Discussion Review: Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception

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Undoubtedly the year’s headline PS3 exclusive, Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception once again has players stepping into the role of sarcastic treasure hunter Nathan Drake for yet another thrilling adventure garbed in a well-worn half-tuck. Does Nate’s latest blockbuster break any new ground? How does the game stack up to its predecessors? Read along as Zach and I take on Uncharted 3 in our latest discussion review!

Matt: Everywhere you look there is a game with a ‘3’ in it this year. Gears of War 3. Modern Warfare 3. Battlefield 3. Marvel vs. Capcom 3. Resistance 3. And then of course there is Uncharted 3, the third installment in Naughty Dog’s cinematically unrivaled PS3 action-adventure series.

The whole gang is back again for another treasure hunt gone terribly, terribly wrong. Series hero Nathan Drake is as brash, smooth-talking, and clumsy as ever. Sully returns as Nate’s mentor and right-hand man. And Elena once more fulfills her cute-as-a-button role as the on again, off again love interest. A few new characters are introduced as well, namely new villainess Katherine Marlowe and her henchman, Talbot. This time around, Nate finds himself in a desperate race to reach the lost city of Ubar, AKA “Atlantis of the Sands,” before Marlowe, trotting around the globe in pursuit of clues left behind by T.E. Lawrence and Sir Francis Drake.

As always, the character performances, both in terms of voice acting and animation, are second to none and the campaign is yet another 8-hour popcorn blockbuster, with nary a dull moment as Nate scales walls, engages in against-all-odds gun battles, and, in customary fashion, escapes death by the skin of his teeth more times than Bruce Willis in any Die Hard film.

Uncharted 3 is pure formula, which is both a good and bad thing. Uncharted is what it is and the core doesn’t need to change. But in this instance I didn’t get the feeling that Naughty Dog pushed as hard as they did in evolving the gameplay and storytelling from the first game to the second. Taken by itself, Uncharted 3’s story is absolutely riveting and the many set piece shootouts and escape sequences are even more spectacular than ever before. However, at times a feeling of déjà vu does set in as certain stages unfold all too similarly to key moments in Uncharted 2.

Instead of hanging out of a derailed train teetering over the edge of a mountain, for instance, Nate gets blown out of a flying plane and must climb up the streaming chain of cargo back to safety. Instead of doing battle in a collapsing hotel, this time he’s on a sinking ship. And then there are the closing chapters in Ubar, which play out damn nearly identically to those in Uncharted 2’s Shambhala. These moments are great, but I almost felt like I’d already played them before.

There are definitely some surprises (young Nate!) and plenty of new and exotic environments to take in (the desert area plays in a slightly different manner than anything in the previous games and the pirate shipyard level introduces vertical gun battles in a cool way). But I don’t know—for some reason I just never got sucked in to the same extent that I did in Uncharted 2.

What are your thoughts on the campaign, Zach? Also, what did you think about the gameplay? Naughty Dog stirred up a bit of a ruckus over its modifications to the game’s targeting system, but sometime over the Thanksgiving holiday weekend a patch was released inserting an option to switch back to Uncharted 2’s style. Uncharted 3’s gunplay is a little cumbersome at times I suppose, but after switching back and forth between the two settings for alternating stretches I could barely tell the difference and I didn’t have a problem using either method. Did you notice any changes from Uncharted 2 or have issues with the aiming?

Zach: After hearing your take on the campaign, I feel relieved. I thought that the original Uncharted was a good game that went under my radar, and Uncharted 2 blew it away, both in acting and in its story. I, like you, felt a bit disconnected the whole time I was playing through Uncharted 3’s campaign mode though. I kept trying to be engaged in the story but for some reason things just didn’t click as well as they did in Nathan Drake’s previous outing. While I think this game had one of the best escape scenes out of the three (i.e. the sinking boat), other than that there were just too many similarities with the previous title.

One improvement that I did notice was how well the computer-controlled thugs took cover and reacted to my play style. Also, once the bullets started flying no two battles ever played out in the same manner. Believe me; I died quite a few times when playing on the game’s hardest difficulty. As you mentioned, Matt, a big deal was made about the aiming of weapons when the game was first released compared to that of Uncharted 2, but to be honest it’s been so long since I played the second game I’d forgotten what aiming was like and couldn’t tell a difference. I’m glad that Naughty Dog did listen to the fans though, even going so far as to invite some of them in to play with the aiming system while developers made real-time fixes to ensure that they could duplicate Uncharted 2’s system with the patch that is now available.

Another battle mechanic introduced in Uncharted 3 is quick time mini-boss fights. Every so often a very large enemy will engage you in a fist fight where the only way to take them down is to successfully dodge their slow attack and follow it up with a few well placed strikes of your own. While I found this neat when I first started the game, around the half-way point it started getting old.

What never got old no matter how many times I played it was Uncharted 3’s redesigned co-op mode. Originally introduced with Uncharted 2’s multiplayer, co-op has taken a step up, introducing its own story which takes place in a sort of alternate timeline where some of Drake’s toughest enemies are out for the same treasure as he and his friends. The experience system has also been retooled somewhat, allowing you to upgrade each weapon independently as you earn points from playing co-op missions. Aside from these additions, the mechanics are nearly identical to Uncharted 2, which were great to begin with.

I’m not much of a competitive player these days, so while I did try out just a few matches in that mode my main multiplayer focus was on co-op. Did you get the opportunity to play many competitive matches? Also, I don’t know about you but I was disappointed to find the bonus content lacking in this game. One of my favorite things about the previous Uncharted games was seeing how the voice actors actually acted out not only their lines, but also the physical movements of their characters. I couldn’t find anything similar to these behind the scenes moments in Uncharted 3.

Matt: Unfortunately, that seems to be where the industry is right now. There are a ton of great franchises that are reliable for familiar gameplay and captivating stories, but once you get a couple games into a series the wonder and surprise has worn off and developers seem less inclined to try new things for fear of alienating the existing fan base. I guess Naughty Dog played safe with Uncharted 3 and is going to try new ideas with The Last of Us. After that, hopefully Uncharted 4 (come on, you know it is coming!) takes bolder steps forward.

The wittier AI definitely keeps you on your toes, and I also like that they added a mechanic that allows you to toss back enemy grenades. A little meter pops up and, at the risk of it blowing up in Nate’s face, you can stick close and press a button at just the right moment to lob the grenade away. I must say, though, that I didn’t much care for the melee combat. Instead of just being able to run up and beat a guy down, the fights, as you say, sort of suck you into a mid-battle face-off that you can’t break away from until you or the enemy is down. The annoying thing about this is that surrounding enemies can still shoot and kill you, which just seems cheap.

As for the bonus content, it seemed pretty standard to me. In the Bonuses menu, there’s a gallery with artwork and behind-the-scenes videos showing some of the motion capture and story design work you mention. And as always, 100 treasures are hidden throughout the campaign for dedicated explorers to search for.

I play Uncharted games for the story and solo experience, so to me the multiplayer is superfluous. But I have put a good amount of time into trying out both competitive and co-op aspects, and there certainly is a great depth of content and gameplay to what Naughty Dog has put together. I can totally see this game becoming the top multiplayer destination on the PS3 for a long time to come.

A rather robust experience system keeps you unlocking new avatar customization options and weapon upgrades at regular intervals, and your overall progression is shared between both sides. From the lobby, there’s also an Uncharted TV window streaming footage from YouTube which you can un-mute and pull up to watch trailers, highlights from select matches, and other videos while waiting in the lobby. I think that’s a pretty neat feature.

On the competitive side, Uncharted 3 has the basic deathmatch, team deathmatch and team objective modes covered, but, as an Uncharted game, the action has a distinct flair, what with all the wall climbing, ledge hanging, and cover points. The maps are the highlight though. Naughty Dog did a great job incorporating the cinematic nature of the campaign’s gunplay in a multiplayer context, with dynamic travel sequences that have players waging war in transit for a few moments before they reach the main map area. One map, for example, starts out on a pair of trains driving side by side, and you can move within and on top of the trains, jumping from car to car or even back and forth between the two trains. Another map starts on the airport runway with competitors riding in the back of a convoy of trucks surrounding an airplane that’s about to take off. You can hop between the trucks and, as they work closer to the plane, you can attempt a leap into the plane via the open cargo bay or the doors on the sides.

The co-op is cool too, although the story-based approach doesn’t add a whole lot to the overall narrative experience. At least not to the extent that a full co-op side story campaign would. Still, whether you’re playing the adventure missions or the survival arenas, it’s great fun teaming up with one or two other players and using coordinated efforts to watch each other’s backs and flank armored and shield-bearing bad guys.

In a vacuum, Uncharted 3 probably is the pinnacle of the series’ success. The story is rich and compelling, the set pieces are somehow even more mind-blowing, and the gameplay, a deftly balanced combination of platforming, puzzles, and chaotic gun battles, makes you the star of an interactive Hollywood action movie.

But having said all that, I would have to rank Uncharted 3 behind both previous installments in terms of the overall lasting impression it has left me with. To put that into clearer context, I played through the first two games at least three times each and achieved the Platinum trophy in both. With Uncharted 3, I’m not as immediately eager to dive back in for my Crushing difficulty run, let alone any additional replays it may require to collect the 20-30 treasures I missed during my initial playthrough.

However, getting caught up on which Uncharted is “the best” is ultimately a moot point, because all three are spectacular gaming experiences, and even if it didn’t completely blow me away like Uncharted 2, Uncharted 3 is a game that should be in every PS3 owner’s gaming library.

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Zach: I totally agree with you on this one. This isn’t the strongest Uncharted in the series. While I’d rate it somewhere between the first and second one in terms of content and the desire to replay it, that doesn’t mean that one shouldn’t pick this game up, especially if you were hooked on Uncharted 2’s multiplayer content, as I assume Naughty Dog will be focusing their efforts on new content for this iteration now. I wish the story was slightly more original as I think that would have given me the impetuous to complete another play through on crushing difficulty, however I just didn’t feel as engaged as in previous Uncharted games. Regardless, Uncharted 3 does show what a great game is capable of and would make an excellent last minute gift for any PlayStation 3 gamer this holiday season.

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Pros:
+ Great voice acting and action are back yet again
+ Engaging story and characters
+ Improved AI makes gun battles much more exciting and unpredictable
+ Robust co-op and competitive multiplayer modes should have gamers coming back months after completing the campaign

Cons:
– Story not as unique compared to previous Uncharted games
– Many set pieces seem eerily similar to Uncharted 2

Affiliate Links:
Buy from Amazon or eStarland

Game Info:
Platform: PS3
Publisher: SCEA
Developer: Naughty Dog
Release Date: 11/1/2011
Genre: Action / Adventure
ESRB Rating: Teen
Players: 1-10 (10-player competitive, 3-player online and split-screen co-op)
Source: Review copy provided by publisher. Second copy purchased by reviewer.

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About the Author

Matt Litten is the full-time editor and owner of VGBlogger.com. He is responsible for maintaining the day to day operation of the site, editing all staff content before it is published, and contributing regular news, reviews, previews and other articles. Matt landed his first gig in the video game review business writing for the now-defunct website BonusStage.com. After the sad and untimely close of BonusStage, the former staff went on to found VGBlogger.com. After a short stint as US Site Manager for AceGamez, Matt assumed full ownership over VGBlogger, and to this day he is dedicated to making it one of the top video game blogs in all the blogosphere. Matt is a fair-minded reviewer and lover of games of all platforms and types, big or small, hyped or niche, big-budget or indie. But that doesn't mean he will let poor games slide without a good thrashing when necessary!