Review – Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception

This glorious glut of gaming goodness continues as another reason to dust off the PS3 came along in the form of Uncharted 3 last month. Its predecessor, Among Thieves is the best game the SonyBox has to offer, and so I went into Nathan Drake’s third adventure with high hopes and expectations. With strong characters, epic action set-pieces, and unparalleled visual design wrapped up in a bombastic globe-trotting plot, it gives fans of the series more of exactly what we wanted. So, why did I trade it in the day after I finished it? Let me tell you…

FUCKING GRENADES.

Uncharted 3 is full of utterly unfair gunfights involving far too many enemies armed with far too many grenades and grenade launchers and RPG’s and fully armoured men that can take an entire clip to the face without going down, none of which makes for a a fun or satisfying combat experience. I lost count of the number of times I received a rocket to the back of my head whilst hiding behind cover and was instantly killed. These moments are a recipe for frustration and anger, emphasised all the more as it sits in the shadow of its predacessor which did not ever cause me to be filled with such rage. Despite the game using almost the exact same combat mechanics as Uncharted 2, here the fights feel overly drawn out simply because you are horribly outnumbered all the time. And just when you think you’ve cleared them all out, a new wave of men will spawn in an inaccessible corner somewhere and come marching into view. Its the kind of design decision I’d expect of a lesser game, and its bitterly disappointing that Naughty Dog felt the need to up the ante in this amateurish way because they got literally everything else spot on.

Drake’s Deception is smothered in that delicious thing we call “production values” – the sublime motion captured animation; the eye-popping environments; the ever-brilliant voice acting cast; its a game that has been made with huge care and attention to detail. As in the previous games, the star of the show are the set pieces which are never short of breathtaking. Like all the best swashbuckling adventures, our hero finds himself in all manner of absurdly dangerous situations, and scrambling to outrun huge crumbling ruins never gets old. These are the game’s best moments, and if you weren’t sure how they could top the train level in Uncharted 2, well… they don’t. Not quite, anyway. But the game comes close, and there are some heart stopping cinematic action scenes that had me grinning from ear to ear.

Drake himself is as nimble as ever, capable of climbing upto most surfaces and ledges to get around. There’s a bunch of nice new touches in the general feel of the game. Drake’s movement is fluid, and full of context sensitive motion such as stumbling and tripping over things, as well as the subtle shift of weight while walking up and down stairs and the like. It makes the game stand out from its peers which rarely pay this much attention to detail. The regular cast is back, and Nolan North and co. are on top form as always – the banter between Drake and Sully is particularly endearing. Thanks to some of the best voice acting in gaming, even insignificant moments feel very memorable. Characters will often comment about individual situations, ranging from little jokes to small hints as to what you’re supposed to be doing, and they always feel really natural. Its little touches like this that endear the cast to you, and I genuinely care about what happens to these people. They feel alive.

Going into too many details of the plot would spoil some nice surprises. I enjoyed the glimpse into the minds of these characters we’ve all grown to love and the relationship between Drake and Sully is a focal point of the tale. Yet again, the comparisons between this and Uncharted 2 are difficult to ignore, and I have to say I didn’t find the story quite as engaging as the latter despite the storytelling being above average for what we gamers are used to. A few new characters are introduced and they all fit right in, including the villainess Katherine Marlowe, notable for being a nasty old British woman with a seemingly endless supply of henchmen. She’s responsible for some of the more dramatic moments in the game’s story, but the fact I had to use Google to remember her name perhaps says something of her slightly bland personality.

Nonetheless, we’re still treated to some wonderful locations, something this series is becoming quite famous for. The notion of exploring underground ruins hunting for treasure all started with the Tomb Raider series, but Uncharted has well and truly taken over now. The ruins you explore and climb around on are beautifully designed, and its unquestionably one of the prettiest games of 2011. Huge, cavenous chambers covered in carvings and monuments are the order of the day, and each one is breathtaking. It wouldn’t be an Uncharted game without the whole Indiana Jones-style globe-trotting, and every location from the southern French mountains, to the London underground to the Arabian desert gave Naughty Dog’s artists plenty of time to outdo themselves, and show everyone just how its done.

I’m grateful for the quieter moments I can stand back and take it all in, because they usually involve a puzzle or two. The puzzles are a very welcome change of pace from all the tedious combat, though I wish there were more of them. They struck a good balance between making you think and letting you progress the plot as smoothly as possible, but I solved each one relatively quickly. In true Uncharted fashion, most of them end in a frantic sprint for your life, and these cinematic blasts of action do a good job of keeping you on your toes after these more reflective moments. On most occasions though, I groaned at the prospect of having to fight my way through another horde of enemies before I’d see the next puzzle.

Uncharted 3 had a hell of a lot to live up to. There’s a fantastic game hidden away in here somewhere, but I just can’t forgive the way it frustrated me. Why did they decide to make the combat so horrendously unfair? Its like they wanted to up the difficulty to make it seem more of a challenge, but instead of coming up with a few more puzzles and interesting environments to navigate, they went for the easy approach of throwing more enemies at the player in the same situations again and again, but perhaps that’s what the majority of gamers want these days? Or perhaps I just sucked. All I know for sure is that the experience got so tedious by the end I just wanted the whole thing to be over. I desperately wanted to love Drake’s Deception as much as Among Thieves, but just couldn’t.

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