Uncharted 3 Review
Disappointing sequel that lacks the slick pacing of its predecessor
Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception is the newest entry in the third person, action adventure franchise developed by Naughty Dog. Players once again assume the role of the likeable hero, Nathan Drake (Nate). This time evil takes the form of an older British woman, Katherine Marlowe, who is trying to find the “lost city of Ubar.” The lost city is located in Rub 'al Khali desert and she will need Nate’s ring to find it. Sir Francis Drake was originally asked to locate the city but it was never found. Nate will visit Syria, Yemen, France and London as he tries to find the lost city before time runs out. Uncharted 3 also happens to be the sequel to one of the greatest games ever made.
Marlowe and Talbot are looking for the lost city of Ubar
The story in the third game is minimalistic. It opts to let players think rather than spell things out. Katherine Marlowe becomes the big bad and replaces the warlord, Zoran Lazarevic, from the second game. She is well introduced via flashbacks involving a young Nate and Sully. Her role in the game is underplayed, coming off as a bit of a side character rather than a true nemesis. After she participates in an intriguing cut scene during the middle of the plot, she isn’t seen again until the very last level. Her second in command, Talbot, says little and uses drugs to manipulate people. The end resolution for both of these “bosses” is not good. Shooting explosive tree sap, as in Uncharted 2, was not the epitome of boss battles but at least it involved guns.
The most disappointing aspect of the story is the lack of character interaction and humour. The third game is the least intentionally funny of the series with mixed dialogue and ordinary delivery. Nate rarely makes amusing quips about current events. Even some of the adlib lines feel out of place or forced. Dialogue from buddies sounds more like you brought a tour guide along rather than a companion. Nate will often be alone and out of communication which further reduces cohesion. Most on-screen time is reserved for Nate’s father figure, Sully, with the rest of the cast filling minor roles.
Charlie Cutter, a bald British treasure hunter, joins Drake with passion for adventure. Chloe returns, after some bad plastic surgery, and her role is disappointingly minimal given how fantastic she was in the second game. Chloe and Charlie disappear half way through and never return despite their key role early on. Even Elena is paired with Nate for just one unexciting mission around an airport during the night. Aside from helping push a few jeeps she proves to be a rather dull buddy like the others.
Hordes of large spiders hate the light
Two juicy bits of information are brought forward in relation to Nate. The first involves his relationship with long-time sidekick and reporter Elena Fisher. We get hints early on that he broke off an engagement with her. The second, and by far the most interesting, involves Nate’s past. After this bombshell is dropped by Marlowe during a mid game cut scene, nothing more is said or explored. The game leaves you hanging when it seems like such a crucial bit of information. If used carefully it could have enhanced the entire cast.
The third chapter does away with the supernatural elements you saw in the first two games. Well, with the exception of large man eating spiders who attack by the thousand and hate the light. Some drug induced dreams play out like supernatural sequences anyway. These dreams might be uninteresting segments of Nate running through alleys as the screen becomes wavy. Games like Batman and Max Payne have done unconscious forays more effectively.
There isn’t a great deal of meat to the story and the cut scenes aren’t interesting enough to watch on replay. This would be fine if the actual rest of the character interaction wasn’t lacking. Most characters, apart from Sully, aren’t involved for a significant chunk of the story. It really seems that characters, outside the great cut scenes, forgot to bring their personalities along for the adventure. It’s also unfortunate that the combat, platforming and puzzles fail to make good impressions.
This time even Marco Polo is a solo affair
The combat remains largely the same but there are some changes that detract from the flow. The game can be more difficult than both its predecessors because of the enemy spawns and frequency. The AI is aggressive and they dash between cover and like to get close to engage in some quick time event (QTE) melee fights. Large armoured enemies absorb more bullets and flinch less when taking fire. Cheap spawns place enemies in lazy positions or force you to search for cover. Perhaps all of this wouldn’t be so bad if the control system wasn’t unresponsive.
The aiming in single player is a little different than the second game. Small movements barely register with a high controller dead zone. There is also a delay when aiming. So you’ll likely zoom over the head of an enemy and again as you try to readjust. You will have more success by moving Nate, rather than both in careful combination. It makes the combat unresponsive and clumsy. Shooting enemies in moving vehicles or withstanding environmental sway further exacerbates the problem. It’s an unnecessary change to a near perfect combat system. Even the melee has been altered to compete with the likes of Batman.
The new melee system will let you counter, throw enemies and even bash guys with situational objects. There are only three segments where you fist fight a group in this fashion so the overhaul seems unnecessary. Large enemies take quite a beating before going down and serve as mini QTE bosses. The game doesn’t bother to hide the button prompts either, so you’ll be looking at the flashing icon rather than animation cues. Rare melee punches produce exciting weapon transitions straight into Nate’s hands ready to attack. The stealth portions generally do not play out as smoothly as its predecessor.
QTE melee bosses are now common place
One stealth section occurs in a ship cemetery as enemies walk on boats and pontoons. Nate swims underneath platforms and can climb up the side of vessels to pull enemies into the water. If you are spotted, the enemies quickly attack from all directions. Compared to the snow storm in Uncharted 2, with its fuzzy detection system, the implementation is questionable. When the game does produce a sand storm, it populates it with snipers, enemies with grenade launchers and gun emplacements. Sadly not even the clever puzzles and platforming save the pacing.
Puzzles are rather good but they aren’t spread out or are too long. The clever brain teasers make good use of Nate’s extra long journal and also get you to look around your environment. There are essentially no puzzles during the game’s second half and three good puzzles jammed together in the space of 30 minutes. There is even a long puzzle after an extensive cut scene and sequence that has you slowly pushing Nate through tight spaces. The puzzle placement makes sense from a story perspective but they aren’t used to cool the player off from high action. Platforming also suffers because of camera work or rather uninteresting backdrops.
Platforming is rarely juxtaposed by wonderful vistas or perilous circumstances. You won’t be climbing through crumbling buildings in a warzone or jumping across ice chasms in Tibet as in Uncharted 2. Instead you’ll be climbing orange coloured bricks around a French chateau or multicoloured piping in the tedious London underground. Bad camera angles hurt many chase scenes, especially when Nate is running towards the player. The vertical combat platforming seems like an afterthought, enemies frequently fall and scream for laughs, and it isn’t even as fun as Dark Void. It’s a shame that with so many gameplay changes, so few are improvements.
Super exciting gameplay coming after the 14th sand dune!
This paints a pretty grim picture of Uncharted 3 even though the individual parts are not much different from the previous games. The pacing in the game lacks because it has long periods of stagnation. There is even one section toward the end where you do nothing but walk for 15 minutes. The combat lacks the smooth flow, platforming can be rather dull and the clever puzzles are clumped together. It’s hard to quantify the impact of the changes in this sequel. From an enjoyment standpoint the campaign isn’t as fun as the original Uncharted. Perhaps the crazy focus on Multiplayer was the cause for this drop in quality.
The biggest overhaul to multiplayer is in the form of customization and perks. You customize characters from the campaign by switching clothes, adding accessories or creating a logo that is shown in levels when you are winning. The superficial options are very expensive, typically costing more than simple weapon upgrades. The Call of Duty inspired awards and perks are great but they drown out the gameplay early on. Being constantly rewarded for everything you do, including running around without shooting, seems like overkill.
Modes like plunder and team objective keep the pace high and a buddy system allows you to spawn on another player. Having a sand storm move through a level while you are playing is cool, at first. Still, the online play feels clumsy and primitive in comparison to recent games. The netcode has some peculiar aspects that seem humorous at first. Players will regularly kill each other with fists at the exact same time. The frequency of this oddity is so high that you won’t be surprised when you fall to bullet fire after punching your killer to death. The matchmaking did a great job of placing me with Americans and French within the same night, although the movement was always smooth.
Heavily armored enemies appear frequently in the co-op
The co-op element was a highlight of UC2 and it’s still fairly good in the sequel. Thankfully the melee problems are absent. The team missions spawn many armoured soldiers that take dozens of bullets to kill. Some armoured enemies throw three grenades at once and tougher guys even use miniguns. In the survival mode you’ll see many of these as the waves get harder. Gold rush mode seems limited when the treasure only spawns in a few spots. The co-op story takes place on five levels, two from previous installments.
One new level, the London underground, spawns enemies in puffs of smoke right beside you. Another level takes place in a castle in Syria with platforming and treasure collecting. It ends after fighting two heavily armed helicopters on a tower while enemies respawn constantly from the same spot. The Borneo level was taken from Uncharted 2 and has three allies searching for stone tablets held by Zoran Lazarevic. Zoran, Eddy Raja (UC1) and Harry Flynn (UC2) appear as high health bosses during the final Airport adventure. The monastery level, taken from Drake’s Fortune, feels more like horde mode and ends with tough armoured soldiers. The co-op isn’t as enjoyable as the previous game because it is less concerned about producing a single player-like experience with friends.
Great animations, good voice acting and detailed world geometry are some reasons why Uncharted 3 is so well presented. The quality of cut scenes has lifted with better faces and textures. Quite a few subtle tricks are used with animations to make Nate feel more tangible. One such trick is having him reach out, as if to protect himself, when he gets close to a wall or object. Even the new sand technology is a great contrast from the snow in the last game. Aside from some texture streaming and flickering objects the game is very pleasant to look at.
Hey these guys look familar!
Uncharted 3 is a drop in quality for the series. This is mostly due to the poor pacing that links each component. Changes to AI, aiming and melee aren’t good for combat flow. Puzzles and cut scenes are clumped together rather than neatly spread out. The action set pieces are rarely exciting, excluding the cruise ship. The platforming can be tedious, lengthy or just filler material. Finally, the story isn’t that interesting or funny. Considering all the effort put into the customization of multiplayer, the payoff there is rather low. Uncharted 3 is a disappointing sequel despite its visual achievements.