Uncharted 3: Drakes Deception Review

Posted on November 5, 2011 by

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Naughty Dog brings us yet another solid installment of the treasure hunting adventures of Nathan Drake, but although they promise much, they deliver on very little.

There was, for some many years, a hole in the world. It was human shaped. There was a hat, and a bullwhip. Ever since Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, the world was lacking something important. In 2007, Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune was released on the Playstation 3. It didn’t just fill the hole in the world, it made me realise that the hole had even existed. Now, 4 years and 2 sequels later, the series continues to stand up tall in the pantheon of adventure games, with each release providing more spectacular vistas, more exciting gunplay and more mind-bending/blowing set pieces than the one before.

Now, I could spend an entire review heaping praise and describing things like graphics (jaw dropping), music (enthralling) and acting (oscar-worthy), but this is the third game in a series which hasn’t strayed far from its roots, so there’s not much point. If you’re playing Uncharted 3, chances are good that you’ve played at least one of the other two. All of those things are not only great, but they are as vastly superior to Among Thieves as that game was to Drake’s Fortune.  Speaking of which, Uncharted 3 manages to make Among Thieves feel like filler, by returning the series to a hunt for lost treasure involving Sir Francis Drake. In many ways, it follows the themes of the Indiana Jones Trilogy, with the second movie, Temple of Doom being a noticeable deviation from the Nazi fighting hijinks, as well as being noticeably darker, while Drake’s Deception explores the themes of Fatherhood, identity and even comes close to mimicking the scene at the end of The Last Crusade when Indy tries to get the grail, but is talked out of it by his father. To say at this point that the game doesn’t take a lot of its cues from it’s spiritual predecessor would be folly.

Instead there are some thing that I’d like to talk about which bother me. I want to get them out of the way. I know everyone is giving this game rave reviews. I don’t understand why so many places use a 10-point scale for rating games, and then only ever go down to 7 at the lowest. One website gave this game 8/10 and got vilified for doing so. 8/10 is pretty damn good. It’s nearly ten. As you know, I don’t use a scale, and I prefer to weight the game as a whole and just outright tell you if it’s worth playing, and then if it’s worth renting or buying. The thing is, I’m about to complain about his game. I’m about to make points I feel are important, and which undermine the game’s image as pristine and perfect. Ordinarily, I would just go straight ahead and do so (see my LA Noire review), but the thing is, Uncharted is kind of a sacred cow, beloved by all (including me) and just about the only person who could get away with complaining about it would probably be Yahtzee, and I don’t claim to have anything like the ability to review things that he does.

Now, I mentioned in the preamble that the game promises a lot, and delivers on little. For example, the game promises to explain the history and ‘identity’ of series protagonist Nathan Drake, and it really doesn’t. We briefly see Drake as a child, and are given some tantalising hints about his youth (his mother committed suicide, his father gave him up to  a home run by nuns), and besides the villain of the story suggesting that Drake isn’t his real name (and who the hell trusts the villain?) we learn nothing else. We are promised that we will learn the true nature of Drake’s relationship with his father figure Victor ‘Sully’ Sullivan. It turns out, Sully is his father figure. Who knew? Sully rescues a young Drake in Portugal when he interferes with the plans of Marlowe, an ancient woman who looks like Helen Mirren on a binding diet, and raises him like a son. Well I never. The blurb and the marketing all suggested that Nate was hiding something, that the title would have a double meaning, that both Sir Francis Drake and Nathan Drake are hiding a terrible secret, but it turns out to only be Sir Francis who has anything to hide, and he does so for the good of the world. I also have issues with the way the game never explains anything. I can appreciate that some games can become too exposition heavy and players have short attention spans, but seriously, what the hell was with Talbot? his guy seemed to be immune to bullets, could teleport, is one of the primary villains of the game (Marlowe’s seconds in command, even) and yet has around 5 lines, none of which explain why the hell he can survive being short IN THE FACE in a gosh darned CUTSCENE by Drake’s English chum Charlie Cutter. For a series which had been grounded very much in reality, with supernatural elements being treated with skepticism and rationalisation, it’s a bit of a stretch to have this guy who doesn’t play by any rules whatsoever, except those designated by the plot.

“It feels disjointed, as if the story only really exists to get Drake from Set-piece A to set-piece B”

Besides what the game promises, I have issue with the plot, and the pacing. I’ve played it through twice now, I always watch the cutscenes and listen to the dialogue, and the plot still doesn’t make very much sense. It feels disjointed, as if the story only really exists to get Drake from Set-piece A to set-piece B, there are a lot of sequences where Drake is knocked out or beaten unconscious, and then wakes up in the next set-piece, and a lot of the time, they really serve no point whatsoever except to facilitate the next incredible action sequence. As for the pacing, the game seems to switch a lot between sequences where your movement is restricted or slowed, including a protracted sequence where Drake wanders, for days, through an empty desert, which last for a good half an hour, literally just Drake walking slowly through sand, occasionally hallucinating or finding the same well– which is empty- and it just drags on. This is made especially apparent in a game like Drake’s Deception, because these sequence almost always follow on from one of the big action spectacle set-pieces, in the case of the desert wandering, it follows a plane crash which involves Drake dangling like a rag-doll from the back of the plane, clinging for dear life onto cargo webbing as the entire planes cargo hold falls out the back of the aircraft. The juxtaposition between the two tones of gameplay is so jarring as to be almost whiplash inducing. Essentially, it feels like the developers came up with a list of ideas that would be cool, and strung them together with a lacking story, as opposed to coming up with a great, deep, compelling story as before, and then coming up with cool ideas afterwards.

This is not to say that the action sequences are anything less than spectacular and mold-shattering. For example, there is a segment of the game where Drake finds himself aboard a cruise ship full of pirates (a lengthy section which does literally nothing for the plot, it doesn’t even move Drake to a new location, he just returns to where the boat left from afterwards), events occur and the ship starts sinking. Drake is then forced to flee the ship, but it starts to roll over, and as a result, our entire perceptions of both the environment we’ve already been through as normal, and of how we’ve supposed to interact with that environment, are thrown out the window. There is one part where Drake is running down a straight corridor and the ship rolls again, twisting the corridor as he runs, like the Hotel sequence from Inception. The wall of water chasing you down is just an added bonus. While the game has no single, identifiable core set-piece like Among Thieves did (The train sequence) it makes up for it by having lots of them, all of which test both the players reflex and Drake’s own tenacity to their limits.

Something else I’ve noticed is that while for the most part, the game maintains a level difficulty (and you have a ton to choose from, from Very Easy to Very Hard), it also has a large number of very steep, sharp difficulty spikes. Sections where you find yourself confronted with an actual horde of enemies, throwing grenades, using RPGs, sniper rifles, armor plated grenade proof heavies with machine guns, and sneaky little bastards who com up behind you and melee you, leaving you entirely vulnerable to being shot to bits. Melee combat is vastly improved this time around, being reminiscent of Batman: Arkham City as groups will now attack you en masse and you have to counter and grab and use your environment to your advantage. During these segments of the game when areas are, frankly, filled with too many enemies, you will die. A lot. I found this was not helped by the controls, it’s easy to get stuck in a melee with someone, and find your health sapped by other enemies with guns, and try to roll away to safety, only to find that the ‘roll’ button acts as the ‘grab’ button near enemies. I also found that the gun aiming felt… sticky. It was slower, less accurate and harder to use than in the previous two games. While this may have been a deliberate choice to prevent me from casually headshotting every foe as I’m used to, it’s quite jarring.

Final verdict- Now, don’t take any of this to mean that Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception is in any way a bad game. It’s a great game, but I don’t feel like it’s as good as Among Thieves. It’s less polished overall, and the story feels like something thrown in to move the player from one cool thing to another. That’s not a bad thing normally, but I expected an Uncharted game to treat its story more seriously. If you buy it, there is multiplayer for first purchasers, second hand buyers have to buy an online pass, as do renters. If you aren’t that bothered by the pretty basic multiplayer, you may as well just rent it, since you can complete the game in about 13 hours.

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Posted in: Games, Review