensical, humorous self-contained narrative that follows the campaign, but the real enjoyment in the mode, along with the other co-op game types, is in replays of the scenarios with increasing difficulty. It would have been nice to see Naughty Dog take a larger step towards a true narrative based cooperative experience. The co-op is great to screw around with, but it still fails to define itself as anything more than a series of arenas stitched together, plus the occasional objective; the shooter is there, but the adventure is lacking.
Taken as a whole, Uncharted 3 is a great game composed of three distinct, good parts. Drake's Deception doesn't do much to evolve the series' formula, but it never had to. People love the franchise because it repeatedly takes us to places we've never been before with characters we love. And, once we've gotten there and had a moment to take it all in, it tells us to run for our lives; bigger and occasionally better than its vaunted predecessor, Uncharted 3 is no different.
Disclosure: We are provided copies of games from the game companies for some games that we review.