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Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception Review

Review; Nov. 13, 2011; Channels: Video Games; By Tyrone M. Cato
Does "deception" regard the main plot, the gameplay, the characters, or the developers themselves?

Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception has moments that instill awe. Seeing the star treasure hunter and leading character Nathan Drake survive a plane crash in the middle of a vast desert is exciting. Watching him leap from one boat to another during a powerful storm while pirates are attacking is intense. Having (varying degrees of) control over Drake during moments like these is something developer Naughty Dog seeks to provide.

Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception

But the whole world already knows that. The series isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, yet everyone knows an Uncharted title will be filled to the brim with a level of interactive action never quite seen before in games. What makes a review for Uncharted 3 necessary is that it brings something else to the table.

There’s a scene in which Drake is confronted by the main antagonist, Katherine Marlowe, the head of a shadowy organization with which Nathan must compete. Both are retracing the steps Sir Francis Drake took through the Arabian Peninsula (a trip he kept secret) that led to him discovering the fabled lost city of Ubar, Iram of the Pillars.

Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception Screenshots
Click the image to view game screenshots

After some brief banter, Marlowe tells Drake, at knife-point, she knows he isn’t afraid of danger and he enjoys cheating death. She hints at a fear Drake has that isn’t readily apparent to the audience. Considering that he has fought pirates and Serbian mercenaries over long hidden treasure/cities in the past two games, she has a point. His fear isn’t surface level.

Similarly, those who play Drake’s Deception will likely expect action-packed spectacle and violence, yet what they don’t expect may have even greater impact. If someone is buying this game, it’s so they can enjoy the experience fighting on board a sinking cruise liner-turned-pirate ship, escaping a burning mansion, etc. All of this action is present, though slightly marred by the flawed aiming controls and increased level of scripted sequences (which will be addressed later).

Kathrine Marlowe and her second-in-command Talbot serve as the antagonists this time around. They're methods differ from past villains' straightforward brawn and firepower (though their agents have plenty of both).Kathrine Marlowe and her second-in-command Talbot serve as the antagonists this time around. They're methods differ from past villains' straightforward brawn and firepower (though their agents have plenty of both).

Something that wasn’t as hyped up as the game’s explosive nature is its story. And here, “story” doesn’t mean “the plot” so much as it means the characters’ motivations, desires, and (of course) fears. While Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune and Uncharted 2: Among Thieves each receive praise for how charismatic and enjoyable the characters are (due to both voice acting and animation), those games’ stories barely touched upon the consequences of throwing oneself into action and adventure.

Drake’s Deception explores why Drake has chosen this path and how it strains his relationships, putting loved-ones in peril. The backstory of Drake and Victor Sullivan (Drake’s mentor and colleague from the past games) is revealed. Knowing where Drake comes from sheds a welcome light on why he’s willing to risk his life for fortune, discovery, and glory. While previous games have painted Drake as a relatively carefree individual, throughout the game, Drake’s past is thrown in his face, and the audience will learn details about him that can change their perspective of every chapter of the game.

Drake and Victor Sullivan have a relatively serious talk about why they're putting themselves in danger once more. The question of what's truly important is brought up throughout the game.Drake and Victor Sullivan have a relatively serious talk about why they're putting themselves in danger once more. The question of what's truly important is brought up throughout the game.

All of this emphasis placed upon character development and interaction is arguably more important than how cool the escape from a sinking, tumbling cruise ship is because if it weren’t for the context of each of these set-pieces, then that’s all they would be -- just cool, little events. Realizing what happened between Elena Fisher (a journalist from past games who originally started a documentary about one of Drake’s searches) and Drake and learning what kind of a life Drake lived as a child answers the question of, “Why doesn’t he just put the gun down and go home?” or “Why does he continue on this path?”

Speaking of paths, the Uncharted series follows a linear one, with few ways to approach most situations that aren’t shootouts (even then, there’s only so much freedom given to the player). Linearity itself isn’t bad; the scripted nature allows for smaller, more intimate moments that wouldn’t be possible in a more open game (e.g. Drake’s foot getting caught in weak floorboards during the burning chateau sequence in which the player has to shoot attackers while Sully helps to free him).

The game doesn't allow the player much choice in which path to take. Not that you'd really want to go jumping into that fire.The game doesn't allow the player much choice in which path to take. Not that you'd really want to go jumping into that fire.

At times, the restrictive nature of the gameplay is both noticeable and bothersome. When certain jumps immediately lead to deaths while jumps of the same distance and height that are along the “correct” path leave Drake unscathed, it can and does pull the player out of the moment. Granted, some of what Naughty Dog aims for would be harder to achieve with less rigid pacing, but it still can make the player feel bossed around. Moments where you’re walking through a marketplace feels refreshing the first time around, but in subsequent playthoughs, you realize how linear and barren those moments are, leaving you desperate to get past them in order to shoot something. Wandering through the desert the first time instills feelings of dread, hopelessness, worry, or awe (the sand and Drake’s character model look simply amazing during this part), but the second time around, it drags on.

That leads to Uncharted 3’s surprisingly wonky gunplay in the single-player mode. Few people, if any, had issues specific to Uncharted 2’s shooting controls and mechanics, unless they were problems with third-person shooters in general. The aiming in Uncharted 3’s multiplayer is great as well. For some reason, the aiming reticule moves slower when moved diagonally than when moved vertically or horizontally. The addition of a weird auto-aim makes the cursor “stick” to enemies when it passes over them, throwing off shots. This is a bit nitpicky, but considering Drake’s Deception features considerably more difficult gun battles (stronger enemies, more open arenas), this can leave those coming right off of Uncharted 2 feeling sore. Naughty Dog has said it will address these issues soon.

Shootouts happen during scenarios that make you wonder why your enemies are concerned with you at all.Shootouts happen during scenarios that make you wonder why your enemies are concerned with you at all.

Drake’s Deception is quite a feat from a technical perspective. Not much else needs to be said. Hopefully, in the future, Naughty Dog will be able to keep up the level of detail in its environments, animations, and effects. The dynamically undulating ocean during the pirate ship chapter isn’t scripted; it randomly moves the ship, and all of the objects on board, around in different ways each time the level is played (outside of certain scenes, that is). Drake’s clothing can get wet on just his legs or his whole body. Dust hanging in the air is visible in rays of sunlight coming through the dilapidated roof of the French chateau. There are some moments when animations have glitched out or are unpolished, but those only seem glaring in comparison to the high points, of which there are many.

Drake’s Deception is much more of a slow burn than Among Thieves. The intro isn’t as “edge of your seat” exciting as the scene from 2 when Drake wakes up bleeding in a train car that’s dangling off a cliff, yet the buildup to the action-packed moments of Uncharted 3 features surprises of a different kind. Those surprises and plot points are there for series veterans, those who are invested in the main characters’ stories. This game is very much meant for fans of the series rather than newcomers.

Like many other multiplayer games, in Uncharted 3, players shoot one another. There are multiple game modes such as Free-for-All, Team Deathmatch, Plunder (a variant of “capture the flag”) and Team Objective and Co-op modes (one of which features a tongue-in-cheek storyline specific to the mode). Here, though, the player can and must climb up the terrain, leap, and roll all while in combat. Shots can be fired while hanging off a ledge. Grenades can be dropped while rolling. It’s these instances where that need for engagement is most prevalent. The levels in the game are more than just stages for violence to occur. Again, the controls in multiplayer are responsive and polished.

Does Nathan Drake care more about his relation to Sir Francis Drake than his own well being?Does Nathan Drake care more about his relation to Sir Francis Drake than his own well being?

The core game mechanics (running, jumping, climbing, and shooting) are enough to set this game apart from others, particularly first-person shooters in which climbing to this degree would be a nightmare for designers (and for those with motion sickness). Climbing a tower can take a few seconds, which gives opponents the time needed to kill. What if there’s a powerful weapon at the top of that tower? Should the risk be taken? Questions like that are what go through the player’s mind here.

If two people on a team take out an opponent together, they’re prompted to high-five over the fallen foe’s body. This, along with the silly in-game taunts, reflects Naughty Dog’s sense of humor.

A key plot element in the game is Nathan Drake’s ring which belonged to Sir Francis Drake. It’s inscribed with the motto “Greatness From Small Beginnings.” While it’s arguable whether Crash Bandicoot (Playstation), Naughty Dog’s first game, counts as a small beginning, they have certainly reached greatness. Said greatness doesn’t equal perfection, and Uncharted 3 isn’t an overall perfect game. It does, however, manage to be a perfect display of Naughty Dog's love for making video games and its drive to capture the true essence of adventure and excitement.

Comments

Review Score
9.5

Teen

Titles rated T (Teen) have content that may be suitable for ages 13 and older. Titles in this category may contain violence, suggestive themes, crude humor, minimal blood, simulated gambling, and/or infrequent use of strong language.

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