Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception once again puts you in the role of chisel-jawed every man Nathan Drake, and his gang of treasure hunting friends, on a globe trotting roller-coaster ride that’ll take you from the dingy back streets of London to the barren deserts of the Middle East. The game’s developers Naughty Dog have upped the scale in almost every respect, including more characters, more varied locations, and a beefy multiplayer mode with dozens of unlockables.
It is very clear that they have set out to make a cinematic game, with plenty of cut-scenes, and oodles of expository dialogue. It is just a shame that their cinematic ambitions go no further than slavishly recreating Indiana Jones.
To those unfamiliar with the series, the basic gameplay revolves around climbing, fist fighting, gun play, and light puzzle solving. Drake, who claims to be a descendant of Sir Francis Drake (Elizabethan explorer extraordinaire) is a charismatic rogue that is part Lara Croft, part Indiana Jones, and part Calvin Klein underwear model, with all the grace and elegance of a rowdy gibbon.
Most of the game’s platforming sections are completely linear, and this sometimes works against the game. On a number of occasions I found myself in densely populated areas, just looking around admiring the scenery when I happen to notice a ledge that is clearly within my grasp. What is hidden on those low hanging rooftops? Unfortunately we will never know what treasures were lurking up there because Nathan Drake is incapable of climbing anything, no matter how low it is, unless it furthers the narrative.
This would not be such a problem if the rules for the platforming sections weren’t so incredibly inconsistent, with Naughty Dog punishing you with an instant death if you dare to go off the beaten track. For instance, in one level that revolves around navigating a ship graveyard, one moment you will be required to swim through water to get from ship to ship, and then the next moment if you go in the water you die instantly, simply because it is not the place that the developer wanted you to go.
This decision to punish exploration is in direct contradiction with the game’s side quest revolving around collecting 100 hidden treasures. I lost count of the number of times that I could see a ledge or platform, that may be housing a hidden treasure, only to find that Drake was incapable of grabbing on to it, despite clearly touching it. I know that means that there is no treasure located there, but I have to wonder why they even bothered to put said platform there at all. When compared to the sublime navigation systems in games such as Assassin’s Creed, Infamous, and Arkham City, which essentially let you grab on to any possible ledge, the game seems incredibly archaic. Even if there is no substantial benefit from climbing on to these ledges, being given the choice to do so would dramatically improve the overall experience.
Another instance in the French Châteaux, revolves around lowering a chandelier in order to gain access to a platform across the other side of a room. When navigating my way back I decided to lower myself off of the edge of the platform, a drop of less than 10ft, in order to save myself from a little backtracking. I was surprised to see that lowering myself safely to the ground resulted in an instant death. I was even more surprised (and to tell the truth a little angry) to see that, upon trying to jump over to the chandelier, I managed to miss my target entirely, falling to the ground below, to the exact spot that has resulted in my death earlier, and at a greater height than before, but I barely received a scratch.
This inconsistency prevails throughout the game, particularly in high speed chase sections. In the game’s first chase sequence, in which you are being pursued by armed men across the rooftops of a South American city, you have to follow a predetermined path in order to escape. Deviating from said path will always result in random inexplicable death. For instance, I climbed over a ledge on the side of a building after seeing a lower roof some five foot below me. Dropping down on to the roof resulted in my death. While it is all very well and good that the developers had a very clear idea of where they wanted you to go, more often than not the game’s clumsy camera obscures your view of where you are actually supposed to be going.
Fortunately there are frequent checkpoints, and they load up quite quickly, which helps to stave off some of the frustration. Having tightly scripted sections has been a mainstay of the Uncharted series, however, never before have the developers given you the false illusion of multiple branching paths – Uncharted 1 mainly took place in a jungle, while Uncharted 2 mostly took place in the mountains, and what little time you spent in civilisation was mainly on the ground. It is clear that Naughty Dog have been incredibly ambitious with the setting for this game, however their refusal to change their navigation system, and instead rely on cheap random deaths as a deterrent from exploring, is incredibly disappointing.
That’s not to say that Uncharted 3 is a bad game by any means, nor am I saying that linearity in games is a bad thing. It is just the fact that it is incredibly disappointing and, more importantly, frustrating when they offer you the illusion of choice on where to go, only to kill you for no good reason other than it isn’t where they wanted you to go. A number of linear scripted climbing sections, such as the escape from the French Châteaux or the frantic scramble through a capsized cruise liner, are brilliantly tense and work really well (especially if you have a stereoscopic 3D TV) because there is clearly only one way to go. Whenever ambiguity is introduced the whole illusion of this vibrant world falls apart.
The second frustrating issue revolves around the game’s clunky combat system. The Uncharted series has always suffered from some clunky melee combat, and really that hasn’t changed in this outing. New additions include a counter, and the ability to use objects in the environment during combat. Triggering the environmental objects can, at times, seem completely random. During the opening section during a bar brawl in a London pub I smashed an enemy through a table and then, squealing with glee, moved Drake over to the next table in an attempt to smash another enemy through a table. No matter how hard I tried I could not get it to happen a second time.
While many have complained of the game’s slugging gun controls, I found that increasing the sensitivity in the options counteracted this issue. However, one frustrating issue with gun play is the way that you are forced in to fist fighting if an enemy gets close to you during a gun battle. When enemies get close to you they become extremely hard to shoot, especially when you consider that Drake enters his fighting stance as soon as they get within a certain distance. As there is no longer a dodge button (the dodge button instead initiated a grapple in fist fighting) you are left at the mercy of armed enemies that are further away. This is especially frustrating when, towards the end of the game, there are a number of snipers armed with guns that kill you in one hit, who don’t hesitate in shooting you down like a dog.
Another issue regarding the enemies is the AI, specifically during mandatory stealth sections. Should you accidentally alert a single enemy, even if they are on their own, every other enemy becomes alert and aware of your location, even if you kill the alerted enemy before they make a sound. At times you have a team of up to three other characters fighting with you, but for the most part they don’t actually do anything. In fact, invariably, I found that they may as well have not been there at all, as the majority of enemies focused their fire on me, pretty much ignoring everyone else.
For many these problems likely won’t be an issue, because they will be content enough to just follow the story. Thanks to the series’ trademark witty banter and strong performances it is quite easy to like this game, even if the story is fairly generic. Although there are a number of sections in the game that seemed almost like they were shot for shot remakes of sections from Uncharted 2 – how many times has drake discovered a lost city, only to find that something inside of it drove the natives mad/killed them all, only to end up bringing the whole place crashing down?
Another issue that will likley only bother me is the way that you come across puzzles that no one has been able to solve in centuries. Of course you manage to solve them in a few short minutes, and once solved, invariably your enemies also solve it, or have solved it long before you and are waiting inside to deal out some death. When the writers mention real historical figures and bring up how they dedicated their lives to solving said puzzles, and failed, only for you to come in and solve it in a few short minutes is actually quite disrespectful.
The game’s multiplayer modes are a welcome addition that potentially add a lot of replay value. These take the form of your standard multiplayer modes (death match, team death match etc.) and a fun co-operative mode. Completing games earns you money which can be spent on a number of unlockable costumes, weapons, and perks. Naughty Dog should be commended for incorporating a strong sense of verticality in to their multiplayer games, essentially recreating the Uncharted experience in its entirety.
If you’re the sort that doesn’t do well at multiplayer shooters then thankfully there are multiple ways to earn cash. You can earn cash bonuses for helping with kills, or you can collect randomly spawning treasures that appear regularly through the match. This is a great feature that allows everyone a chance to take part without feeling like an impotent bullet magnet.
The co-op mode mostly takes place in various locations from the single player, with less of a focus on puzzles. Apart from an annoying habit of having enemies spawn behind you when you’re in cover, this mode is a fun distraction that can be played online as well as in split screen.
Graphics: 5/5 – One of the best looking games ever made. Period. The addition of stereoscopic 3D, for those with a 3D TV, adds a real sense of depth without downgrading the graphical quality too much.
Sound: 5/5 – Excellent voice acting coupled with a very strong recognisable score.
Gameplay: 3/5 – While the game itself plays perfectly well (aside from clunky button mashing combat and sluggish gun play), the biggest let down is the illogical inconstancy in the game world. One minute a drop of 5 feet will kill you, the next it’ll barely cause a bump. This has been done to force you to stay on the predetermined path, but it results in a number of frustrating moments, especially if you’re on the hunt for collectable treasures.
Longevity: 4/5 – The actual single player game is of about standard length (between 8 and 10 hours), and there is a fairly beefy multiplayer mode. There are 100 treasures to find in the singleplayer, which could increase replayability… if the game didn’t punish you for exploring.
Overall 4 out of 5
Nathan Drake’s latest adventure is an incredibly cinematic experience that is a lot of fun, so long as you don’t try thinking for yourself. Much like a roller-coaster it is best enjoyed if you sit down and enjoy the ride – trying to get off and do your own thing at any point can be fatal.