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Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception (PlayStation 3) artwork

Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception (PlayStation 3) review


"Pointless diversions, mundanity and loud, obnoxious emptiness."

Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception (PlayStation 3) image


Note: I played this game through Sony's streaming service, PlayStation Now. As such, I experienced unavoidable latency between my controller input and on-screen results, since the processing role was not actually being done on my console, but rather in another part of the world. I recognize that this is not the ideal environment for an action game that often requires reflex and precision, and I've tried not to factor that lag into my analysis of the game, but if it has colored my opinion regardless, well, tough.

I've been sitting here, having just completed a playthrough of Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception that left me both bored and weary, and I'm trying to figure out if this series was ever truly great, or simply a product of its time. Certainly, Uncharted never did anything particularly new cover-based shooting was already an institution when the first title was released, and the IP's characters and setting openly channel a series that's been around since the early '80s.

And here's the thing: they couldn't even employ those familiar elements to wondrous effect for a full title. When I reviewed Uncharted 2: Among Thieves around the time of its release, I noted that while I generally loved the game for its sense of humor and exhilarating (yet somehow consistently logical) use of big-budget, interactive Hollywood set pieces, its ideas ran dry perhaps a good two hours before the credits rolled. I even predicted that the series had hit its peak and would only grow tiresome from here on out.

Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception (PlayStation 3) image


And how correct I was. Uncharted 3 is loud, arbitrary and pointless. Its handful of memorable action scenes are overwhelmed by the number of plot threads and set pieces ripped wholesale from Uncharted 2, eventually reaching the point that you could write a fairly detailed synopsis that would fit either game. In fact, let me try that.

So, after spending the opening portions of the game tracking the movements of a centuries-old explorer with the help of Chloe and a new British character, Nathan Drake follows his trail to a city in Asia where he is reunited with Elena. The two of them uncover a plot by a group of shady Europeans to unearth a mythical, lost city. Their chase culminates in a scene in which Drake jumps from a jeep driven by Elena onto a speeding enemy transport, which he promptly crashes in a remote area. Drake nearly dies, but is then rescued and nursed by locals who then aid him in assaulting an enemy truck convoy to said lost city. Drake confronts the villain and primary henchman in the ruins, where said villain and primary henchman hope to harvest a dangerous substance. The game ends with Drake killing one of the villains while the other dies of extracurricular causes, leaving them both to be buried in the now-collapsing city, after which Drake rekindles his relationship with Elena.

Now, that entire paragraph could be applied word-for-word to either Uncharted 2 or Uncharted 3, and that redundancy doesn't even take into account all of the more minute details that are becoming routine at this point. Of course nearly every pipe that Drake attempts to climb will break as he's scaling it. Of course there are escape scenes in which Drake runs toward the camera so we can get a lasting impression of whatever's chasing him (recalling the worst levels of Naughty Dog's mainstream breakthrough, Crash Bandicoot). Of course we're forced through extended jaunts across rooftops in a universe in which every character is Ezio Auditore da Firenze.

Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception (PlayStation 3) image


Remember, Uncharted 2's value was derived from both its sense of surprise the way Naughty Dog would alter the stakes of a seemingly ordinary gunfight, by collapsing the building you're in or blowing away the wall you're taking cover behind and the heart and purpose behind each of its water cooler moments. Those qualities are lost when (a) most of the set pieces feel rehashed and (b) the plot is dumb. The dangerous substance that the villains want to mine from the lost city? It's a hallucinogen. Scarescrow gas, basically. Maybe there'd be some heroism in keeping the stuff out of evil hands if the bad guys weren't already demonstrably using it throughout the game. And hey, if you need more drugs, you can synthesize them, y'all. You don't need to go looking for Atlantis.

Writing has previously been one of the series' strong suits, but here, it's disappointingly inconsistent. Uncharted 3 is at its best when it's exploring the relationship between Drake and his mentor Sully, but more frequently at its worst when it's contriving excuses for Drake to get distracted from the central quest. Halfway through the campaign, he's kidnapped by an entirely new villain and dragged off to a ship graveyard, where he spends several chapters thinking he's rescuing a captured friend. The obvious bluff is exposed, the new bad guy is killed off and Drake exits in his usual destructive fashion, after which he literally washes back up on the beach of the city that he was pulled from and the plot continues as if nothing ever happened.

And that's the best of the filler, because at least the seafaring segment presents some mildly new environmental twists to both the combat and the platforming. The worst is when Drake finds himself stranded in the desert and players are forced to spend something like ten or fifteen minutes trekking across the open sands just to establish that Drake is dying of thirst. It's illustrated that Drake spends at least a full day walking across the dunes without water, but when he finally comes across a village, he scales walls, shoots through dozens of enemies and then leads a horseback escape all without getting hydrated. We follow him, real-time and unbroken, from the moment he discovers the village (still gasping for water) to his escape. He never drinks anything in that period.

Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception (PlayStation 3) image


So what the hell was the point? That's not even an exciting set piece. That's just Drake marching across a dull desert landscape for a full chapter to establish a plot point that is then immediately discarded. And that chapter is preceded by a scene in which Drake is ejected from a plane at high altitude and survives by in free fall grabbing a falling object that happens to be attached to a parachute. It's a cartoon. To follow that up with a sudden, out-of-place application of real-world consequences to a stretch of gameplay that isn't actually any fun, just to drop it in the very next chapter, screams miscalculation.

From a mechanical standpoint, obviously, Uncharted 3 does nothing interesting. The shooting is shooting. The platforming has players shimmying along sets of well-signposted ledges. The puzzles are okay, but the game never trusts players to actually solve them without help. The entire first half of the campaign is forgettable, while the second half drowns in pointless diversions, mundanity and loud, obnoxious emptiness. This isn't fun anymore, and having played The Last of Us and knowing what breathtaking maturity Naughty Dog is capable of conveying, it's odd that people still want more. You'd think that the billions of other linear, high-production, low-stakes action romps would fill that quota.


Suskie's avatar
Community review by Suskie (July 03, 2015)

Mike Suskie is a freelance writer who has contributed to GamesRadar and has a blog. He can usually be found on Twitter at @MikeSuskie.

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