Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception – Review

Platform | Release Date
PS3 | November 1, 2011

Developed by Naughty Dog
Published by Sony Computer Entertainment

The Pitch:

A search for the fabled “Atlantis of the Sands” propels fortune hunter Nathan Drake on a daring trek into the heart of the Arabian Desert, a journey that 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.

There’s an interesting ‘behind the scenes’ video on the Uncharted 3 disk that, amongst other things, tells the owner of said disk that the series’ push towards Hollywood-style action thrills has been an evolution. Apparently, Nathan Drake hasn’t always been totally about massive explosions and improbable chaos. I know! I couldn’t believe it either! Fortunately, despite my disagreement with the franchise’s very architects about its origins, it is absolutely clear that this new release, Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception, is the most Hollywood, the most action-filled and the most exciting instalment in Drake’s adventures yet.

The story has you starting out in London, meeting a few new characters before being thrown back through time to the days of Drake’s youth. Here, Naughty Dog reveal further significance of his treasured ring, its link to his ancestor Sir Francis Drake and the beginnings of our hero’s relationship with Sully, his ever-present partner. Fans of the series will appreciate the gap-filling that goes on early on in the plot. However, it has a double benefit for myself, as it gives me the perfect way to explain exactly why Uncharted 3 is totally incredible, and why, in some ways, it just really isn’t.

You see, this flashback to Drake’s childhood is filled with roof chases, platforming and a litany of superhuman feats that will astonish anybody but the most jaded of action gamers. Perfectly scripted, brilliantly acted, with amazing artistic production and the sorts of honed, smooth gameplay mechanics that you expect from a second sequel. This early scene, like the bar fight, like the horseback chase, like escaping the sinking ship, like every great action sequence in the game, is faultless.

Faultless except for the fact that it all serves to dilute the plot. The first two releases in the Uncharted series were widely praised for the humanity of their characters. Here, while the acting quality remains the same, we see the cast reduced to simple creations with a singular motivation, beating the freshly dead horses of their former complexity with repetitive dialog. The fourth or fifth time (I forgot to count) that you hear one of Drake’s friends question his increasingly dangerous pursuit of another hidden city, you wonder if they are working on some kind of intervention. It’s the sort of writing that’s carried out using bullet points – the world’s favourite means of reducing involved concepts to their base form.

It’s distressing at some points and probably explains the occasional dips in my FPS score. The truth is, if you don’t stop to examine how the once three dimensional characters have turned into cardboard cut-outs, then you won’t actually notice. Like any big budget, low IQ Hollywood action film, Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception gives you enough explosive reasons to ignore the deus ex machina and the blank expressions. There’s even a guy in it who looks like Jason Statham!

Want to blow up half a plane then climb back up its contents mid-air? Probably. Do you want to leap from rock to rock as ancient creations crumble around you? Most likely. Better still, do you want an occasional break to gorge yourself on interesting puzzles or mind-bending hallucinations? I know you do. I know I did, and I also know that this is why I so thoroughly enjoyed Uncharted 3, and why I would have no hesitation in recommending it.

If you watch that behind the scenes video after finishing the eight hour campaign, where the developers explain their intent to take the action in Uncharted to previously unexplored realms of creativity, scale and ridiculousness, it all starts to make sense. The series has evolved, and while the core gameplay mechanics remain the same, the motivations have completely changed. This is no longer a franchise that’s about human relationships during globe trotting adventures, it’s a franchise that’s all about engaging in a gun fight while a building burns down. Thankfully, Naughty Dog have proven their ability to deliver either of these concepts at their absolute apex. No game does action better, not one, but its predecessors definitely handled character interaction to a higher standard.

Which is maybe why the online play feels a little odd. Without the massive set pieces (although they did try to wedge a few in) it feels like a more down to earth experience that recalls Drake’s Fortune. It’s still great fun, but sits at a juxtaposition to the main campaign, which might turn people off from its wide range of game modes, customisation options and deep, truly game altering perk system.

I don’t want to call Uncharted 3 a stupid game; it isn’t. The puzzles in particular are absolute gems, save one which doesn’t really constitute a puzzle at all. Everything in the game has been done with a very obvious purpose and it bears the hallmarks of a title that has world leading game developers at its helm. There might even be an argument to say that they just listened to players, and delivered more of what they were praised for. I’d probably be inclined to agree, but I can’t help shake the feeling that during the course of making something newly brilliant, they forgot a few of Uncharted’s real strengths.

You were expecting greatness and Uncharted 3 definitely has that. It also has its own unique identity in relation to the rest of the franchise, and that might not be absolutely welcomed by all. For those that want to call Uncharted 3 Naughty Dog’s masterpiece, I won’t try to stop you, but we should all take a moment to mourn the passing of character depth, and narrative intelligence. Then we should all get chased by thousands of spiders! Then, we can all go jump between moving vehicles! How about firing an RPG on a horse? Or shoot guys while climbing a cliff…

About Martin Perry

Martin Perry is Reviews Editor for Splitkick.
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