Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception Review
Well, this is a letdown. Not a letdown on the scale of something like Rage or Red Faction: Armageddon (hush down – some of us were let down by that one). No, this is a smaller letdown, but one that still feels like a gut punch – as if Naughty Dog has gone and pulled a bit of a fast one. In fact, we feel a bit ashamed to have bought into the pre-release hype as much as we did. Just proves that even old pros like us sometimes get a bit swept up in the whole business.
But this is getting ahead of ourselves – Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception is a very good game. There’s no doubting that. If we lived in a world where this was the first in the series, in a world where Uncharted simply didn’t exist, this would be one of the most exhilarating, action-packed and ridiculous (in a good way) games we’d ever seen. But we live in a world where Uncharted 2 does indeed exist, so it’s very much a world where we’ve seen it all before. Number three falls down, at least in the most part, by being thoroughly formulaic.
Before you strap your burning pitchforks to the angry emails you’re about to send us (firstname.lastname@example.org) – don’t. Formulaic does not mean ‘bad’. It means we’ve seen it all before, and that it’s a standard experience. But then ‘standard’ in Uncharted terms means ‘as good as other very good action games’, so it’s not really bad news. If anything, it’s just news that bursts the hype bubble we personally have had a hand in creating.
Drake’s Deception is very much hamstrung by its own design. It’s fabulous – yes, fabulous – in parts, but it’s so much that we’ve seen before in other parts. It’s impossible to say anything about the game is genuinely bad, but this is not the step forward we wanted it to be – it’s not the step forward like we saw between the original game and Among Thieves. As such, familiarity, while not entirely breeding contempt, is certainly sowing the seeds of discontent. And mixed metaphors.
You know the drill – Drake is looking for something ancient, hidden and mystical. He’s joined by a motley crew of ne’er do wells (also Elena), each voiced and acted in a far better fashion than most other games and each full of more quips than an automated quipping machine. Along the way you run, jump, shoot, punch, quip, solve puzzles, quip a bit more and generally do what we’re used to doing in Uncharted games.
If you’ve never played an Uncharted game before, this will be a beard slap of epic proportions to your gormless face. The thing is, we have played Uncharted games and so have many PS3 owners, and it has to be taken into account how little has changed since the last epic, mystical jaunt around the world. The answer is: very little. That’s not a bad thing per se, as we are stressing to stress here, but it is a point that holds Drake’s Deception back from the true greatness we had hoped for.
It took us seven hours to finish UC3 on our first playthrough, at normal difficulty (thank Thor for stats screens). This isn’t as long as the last two games, but it’s not an insultingly short experience by any stretch of the imagination – in fact, we have no issue with the length. What we do take issue with is the pacing of the thing – the first third or so of the game is slow-paced, ponderous and scene-setting. Okay, that works sometimes. But it’s not the most efficient use of time and, looking back, it actually feels like a bit of a waste.
Having said that, when Drake’s Deception hits its stride it manages to produce some of the most entertaining set pieces and engaging action of any game this generation. When it gets it right – the cargo plane sequence or the desert convoy section for two quick examples – it’s the action movie experience we want from Nate and his chums. When you’re leveling half a deserted settlement to take out that one pesky armoured truck, it’s brilliant. When you’re navigating a shipping graveyard, clinging to the rusted hull of a former oil tanker while dodging the bullets of a dozen pirates, it’s great fun. It takes a bit too long for our liking to really get going at full pelt, but when it does you’re provided with the set pieces and grandiose, nonsensical B-movie settings you would hope for.
Yet it’s still same-old, same-old. While you’re leaping between the rusting husks of seafaring vehicles that lack the ‘faring’ part of this particular description, you’re still pausing to duck behind cover and take a few potshots at the two dozen identikit enemies in your way. It’s still engaging enough and it’s certainly no whitewash, difficulty-wise (more on that later), but there’s nothing new to gunplay – no real steps forward, just a feeling that things are languishing, or settling on what’s been established before. As a result it’s hard not to feel a smidge underwhelmed by the shooty-bang part of UC3.
While we’re whining a bit, let’s cover some other elements that grabbed our proverbial goat in an irritating fashion. Like how controls still suffer from the slight issues they had in the last game – infrequently, but enough for it to be noticeable, Drake will decide to jump in completely the wrong direction. In Uncharted 2 it was an irritation, and in Uncharted 3 it’s still an irritation – but it’s an irritation that should have been dealt with. That it hasn’t leaves us a little concerned about where Naughty Dog’s attention has been focused. Only a little, mind.
The same feeling comes with enemy encounters, which filled us with the kind of spiteful, rage-filled hate we never expected to come from an Uncharted game. Unless played on crushing, naturally. A plethora of enemies raining down fire on you, all capable of one-hit kills does not a fun experience make. Yes, there are definite, defined ways to overcome these foes – but the feeling of cheapness, of old-fashioned and outdated design in the way some enemies can take multiple headshots, is something it’s difficult to really justify.
It also smacks of questionable design – can’t think of a way to make this encounter more challenging in an organic, exciting way? Just smack another three RPG troops on top of that building in the distance. Sorted. Then there’s the grenades – oh! the grenades. Indicators pop up when they are thrown at you, and the new ability to throw them back is implemented perfectly – really, it is. But the fact non-hand thrown explosives have no similar marker is an oversight we simply don’t understand. If it was merely a cosmetic thing, fine, but the fact it causes so many avoidable, irritating deaths means it leaves a sour taste.
Then, of course, there’s the combat. While improved so context-sensitive attacks can be pulled off and brawls against multiple enemies are better than before, there’s still minor cause for concern – namely in the form of unbreakable animations. What these do is leave you open to attack from other enemies you’re not fistfighting with – and attack they will, the crafty flanking bastards. Again – not game-breaking, just rather annoying. Still, we should count ourselves lucky that these are the few genuine concerns with the design and mechanics of Uncharted 3 we noticed.
Back to positivity, because it seems we’re getting mired down talking about this things wot dun annoyed us. There are no arguments from this side on a technical level, with Drake’s Deception proving to be a beautifully well-produced bit of Indiana Jones ‘inspired’ gaming fun. To give it a snappy title. Last time around we had the best snow in videogames, this time around we get the best sand (and maybe fire, though probably not). We get the beautiful vistas we would expect, the cutscenes that are simply a cut (ho ho) above those produced by any other gaming company and the musical score that can’t help but make you hum along in a suitably epic-humming fashion.
This is an area, at least, where expectations have been met – maybe even surpassed. We’re not talking storytelling on a level that will redefine gaming stories for the rest of forever, but UC3 tells a fun tale regardless. It’s simple, it borrows liberally from Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade and it’s nowhere near as daring or shocking as we hoped it would be – but it’s inoffensive and entertaining. While it doesn’t finish with the cliffhanger we expected, it does wrap a number of things up nicely while at the same time leaving just about everything open enough for the inevitable sequel.
It may break our hearts to award an Uncharted game such a (relatively) low score, but Drake’s Deception has indeed deceived us. We thought it would be the second (third?) coming – instead it’s ended up merely being a very good game. Definitely worth your time, definitely worth a look, but nowhere near the generation-defining experience Uncharted 2 was. And it’s all Uncharted 2’s fault. But don’t let our seeming negativity put you off – it’s just deflation letting itself out, after all. Uncharted 3 is fine entertainment and a fitting third installment to the series. We just hope that number four, when it happens, takes a bigger step forwards for Drake and co.
It’s frustrating and deflating to have to admit it, but Drake’s Deception isn’t another defining experience on PS3. It’s still fantastic fun in the most part and worth picking up, but overfamiliarity holds it back from true greatness. Sorry, Nate.