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Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception review

Excellent

It can’t be easy being a console’s premier franchise; after Uncharted 2 knocked it out of the park two years ago, expectations for Nathan Drake’s next adventure have been running sky-high. For the most part, Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception meets every last one of its fans’ lofty expectations, and does so with the series’ characteristic smirking panache.

The action’s relentless and varied, with plenty of big cliffhanger set-pieces (many of which, if you’ve been following the game’s coverage so far, you may have already seen). The puzzles are big and ornate, and the environments – which range from dark London alleys and bright Yemeni markets to vast underground dungeons filled with ancient machinery and cool optical illusions – are beautifully detailed and filled with interesting things to see and do.

As much as Uncharted 3 seems to get everything right, it still manages to fall short of its magnificent predecessor in a few important ways. We’ll get to those in a minute, though; first, there’s a lot to get excited for.

Taking over the family business

After a brief detour through the Himalayas in the last game, Uncharted 3 puts Drake back on the trail of his famous ancestor, Sir Francis Drake. Without spoiling too much, it seems Sir Francis’ ring – the one Drake wears around his neck – is the key to finding the location of an ancient lost city, Iram of the Pillars, which lies hidden somewhere in the massive Rub’al Khali Desert. Naturally, Drake isn’t the only one who wants to find Iram, and his insistence on finding what his ancestor couldn’t (or wouldn’t) puts him on a collision course with one Katherine Marlowe, a brittle English matron who heads a secret society that’s been searching for Iram since the days of Queen Elizabeth I.

What follows is a race to stay one step ahead of Marlowe as Drake, Sully, Chloe, Elena and a couple of new cohorts plow through London, Syria, France, Colombia, Yemen and – finally – the Rub’al Khali, getting into frequent fights with Marlowe’s shadowy British operatives along the way. There are a few big surprises, some hallucinogenic weirdness and a tiny bit of romance thrown in for good measure, but a big part of the focus here is on developing Drake’s character – specifically by exploring and explaining his relationship with his partner/mentor Sully, and by finally telling us a bit about just who Drake really is.

Of course, character development doesn’t have a whole hell of a lot to do with the gameplay, which – like in the previous two games – tends to alternate between solving big environmental puzzles, scaling walls and/or jumping across platforms, and shooting squads of bad guys with the help of sticky cover (and two or three AI partners). More often than not, it’s a combination of those last two, and it’ll be familiar to anyone who’s played either of the previous games.

There are, however, some interesting new additions this time around. It’s now possible, for example, to catch your enemies’ grenades and throw them back, provided you can hit a button within a specific timeframe (and yes, this ability carries over into multiplayer). New climbing portions have been added, in which you’ll have to take cover behind certain large handholds while taking vertical potshots at enemies above you.

There’s also a bigger emphasis on stealth; it’s not mandatory or anything, but you’ll frequently see enemies walking around with flashlights, or standing around seemingly oblivious to your presence. When you do, staying out of sight and killing them silently will help you avoid hellish shitstorms of bullets, grenades and RPGs… at least for a little while.

More significantly, the brawling system’s been tweaked a bit, with more frequent counters and grappling added to Drake’s previously straightforward punch combos. It feels a little more like Arkham Asylum/City than before, as your timing is now more important than your ability to mash the Square button. The system’s also context-sensitive, meaning you can do things like smash bottles across heads if you’re next to a bar, or finish your enemy by slamming his face into a nearby crate.

With all this improved brawling, it’s not too surprising that there’d be a new enemy type to help make the most of it – and so we get the Brute, a hulking, unarmored foe who likes to stomp toward you and knock the gun right out of your hands. While they’re weirdly resistant to bullets, they’re fairly easy to take down with Drake’s fists, provided you can time all your counters and dodges right.

Roll in a few notably unique action sequences – like a convoy-hopping chase through the desert on horseback, and an attempt to stay alive on a rapidly disintegrating plane – and more than a few of developer Naughty Dog’s signature run-toward-the-camera-while-death-races-in-behind-you sequences, and you’ve got the gist of what to expect.

Finally, there’s the addition of 3D support, which – while not really adding a lot to the gameplay – does give the environments a clearer depth and weight, and makes the game just a little bit more immersive. It’s probably not going to sell you on 3D if you weren’t sold already, but if you’ve got a TV that supports it, playing Uncharted 3 with 3D on is a must.

It’s all pretty fantastic – but is it as fantastic as Uncharted 2 was?

Falling short

For all its spectacle and swagger, its fine-tuned action and fantastic platforming, its expert voice-acting and effortless charm, there’s something that’s just slightly off about Uncharted 3, especially when compared to 2. It’s difficult to pin down exactly what that is. Maybe it’s that some of its biggest, most death-defying events – like the plane coming apart in midair – are just a bit too linear, amounting to little more than quick time events with almost no chance of real failure.

 
Above: Although they still look pretty great regardless

Maybe it’s that Chloe and Elena – both of whom played huge roles in Uncharted 2 – don’t have a whole lot to do in this outing. (They’ve got their share of screen time, sure, but it never quite feels like enough.) Maybe it’s that certain key events are referenced but never really explained, or that the game’s final moments have a strangely anticlimactic feel to them.

To be clear, these are all minor complaints. More than anything, though, it feels like a case of ambition, or lack thereof. Uncharted 2 was a wildly ambitious game, taking what had previously been an impressive Tomb Raider-style adventure and shoehorning in scenes that put you inside of falling buildings, pitted you against helicopter gunships and forced you to flee from tanks (to say nothing of all the cool multiplayer additions). There was a gut-wrenching immediacy to it, which was tempered by the surprisingly human characters and story.

Uncharted 3, then, feels suspiciously like more of the same, with big spectacles delivered because they’re expected (in 3D this time!), rather than because the developers had a really cool idea that they wanted to realize in a visually arresting way. That’s not to say Uncharted 3’s big events aren’t cool; far from it. Drake’s escape from a sinking cruise ship is unforgettable, as are a solo trek through the Rub’al Khali and a creepy puzzle in which you have to line up a light with twitching statue body parts so that they make a silhouette on the wall.

However, a lot of the game’s big moments also have a strangely by-the-numbers feel to them; they’re not really unexpected or special, they’re just there because a big action sequence or obligatory fall through crumbling floorboards should go there. It makes for an experience that’s both immensely satisfying and unsatisfying at the same time, delivering just enough substance during its roughly nine-hour runtime to leave us wanting more.

All that said, Uncharted 3 really is amazing – it’s just not “omgholyshitincredible” in the way that Uncharted 2 was. At least not as far as the campaign’s concerned …

Beyond single-player

Aside from its stellar campaign, Uncharted 2 was known for delivering some of the absolute best multiplayer action on the PS3, and fans of multiplayer won’t be disappointed by what Uncharted 3 brings to the table. At its core, it’s pretty similar to what UC2 offered: team-based, cover-centric shooting across a range of varied modes, with plenty of verticality and cool things to climb on. However, Uncharted 3 also introduces a beefed-up system of weapon upgrades, ability-enhancing boosts and special ability-granting Kickbacks (which can be activated once you’ve racked up a certain number of medals for doing cools stuff), which – along with an unlockable assortment of character models and clothing – ensure that there’s always something to buy with the cash you earn in-game.

There’s also a buddy system that ensures you can spawn near a friend, stationary machinegun turrets, random timed team bonuses (like the ability to see the locations of every enemy player) and an Uncharted TV feature that broadcasts matches and developer videos for anyone keen to pay attention. There’s a new three-team deathmatch mode, and a splitscreen feature for those who want to bring a friend along into online matches.

Probably the biggest and coolest additions, however, are the timed action sequences that take place before the “real” action begins on certain maps. These take the shape of things like two speeding subway trains for players to fight across, or a fleet of trucks following closely behind a taxiing cargo plane. Whichever team does the best in these sequences starts the round with a bonus, giving them an early edge.

There’s more to Uncharted’s multiplayer than competition, of course, and the three-player co-op mode returns as well. Focusing almost entirely on shooting and simple objectives with little climbing and no puzzle-solving, it’s not quite as much fun as a co-op feature in the single-player campaign might have been. It’s still pretty great in its own right, though, and Uncharted 3’s co-op takes things a step further by giving the mode a consistent (if goofy and non-canon) storyline that Uncharted fans will love.

Add to that Co-op Arena, which ditches the story in favor of timed objectives (i.e. fight while staying inside a glowing green area, or carry heavy idols to a chest), and there’s enough here to keep even competition-phobic players busy for a long time.

Is it better than…?

Uncharted 2: Among Thieves? Yes from a purely technical standpoint – Uncharted 3 is more visually dazzling, brings more to its multiplayer modes, and of course adds impressive 3D support. However, if we’re just comparing each game’s campaign, Uncharted 2’s felt more ambitious, more involving and more emotionally charged – all qualities that helped it earn the 10 we gave it. Uncharted 3’s story, while still great, never quite hits those same highs.

Batman: Arkham City? No. It might be a little unfair to compare a linear adventure like Uncharted 3 to a gargantuan open-world epic like Arkham City, but there are a few key similarities between the two, most notably the climbing and fistfights – both of which, thanks to a grappling hook and a beautifully timed sense of flow, Arkham does better. Also, ignoring its open-world aspects, Arkham City rivals Uncharted 3 for visual flair and environmental variety, and its storyline delivers some of the urgency and emotional punch that Uncharted 3’s doesn’t.

Gears of War 3? Yes, if we’re comparing campaigns again – playing as Drake, scaling ornately detailed ruins and solving huge environmental puzzles has it all over Gears 3’s slightly lackluster narrative, giant monsters, chainsaw bayonets and four-player co-op be damned. However, where Gears 3 nearly reinvented its series’ multiplayer, Uncharted 3 seems content to add timed set-pieces and a ton of new whistles and bells to the already impressive offerings from UC2, without changing too much about them. It’s still great, to be sure, but it’s not Beast Mode or Horde 2.0 great.

For those who skipped straight to the end

While it never quite reaches the highs of Uncharted 2, Uncharted 3’s slick, relentless action, beautiful visuals and beefed-up multiplayer ensure that it stands well enough on its own.

More Info

Available Platforms: PS3
Genre: Action
Published by: SCEA
Developed by: Naughty Dog
Franchise: Uncharted
ESRB Rating:
Rating Pending
PEGI Rating:
Rating Pending

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102 comments

  • MerylsHers12 - February 12, 2014 2:16 p.m.

    The game is great! I would recommend also does play a refreshed version of the PC from the PlayGameHacker .. Link to the manager so that we retrieve the game: http://playgamehacker.com/uncharted-3-pc-version/ Link to Film from the action: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UbpICgDiH_I&feature=youtu.be
  • Darkhawk - January 18, 2012 7:59 a.m.

    Having just completed U2, I think I have a good feel for what you're saying here. I watched a trailer for U3, and there seemed to be an overabundance of those chase -falling vehicle-etc. sequences that had just blown me away in Among Thieves. That glimpse of the airplane sequence reminded me a bit too much of hanging off the side of the train in U2's opening. Looking forward to this, but I think I might wait so the U2 experience isn't so fresh in my memory.
  • kegdrop - December 29, 2011 12:21 a.m.

    The Fall semester is over and I finally get a chance to sit down and play some video games. I couldn't think of a better game to kick of the game-athon with then Uncharted 3. As I write this I am currently playing through CH. 14 on Hard. I'm sure Crushing offers an awesome challenge but I feel that the toughest difficulty setting in most games is more of a test of patience then actual skill. Anyways, I'm definitely frustrated by the fight with the Armored Brute carrying the machine gun amidst the cargo containers. I've died a couple of times and have yet to be able to actually snag the grenade launcher from the pirate. I've read a few reviews on this game, and skimmed through a lot of the comments and the general consensus is that the game falls short of Among Thieves. Although I generally agree that there is more of a by the numbers approach to the story, I've yet to see anyone mention the more glaring technical issues with the game. Is it just me or does there seem to be an unacceptable amount of clipping and "glitchy" animation in Uncharted 3? I can't remember the last time I played a game of this caliber with so much clipping. I almost wish there was slow down considering how clunky the controls feel and how sometimes the physics just don't seem quite polished enough. I feel like the "run and cover" system could have been a little smoother as well. I also hate when games make fully automatic weapons wildly inaccurate. Ak-47's have a lot of kick, but your not going to miss much firing at a target that is only 50-100 meters away no matter how much you hold down the trigger. Does anyone else use the blind fire in Uncharted 3? It seems so useless for some reason this time around, why did Naughty Dog even bother keeping it in the game. Especially since the main tactic of the AI on Hard is to run right up to you in order to flush you from your cover. Trust me on this, if you ever find yourself in a firefight running head on into the opposition will probably get you killed. Considering all I have done is gripe, I might as well mention that if you enjoyed Uncharted 2 you will definitely like playing Uncharted 3. I also have to say that the puzzles were a tad more challenging, (or actually had some challenge this time around) and felt more rewarding. I can say that personally I doubt I will be giving the campaign more than one play, but all in all a nice addition. Next up will probably be a quick play through of Assassin's Creed Bloodlines followed by epic play through of Revelations.
  • majamaki - November 15, 2011 6:15 p.m.

    Finally finished Uncharted 3: Drakes Deception and I wrote up my thoughts on the series. The Uncharted series is easily one of the best action and adventure games made to date. The developers at Naughty Dog continue impress gamers and the industry with their vision for the perfect form of cinematic interactive entertainment. Their latest release, Uncharted 3: Drakes Deception raises the bar to new heights for gamers to enjoy, appreciate, and drool over. Read more @ http://majamaki.com/2011/11/drakes-uncharted-adventures/
  • luisnj78 - November 11, 2011 11:54 a.m.

    I just finished the campaign part of U3 and I have to say I am very satisfied! I have to agree with Game Radar that the campaign needed to elaborate a little more with the characters! I was a little disappointed not to see Cloe and Elena in more action! The graphics are stunning, the sounds just unbelievable and it has so much action going on! I really enjoyed it and I will play it again once I buy my 3D tv for the Holidays! In terms of the multiplayer it hasn't changed that much from U2 besides some new weapons and the ability to return the granades back to the players! I like the fact that you can split the screen to play with a friend. Some of the maps are the same from U2 but the new onces looks stunning! Overall, I've been waiting for this game for 2 years and I am satisfied! I will also give it a 9.
  • Xerxes667 - November 9, 2011 5:28 a.m.

    i dunno, i was disappointed by this game... i mean it was still a FANTASTIC game from a strictly objective view, but i didn't enjoy the story half as much as i did in Among Thieves or Drake's Fortune. Its hard to pinpoint exactly what the problem is, it might be that the Levels seem a lot more disjointed and the Story (in my opinion) isn't as strong as the other two. *SPOILERS* I also disliked the fact that there was not real cathartic boss battle in the game, i know that the boss battle in Among Thieves takes a lot of crap, but i enjoyed it, it was fun to actually fight the main bad guy in the game with an actually free aim battle, as opposed to Quick Action Cutscenes that end both Drake's Fortune and Drake's Deception. At least in the Fortune you have to fight your way to the boss before the QAC cuts in. In Deception, the last boss battle is basically a giant QAC.....not as much fun, along with the fact that you end up fighting Talbot instead of Marlowe (which i guess makes sense, Drake can't hit a girl i goes, but man i wanted to smack that bitch!) just like he ends up fitting Navarro instead of Roman in Fortune (Which was arguably a better move than fighting Roman, i get it). *END SPOILERS* On the Other Hand, The Multiplayer in U3 is head and shoulders above the Multiplayer in U2 which was unique and cool to begin with. I know i basically re-established some of the views laid out in this review, i just wanted to add my personal impression of the game
  • gilgamesh310 - November 3, 2011 8:28 a.m.

    These pretentious reviews need to stop. This is like Gears of War 3 all over again. This 'somethng just doesn't feel right' nonsense doesn't have a place in a professional review. The epic set pieces are great. That's why they are there. The sinking ship is one of the best game moments ever for me. The crumbling floors may not be highlights of the game, but why critisise them now? Were they not a prolem in Uncarted 2? I think the biggest problem with set pieces, like the plane chase part, was the fact that we were shown too much footage of them at E 3. Therefore their impact was lessened. It has nothing to do with the linearity. The cinematic feel would be dissipated if you kept failing at stuff, like trying to grab onto the wheel of the plane. The end did feel a bit anticlimactic, but at least the game didn't opt for a terrible final boss, like the previous installments did. I think Uncharted 3 is the best in the series. It's better paced than both previous installments. The puzzles are actually fairly challenging this time around as well.
  • Xerxes667 - November 9, 2011 5:30 a.m.

    I dunno man, i liked the story in 2 a lot better tho.....
  • LittleSamson - November 2, 2011 7:12 a.m.

    IT'S A NINE!... A NINE!!!
  • JNKS - October 31, 2011 5:45 p.m.

    Sometimes I really am embarrassed to share the hobby of gaming with some of you people. Excellent review as always Mikel, thank you.
  • BackwaterRifle - October 30, 2011 1:23 p.m.

    Lol a 9 is still really good, even a 7 is acceptable.
  • CancerMan - October 29, 2011 4:20 p.m.

    Haha, I forgot how bitchy PS3 fanboys could! It's a 9 for christ's sake!
  • LuketheJuke24 - October 27, 2011 7:14 a.m.

    Just from reading some these comments I have to wonder. When did a 9 become a bad score? In fact, to quote the caption under the number it means that the game is "awesome"... you people confuse me.
  • Rhymenocerous - October 26, 2011 1:38 p.m.

    Endgame isn’t as silly as previous games PRE-ORDERED
  • JonnyJon - October 26, 2011 12:05 p.m.

    Being a pretty big Gears fan, i almost raged at this, but i have to admit, the gears campaign wasn't as good as i thought it was gunna be. Plus ive never really played Uncharted before so i couldnt really make a judgment. I dont even know why i read this review i dont have a ps3!
  • flare149 - October 25, 2011 11 a.m.

    All I'll say is that IGN, who is notorious for being biased against the PS3, gave Uncharted 2 a 9.5 and gave Uncharted 3 a 10. For all the people saying that this means they're going to pass or buy the game used, I just want to point out that if the game is good enough to win over the PS3's biggest critics and get 10's across all aspects of their review, it is for sure worth checking out. This goes for the people who are crying foul on it being a bad score as well. I can't agree or disagree with Gamesradar as I haven't played it, but the IGN review speaks the world to me (for once) because of how often and easily they put down PS3 games. Just saying.
  • ultimatepunchrod - October 25, 2011 11:09 a.m.

    when did 9 become a bad score? whenever a big game comes out and it doesnt get a 10, that doesnt make it a bad game. i cant wait for U3 and this is exactly the kind of score any game dev would hope for. no one expected U3 to re-write the book like U2 did so a 9 is completely understandable. i for one, wanted more of the same, so i think my pre-order was money well spent. i hope this doesnt turn out like halo reach because 7-10 is right where you want a game to be. the 10 point scale has become a 5 point scale in the eyes of most game enthusiasts because they consider anything below a 9 to be worthless and they are wrong. i mean no disrespect to you flare149; i just dont want to see everyone get upset over a good score. you know? great review btw mr. reparaz.
  • Darkhawk - January 18, 2012 8 a.m.

    When did IGN become biased anything? GOD I AM SO SICK OF THAT PHRASE GROW UP CHILDREN
  • Ravenbom - October 25, 2011 10:38 a.m.

    I don't know why, but I couldn't get excited for Uncharted 3. Maybe it's the deluge of triple-A titles coming out this holiday season, maybe I felt like they did it all in Uncharted 2. I don't know. But I just can't get excited for Uncharted 3. I know I'll have a great time playing it, but I have a hard time wanted to pay $60 for it, especially when I could (and did) get Batman Arkham City around the same time. I guess I feel like it's the Return of the Jedi of the series; great, but still the trilogy's high was in the sophomore outing.
  • ToZanarkandy - October 25, 2011 12:44 p.m.

    I agree with you, I loved both 1 and 2 but I can't seem to find the will to fork out £40. (I'm from England.) I think that Skyrim is just dominating all my thoughts right now, I'm not registering any other game at the moment, haha.

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