November 4, 2011 by Paul Curtin
Jack of all trades and master of none. It’s a saying that Naughty Dog clearly doesn’t believe in because they’re back and once again trying to do it all with the latest installment in the now iconic Uncharted series that seems to do just about everything right. Naughty Dog has some big shoes to fill after 2009’s Game of the Year, Uncharted 2, blew everyone away.
With all eyes on them and shouldering tons of pressure, the team at Naughty Dog have made some pretty big changes to the franchise and have taken some risks that might not turn out to be worth the reward. So the real question isn’t whether Uncharted 3 is good, but whether it’s better than Drake’s last journey Among Thieves.
Set two years after Uncharted 2‘s wild ride, Drake’s Deception dives deeper into the lives of Nathan Drake, Victor Sulivan, and Elena Fisher with a much better story that once again manages to be more enjoyable than the games and films it gets its inspiration from. Uncharted 3 ventures into very familiar territory with the story of Drake and Sully once again racing to find a treasure and uncover the mysteries behind said treasure before their foes with evil intentions. While all the good guys are back, this time around there’s a new bad guy girl: Katherine Marlowe, an older Helen Mirren-looking villain who has a history with the protagonists that’s revealed in playable flashbacks with Drake as a child and work perfectly to also explain how the relationship between Drake and Sully was formed.
Like previous Uncharted games, Naughty Dog has somehow found a way to squeeze a little bit more out of the PlayStation 3 and made Uncharted 3 look even better than the last and this time in 3D with greatly reduced load times between deaths and virtually no wait between cutscenes and gameplay. Levels have more detail put into every little square inch than any other game and at times are designed so well that although linear will give the feeling of playing an open-world game in massive fully alive environments. There’s a ton of foot chase sequences that play out even better than the Assassin’s Creed series it’s inspired by, and Naughty Dog’s technique of moving the camera to manipulate scenes all while the player is still in control is a unique style that helps tell a stronger story during gameplay without the use of cutscenes.
For the most part, Uncharted 3‘s visuals are leaps and bounds better than its predecessor; however, there are some strange decisions made by Naughty Dog that almost hamper everything they’ve worked so hard to create. Take for example how the female main characters, Elena and Chloe, have been given massive visual overhauls. Unlike the men, both women look very different than in previous games and while the female characters look better in terms of resolution compared to Uncharted 2, they look like they’ve gotten bad plastic surgery and have developed eating disorders. Why does Elena now look Asian? What the hell happened to Chloe’s face and where did her ass go? I guess she took Drake picking Elena over her in the second game a little too hard. In all seriousness, it’s depressing when you compare the E3 trailer to the final result (screenshot comparison here) and can see how much better the game should have looked. Of course pre-rendered trailers are always going to look better, but having such a massive decrease in visual quality is something that Naughty Dog is better than.
Even with a weird looking Elena and Chloe, the visuals are still jaw-dropping, and there is an amazing level of detail in character animations and movement that make for some of the most realistic feeling characters in any game, ever. Whether in cutscenes, gameplay, or multiplayer, everything in Uncharted 3 looks absolutely stunning. It’s clear that Naughty Dog is putting their new and improved motion capture facility to good use and as with every Uncharted game, the voice-over work by now veteran voice actors Nolan North (Drake), Richard McGonagle (Sullivan), Claudia Black (Chloe), and Emily Rose (Elena) is perfect. Although the lip syncing during gameplay isn’t as realistic looking as Rockstar’s facial tracking technology used in L.A. Noire, the way Drake and other characters move organically throughout each environment, brushing their fingers up against walls and tripping over objects, makes for an experience that no game has ever been able to achieve before and makes everything you’re watching feel real.
But Uncharted 3‘s improvements to the way characters move isn’t just eye candy. The new movement styles have been incorporated into a new melee system that takes into account the more realistic movement from characters. After just getting through Arkham City, it’s clear that Naughty Dog has taken some hints from Rocksteady and tried to improve upon the simple punch/counter-punch system that both games use so well. U3‘s combat is nowhere near as smooth and rapid as the chaotic battles in Arkham, but Drake’s fighting style is much slower and more gritty in order to give a more believable and realistic feel.
Right from the start you’ll be questioning whether you’re in a cutscene or actually playing the game and furiously tapping the melee button to find that you are in fact in control and not just watching a pre-rendered cutscene. The new combat also introduces foreign objects that can be used from the environment on the fly, like bottles, frying pans, and whatever else is nearby that can be used to bash enemy skulls. Drake can also now grab and pin enemies up against objects and throw them into one another to do more complex moves when fighting multiple enemies at once. Having an intense battle with a group of enemies, running out of ammo, knocking an enemy out with a haymaker, and watching as his gun flies out of his hands into the air for Drake to catch in slow motion and then use to hit or shoot another enemy is a thing of beauty and something that I don’t think will ever get old.
But while Uncharted 3‘s improved melee system takes two steps forward, the aiming mechanics take one big step back. The aiming isn’t terrible or game-breaking, but for some reason Naughty Dog felt the need to give the controls a massive overhaul for the third game to make aiming far more difficult. One of the best features of Uncharted 2 was its perfect aiming; not only did bullets go exactly where you aimed the crosshairs with little recoil, but the physical act of aiming was quick, spot on, and as good as it gets when using a controller on consoles. I can understand Naughty Dog wanting to change things up a bit and add more recoil to the guns to give them a more realistic and genuine feel, but to make the aiming itself so much slower and unresponsive was a terrible decision that really holds Uncharted 3 back. I’d highly suggest turning the camera/aiming setting up to the maximum setting right away, but even then it feels very sluggish compared to Uncharted 2. It would have been nice if there were more options available in terms of adjusting aiming speed and sensitivity.
In addition to the combat being more advanced than U2, the game’s level design and set pieces are all bigger and better. Every big-budget action scene in Uncharted 3 seems to find a way to one-up what blew everyone away two years ago in Uncharted 2. One of the most memorable moments in Among Thieves was Drake fighting his way through a massive skyscraper as it was collapsing; now there’s an entire cruise ship that’s affected by the violent seas caused by a storm and a cargo plane that begins to rip apart while you’re in the midst of fighting swarms of enemies on it. In Uncharted 2 there was an epic chase scene with trucks in a caravan that allowed Drake to jump from vehicle to vehicle; U3 has a very similar chase scene but taken to the next level. I won’t say much about what happens, but it involves the addition of horses and granting the player as Drake far more freedom than in U2.
And while there isn’t another train sequence in Uncharted 3‘s story, Naughty Dog has thrown the gauntlet down in multiplayer gaming by adding not one, but two, moving trains that run parallel alongside each other which players can freely run inside and on top of all while jumping back and forth between them; it’s easily the most impressive multiplayer map ever created. There’s even another map with trucks chasing after a cargo plane as it takes off that players can also move freely throughout jumping from truck to truck all in real time. It’s truly amazing and unlike anything you’ve ever seen in multiplayer.
But the new and improved maps aren’t the only new features in multiplayer, and out of everything it’s clear that Naughty Dog was focused most on improving their multiplayer experience with it seeing the biggest overhaul of anything from the last game. Naughty Dog could have just released a rehashed version of Uncharted 2‘s multiplayer like other developers do from year to year, but they chose to modify everything from the gameplay to way you find games, which is sure to upset fans of the simpler playstyle of U2‘s competitive multiplayer and bring in new fans who enjoy Call of Duty games with plenty of weapon and character customization, unlockables, rewards, perks, and other extras to keep players busy collecting rare items for a long, long time.
New to multiplayer are Kickbacks that allow players to use a custom power-up once reaching a certain amount of kills, similar to Call of Duty‘s kill streak system mixed with Homefront‘s buy-what-you-want-at-any-time system. The Kickback system allows for abilities like speed boosts, no reloading, instantly equipping an RPG, and even the ability to transform into a swarm of spiders that kill anybody they come in contact with. To counter players getting Kickback power-ups, there’s also a new Power Play system that goes into effect when a match starts to become lopsided and plays intense music to set the tone of a massive comeback. Teams that are losing by a significant amount are given chances to kill players marked on the other team for extra points and can also be given the ability to see where enemies are in order to help them even out the score.
One of the most unique new features is something I’ve never seen in a multiplayer shooter before and works like a role-playing game. Treasures can randomly drop from enemies after they’ve been killed and be picked up in treasure chests after getting a set amount of kills. But the treasures aren’t related to objectives or the score of the game; instead, recovered treasures go towards a player’s overall multiplayer character progression. There’s an entire list of treasure sets that can be viewed from the menu, with each set unlocking new character skins and clothing items to dress your character in. It’s a really neat feature that fits perfectly with the Uncharted theme and will at times have you debating whether to run into the heat of battle to pick up a potentially rare treasure which could be the last piece you need to unlock that bad-ass face mask you’ve been wanting for your character or maybe one of the comical skeleton or fat character skins.
Not only has Naughty Dog made a lot of big changes to the competitive multiplayer, but they’ve also revamped many other areas of the Uncharted online experience. Take for example the innovative new multiplayer menus which feature Uncharted TV that allows Uncharted trailers, documentaries, and even compilations of the best competitive plays of the week to all be watched while customizing your character or waiting for games to start. Another new mode called Co-op Adventure plays like a hybrid of horde mode and the single player story with three players going through missions that contain waves of enemies and cutscenes involving all the main characters and even some unexpected cameos from villains from previous games.
Uncharted 3 is a very unique experience, especially for those who were huge fans of the first two games. While it’s superior in almost every way to the last game, for every two steps forward Drake’s Deception takes, it in turn takes one step back. The first Uncharted was a great game, but Uncharted 2 was a massive upgrade not only to the original but to everything else in the gaming industry before it, which blew everyone’s minds and made it so epic two years ago. Uncharted 3 might be the better game, but it’s not as big of an upgrade from 2009’s Game of the Year Among Thieves was from 2007’s Drake’s Fortune, which almost makes it feel not as good.
Even with a ton of questionable decisions by Naughty Dog who tend to act like artists who are able to create masterpieces but fail to realize when they need to stop throwing paint on their canvas and take the risk of ruining everything, Drake’s Deception still manages to come out as a gem and the best so far of the series… easily one of the greatest games of all time, if not the current greatest and best reason to own a PlayStation 3. Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception gets 5 out of 5 stars (Masterpiece).
- The best storytelling and character development of any game
- All of the levels and stunts from the previous game are recreated bigger and better
- Realistic character movement unlike any other game
- Improvements to the melee combat mechanics
- Revamped innovative multiplayer isn’t just a rehashed version of U2
- Aiming has been tweaked and takes a step back from U2
- Female character models have also been tweaked for the worse
- The second half of the story plays out almost identically to U2
- The overall game doesn’t seem as polished as U2