‘Fortune hunter Nathan Drake is catapulted headlong into an adventure that takes him on a daring trek into the heart of the Arabian Desert in a search for the fabled “Atlantis of the Sands.” This journey pits him and his mentor Victor Sullivan against the occult treachery of a shadowy clandestine organization and its ruthless leader. When the terrible secrets of this lost city are unearthed, Drake’s quest descends into a desperate bid for survival that strains the limits of his endurance and forces him to confront his deepest fears.‘
Nathan Drake has become one of the unofficial mascots for the Playstation 3, with good reason. The Uncharted games have been some of the best examples of how great cinematic games can be with the right team behind them. While the first Uncharted game was well received, it was Uncharted 2: Among Thieves that catapulted the franchise into the spotlight, quickly becoming a favourite among critics and players alike. Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception certainly had a lot to live up to, but surely the developers at Naughty Dog were up to it?
Well, yes and no. Uncharted 3 is a game that has a lot going for it, but the magic seems to be gone. The pieces are all there to make a great game; the graphics are still among the best on the console (aside from a few nasty shadow issues in brightly lit areas), the actors are perfectly cast and give a great performance, Greg Edmonson’s soundtrack is as fantastic as ever, but they don’t seem to mesh together to create an experience on par with Uncharted 2. The game as a whole feels like bunch of jigsaw pieces that don’t quite fit together, the picture is still recognisable but the gaps are obvious.
This is most evident in the story – there are some great elements such as delving into the motivations of Drake’s unending quest for the next great treasure and the impact that it has on those around him, but the rhythm seems completely off. Everything seems to be structured around the impressive graphical set pieces; one good example of this is a two-hour (at least) long section involving pirates that has Drake involved in his own Poseidon Adventure, running from waves of water and climbing through the hallways – this looks great but serves absolutely no purpose in the story, none of the characters ever mention it again. The crazy situations that Drake gets himself into have been a staple of the series, but they are starting to feel a bit stale. It’s come to the point where you can anticipate what explosion or structural collapse is going to happen next just by looking at the environment e.g. When you have to shimmy across a rusty pipe above a flaming inferno, it’s a pretty sure bet that the pipe is going to break when you’re half-way across.
The Uncharted games have always been very linear, but have generally done a good job of hiding the rails of the story. Uncharted 2 did this particularly well, the story was paced well and while things often got crazy, they never really felt out-of-place in the story. Unfortunately the rails in Uncharted 3 begin to show very quickly. Even when the characters were supposedly running against the clock, I knew that I could spend the next 5 or 10 minutes looking around a particular room because the next story beat wouldn’t kick off until I stepped through the door. A boss fight at the end of the game (no spoilers) took place on a supposedly crumbling structure but nothing was going to fall down until I’d beaten the terrible Quick Time Event. I realise that this is how a cinematic game like Uncharted works, but there are a whole series of tricks to hide the game’s rules that the developers seem to have forgotten since Uncharted 2.
The mechanics in general seem to have taken a step backward from the last game. Shooting is awkward and imprecise (an issue that the developers have acknowledged and are working on for a future patch) and the new melee mechanics feel tacked on and out-of-place. If I wanted to play a cinematic QTE game I would play Heavy Rain, I don’t need to press the same combination of buttons every time a goon gets up close and personal. While the combat sections of Uncharted 2 sometimes bogged down the story, the combat in Uncharted 3 quickly became frustrating. After a while it became a matter of figuring out which way the developers wanted you to get through the section rather than just trying new approaches. Sometimes if you stay in the same location enemies will keep respawning whereas in other sections you can’t move too far along or your seemingly invincible companion will instantly die and boot you back to the beginning of the section. There are no indicators for either of these scenarios, it’s a matter of annoying trial and error.
The amount of combat in Uncharted 3 indicates that it should be the meat of the game, but I found myself groaning each time a new fight cropped up and looking forward to the next puzzle or cinematic. The climbing mechanics are still a lot of fun (except when Drake decides to leap into an abyss because your controller was 1 degree too far to the left) and a number of the puzzles actually require a fair bit of thought to solve. I would love to see more of this style of gameplay in the future rather than Drake gunning down another 1000 enemies with no sense of self-preservation. Nathan Drake has been hailed as the modern-day Indiana Jones, but I don’t remember Indy having to kill half the Nazi army in his quest for the Ark of the Covenant. Action and combat is an important part of this genre, but it shouldn’t be the focus.
Overall, Uncharted 3 was a big disappointment for me. There are the makings of a great game here, but they are buried under the huge levels of frustration that the mechanics generated. Uncharted 2 was a massive improvement on the first game and it might be unfair to hold the third game to the same expectations, but I just wanted a game that would keep me immersed and enjoying myself. At the end of the day I didn’t get it. I don’t think that Uncharted 3 is necessarily a bad game, it’s just nothing special. We’ve already seen the amazing scenery and Drake’s death-defying antics, there needs to be something more.
What I Liked – Starts to investigate Drake’s character and motivations. Some great scenery. Fantastic score.
What I Didn’t Like – Story feels disconnected and secondary. Story flow is very disjointed. Controls and mechanics are extremely frustrating. The rails are very obvious.
Rating – 2 out of 5 (Disappointing)
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