Wednesday, 25 December 2013

Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception

Post-Launch Review
Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception
Developer: Naughty Dog
Released: November 2011
Played: story complete in 8h38min; no multiplayer


Nathan Drake and Victor Sullivan take on an old grudge, competing with an enemy from their past. This time they're on the trail of a lost city deep in the Rub' al Khali desert, discovered by Sir Francis Drake, who for some reason erased all evidence of his search. Along with the hazards of the desert, Drake's allegiances will be tested as the enemy dredges up secrets of his history and identity.

At Launch

Uncharted 3 was well received, with review scores averaging 92%. Reviewers were once again impressed with the movie-quality voice acting, sound, action, and writing. Gameplay was described as tighter and more refined than in Uncharted 2, though some reviews felt that 3 fell short of its predecessor overall. Some critics complained that aiming weapons felt difficult and inaccurate, and that the game was too linear.

Post Launch

Despite initially denying that there were problems with the aiming system, Naughty Dog released aa patch to address complaints, adding a new option to use a setup more like that of Uncharted 2.
A bunch of DLC packs were released, variously containing multiplayer skins, maps, and co-op missions. There is no single player DLC.


The opening is very good. It does all kinds of twisting and messes with the meaning of the title "Drake's Deception" (as do a few other bits). The very first thing you do is a bar brawl, and there are all kinds of contextual animations: Drake might grab a frying pan or smack a guy's face into the bar, and all of this is smooth and seamless with the normal attack button, depending on your location. There's a big WTF moment and then you drop into a flashback that explains how Nate met Sully, and it goes down differently than you might expect. You get a couple more twists and then we're right on track for adventure!

Visuals and character animation are improved once again - the characters are some of the best I've seen in any game, on par with some of those fancy rendered cutscenes (bad guys are noticeably lower quality than the protagonists, though). As in Uncharted 2, the quality of the writing, voice acting, and cinematography are phenomenal, just like a top-notch Hollywood adventure movie.

Though I did just say the writing was great, I am starting to get tired about how the series has been jerking around my expectations of Elena. When the second game started and she wasn't around, I noticed her absence immediately, and I was happy when she came back. Especially so at the ending of the game when it looked like she and Drake solidified their relationship. Well Uncharted 3 starts and Elena is nowhere in sight. When she does show up it's implied that (highlight for spoilers) she and Nate got married and it didn't work out because of his obsession with Francis Drake. And then she disappears again. Dammit Naughty Dog, stop taking away the character I like! Hopefully she'll be around for the whole game in the recently announced Uncharted 4.

The treatment of Elena isn't the only disappointment repeated here - frustratingly difficult combat makes a return from the first Uncharted. Well, really it's only a few specific enemy types that are a problem, rather than entire combat scenarios, so that's better at least. I didn't feel like I had any more trouble aiming than I normally do with a controller, so I guess the aim patch worked? Anyway.  Enemies are much better at moving around the environment, which forces you to stay on your toes - there are no points inaccessible to your enemies, so even once you've taken the high ground you have to watch your back.

At first this was surprising and exciting - nowhere is safe! - but later on, when I was facing certain units, it was hair-pullingly frustrating. Shotguns can one-hit-kill you at point-blank range, which means you can be engaged in a shootout and suddenly you're dead for no apparent reason (it was a shotgun guy who got behind you). Even worse are the mobile machine gunners who are heavily armoured and immune to melee: if you let them get close you're dead, because you can't punch them and you can't run away (they shoot you down before you can get away). This could be an interesting tactical element, but when the machine gunners are in the same room as guys with sniper rifles and grenade or rocket launchers, it's very hard to pop out of cover long enough to actually shoot anyone.

I did appreciate that the puzzles were a little more challenging this time. In previous games the journal essentially handed you the answer. Here I still wouldn't call the puzzles hard, but the clues were less direct, which made me feel smarter when I figured out the answer.

There are a few chapters where you're taken hostage by pirates and you have to escape. These chapters feel weirdly unnecessary and tacked on. It seems the purpose is to explain why Drake doesn't die at a certain point in the story, but these chapters do nothing to advance the game's plot and feature none of Nate's companions. They could be completely cut without being missed at all.

Afterwards, though, is where the game really starts to shine. Once you hit the desert, everything is awesome. The visuals are phenomenal, with absolutely massive swaths of dunes, and later some extremely detailed canyons. Blowing sand looks great, and footprints in the sand also work quite well. There's a long bit where Drake gets lost and wanders the desert alone; this segment does an excellent job of showing how turned around and confused and exhausted Nate becomes after days in the desert. It cleverly provides the illusion of an open world by letting you wander in any direction, but on a hidden time limit until the next scene. There's also a fantastic horseback chase scene following a convoy.

The supernatural element is handled really well. This time around, Drake needs little convincing to believe the fantastic story of evil djinn imprisoned in a golden vessel at the bottom of the lost city - which is good, because he's seen some pretty weird stuff in the last two games. Interestingly, though, while there is definitely something creepy going on, it's more subtle and less explained. There's enough information to know that the place is dangerous, and why, but not what causes that danger, so the mystery is preserved.

Finally, the ending is nice, but not as grin-inducing as Uncharted 2's. I hope it means that Elena's role in the series is finally solidified.

Recommendation: play it.

 While noticeably weaker than Uncharted 2 in the first half - especially in a few chapters that feel meaningless and disconnected from the rest of the plot - Uncharted 3 is still a fantastic game with top-notch production values and tight gameplay. Drake's Deception is at its best once Nate hits the desert, with gorgeous open environments and some dark psychological segments. This isn't the conclusion of a trilogy, though - there are still mysteries in Nate's past, and of course there are still plenty of  legendary treasures and locations left to explore. Looking forward to Uncharted 4!

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