It’s no secret that I’m a big Uncharted fan and that Nathan Drake is one of my favorite characters in all of gaming. There’s just something about the ensemble of characters that Naughty Dog has assembled that feels authentic, even amidst the far-fetched scenarios that the Nate, Sully and friends find themselves in. It was with no small amount of excitement that I started in on this latest adventure only to find myself facing one question at the end of it, “Is Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception the best game in the series?” The short answer: No. I don’t think it is, but it does some wonderful things for the series that make it worthwhile.
Let’s get one thing out of the way first. You may have heard a lot about the aiming and shooting problems in the game. The mechanic has been described as sluggish and, with the sensitivity at default, the reticle obviously doesn’t move in a circle when you are aimed in and move your thumbstick in a circle. While it’s less pronounced at higher sensitivity, it is still there and, until it is patched, will likely provide some measure of frustration to most players. While many people play Uncharted for the story and not the shooting, the combat shouldn’t be a barrier to enjoyment and, right now, for many it is. Thankfully, this doesn’t seem to be an issue in co-operative play or in competitive multiplayer.
With that out of the way, let’s focus on what Uncharted 3 does right, which is pretty much everything else. The story opens up by introducing you to the new melee system via a big barroom brawl. It’s not unlike the freeflow combat system found in Rocksteady’s Batman games. Fistfighting takes into account the surroundings like never before. By grappling an enemy up against a wall, you’ll throw them up against it and pummel them. If there is a pan, bottle or other implement, you’ll grab it for a finishing attack. This is context-sensitive scripting, but it flows very well. You’ll frequently come up against larger “brute” enemies that you will need to engage in longer combat, break free from grapples, counter attacking and more. These never really got stale, but running into one of these apes amidst gunfire can ruin your day.
Drake’s Deception features the best villain the series has seen so far. Marlowe is sinister, calculating and ruthless. Her right-hand henchman, Talbot, is just as bad and seems to have a knack for cheating death. Interestingly, the story takes less of a turn towards the end than the previous entries. It wouldn’t be Uncharted without a touch of the strange and supernatural, but you won’t spend the last quarter of the game fighting a new, super powered monster, which should please many. One of the things I really enjoy about the Uncharted games is that the characters aren’t one-dimensional. There’s a lot going on beneath the surface and, in Uncharted 3, the relationships develop in a mature and complex way that is ultimately very satisfying. I’m glad that there were some things not stated outright, especially as it gives us room to explore them in future entries.
I wish, though, that I could say the same for the puzzles. The pacing of the game is much closer to Drake’s Fortune than Among Thieves. There are no enormous puzzle sections that take up whole chapters. Rather, you’ll encounter much smaller puzzles along the way. They are all interesting, but the game is too quick to provide hints. There were a couple of times that I felt the game spoiled a puzzle as I was trying to think my way through it.
The platforming continues to be stellar and satisfying. I was particularly impressed with the new vertical shootouts that occur. These provided some of the most enjoyable shooting segments in the game as you’ll need to scramble for cover in a way that you’ve never had to in an Uncharted game. For better or worse, though, there were very few segments of puzzle platforming. You’ll frequently know exactly how to get from point A to point B without too much thought. I missed those moments when I needed to really look at my surroundings before taking that first leap.
Both co-op and competitive multiplayer make a return, though the modes have seen some interesting changes. The Adventure mode features five different chapters for up to three players. These are a lot of fun and I hope we see some additional offerings via DLC. Co-op Arena returns, but instead of having three separate sub-modes (Gold Rush, Siege and Survival), any of the objectives could be given to the players at the start of the round. Finally, Co-op Hunter Arena pits two human heroes against a team of two villains supported by AI enemies. In this round, heroes attempt to secure treasure to earn medals while villains earn medals for kills. After a set period of time, the sides switch. The side with more treasures collected wins.
The earnings from both co-operative and competitive multiplayer, which is also quite enjoyable, can be cashed in to unlock new weapons, weapon enhancements, boosters (like perks) and kickbacks (like killstreaks). You can choose from a character skin or create your own with unlockable pieces. I was disappointed to see that Sony and Naughty Dog chose to make many skins available only as paid DLC. These include classic versions of heroes and villains from past games.
Modes include free for all deathmatch, two and three team deathmatch, an objective-based mode and Plunder, which is essentially capture the flag. Throughout multiplayer games, you’ll rack up medals for kills and other activities that can be traded in for kickbacks that either boost your damage or give you a measure of protection. You can also find treasure scattered around the map, which might boost your medal count or contribute to a treasure set that, when complete, unlocks a weapon or item for a character skin.
Visually, Uncharted 3 is a big leap forward. The set pieces, character models and lighting are gorgeous and I’ve never seen anything quite like the sand that you’ll be trudging through late in the game. Take a moment to look at the dunes and the footsteps you leave behind. Simply stunning. Unfortunately, there are a few graphical oddities and glitches. There were a couple of times I got stuck and needed to restart at the last checkpoint. This wasn’t a huge problem since the game checkpoints frequently. Also, Nate seems to have taken a page from the Assassins Creed playbook and, for some reason, touches every wall he’s close to.
I have absolutely no complaints about the immaculate sound design of the game. The voice acting continues to be the best in the industry, and the dynamic reactions of both heroes and villains to the events unfolding help make the game feel more organic. Greg Edmonson is at the top of his game, putting together the most epic score the series has seen so far. For any game soundtrack enthusiast, this score should be in your library.
Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception is a fantastic game that should get even better when the aiming and shooting is patched. It’s an absolutely worthwhile experience for anyone who loves the series or simply enjoys a heart-pounding adventure. Unfortunately, the pacing, puzzle segments and platforming just aren’t quite as good as those found Uncharted 2: Among Thieves. The good news is that we won’t have to wait very long until our next Uncharted experience, which will arrive alongside the Vita in March.
Review copy provided by publisher.