After finishing Uncharted 2: Among Thieves, I was on a high. It has such a breakneck pace that I need to sit and breath after the credits rolled. So it was with some trepidation that I booted up Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception the following day. Of all of the games in the series, Uncharted 3 is the one I remember the least. This was partly due to playing it exclusively on PSNow with a less than great internet connection. That being said, I was looking forward to more Uncharted, to more running and jumping, to more intense gunfights and the last PlayStation 3 game, and to what we thought was the end of the series until its reprisal in A Thief’s End. Let’s get stuck in, shall we?
One of the first things that struck me upon starting Drake’s Deception was how much prettier everything was. Uncharted 2 was far from an ugly game but you can see that by the third instalment Naughty Dog understand how to get the most out of the PlayStation 3. Every character animation, facial expression and little bit of scenery has more definition and feels alive. This with the exclusion of Chloe, she looks weird in this game. They fix her model by Lost Legacy but it’s like they tried to make her ‘sexier’ or something and it results in her looking weirdly different from Among Thieves. Other than that, everything else looks moves and feels better.
Just like the previous games, the soundtrack is excellent. It always fits the locations and has some excellent swells that help to bring the game’s intensity to the fore. As this Uncharted with a soundtrack by Greg Edmunson, I need to take moment to recognise and praise the iconic Nate’s theme and remind everyone that these are fantastic scores. I will say one negative, that is more sound effect than soundtrack, but the gun noises are a lot louder in this Uncharted 3. I often found that I needed to turn down the volume during action scenes as the gunfire was so much louder than everything else. This meant that I didn’t feel the full impact of the score and occasionally missed bits of incidental dialogue. However, that is a minor complaint in a game that otherwise sounds great.
This is also the last Uncharted with Amy Hennig behind the wheel (there is also Golden Abyss, but shush) and without her there wouldn’t be an Uncharted franchise. While my thoughts on this game will soon become apparent, this trilogy means a lot to me and as I’m taking moments and saying thank yous (see above), Amy deserves one as well.
Alright, so I’ve talked about how things look and sound but not mentioned the truly important parts of any Uncharted game – the story and action sequences. Let’s get this out of the way now and I’ll just say that Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception is not as good as its predecessor. It’s still miles beyond the original game, Drake’s Fortune, but it never reaches the highs of Among Thieves. This was obviously a difficult ask for Naughty Dog considering the game they were trying to follow. They couldn’t just make Uncharted 2.5: Among Thieves Again (although I think some people would have been happy with that), so instead we have Drake’s Deception which owes as much to Uncharted 1 as it does to 2.
In Drake’s Deception, we see Nathan Drake once again seeking a long lost treasure and getting into all kinds of trouble along the way. However, unlike the previous instalments, this is much less of a happy go lucky adventure. Instead, we take a look at the personal and physical cost of treasure hunting. I think that Naughty Dog pulls this off pretty well. You see that this has become an obsession for Nate and it isn’t healthy for him or anyone around him. You see the lengths he is willing to go for this obsession and that he is ready to jump into danger and start a fight at a moments notice without thinking it through at all. And for this, I applaud Uncharted 3. It develops Drake into something more than a lovable rogue and builds upon what has happened in other games. However, I never feel it goes quite far enough and this sense of throwing yourself into danger and not thinking things through is reflected in the overall design of Drake’s Deception and I don’t think all of it was intentional.
For example, the entire boat section. On one hand, this is about Nathan not thinking about consequences and never thinking before he jumps. On the other, it feels like Naughty Dog had an idea for a great set-piece (which it is) but didn’t have an organic way to fit it into the story. You could easily remove this entire section and the story of Uncharted 3 would barely change. It definitely shows Nate’s reckless side but the entire game is showing this so one more section that didn’t progress the story wasn’t needed. Whereas Among Thieves was sanded down to a smooth, continuous pace, Drake’s Deception stops and starts a lot with scenes that go on for too long and others that are over much too quickly. It never finds the balance that makes its predecessor so memorable.
And on some level that’s fine. It doesn’t need to emulate Uncharted 2, it’s its own game. However, it is still a sequel to that story, so you expect a continuation of a lot of the style and flair of that game. And while there are memorable action set pieces (the mansion and boat stand out to me), there are others that fall a bit flat (chasing the convoy int he desert or escaping the castle). Drake’s Deception tries to reuse some of the same ideas of Among Thieves but it never has the heart to back them up. It kind of feels like because we got a better-looking game, we got one that was lacking in other areas. Again, I should say this is still a standout experience but I can see why it left some people wanting more when it originally released.
In terms of overall feel and style, if you had told me that this was the first sequel to Uncharted 1: Drake’s Fortune, I’d have believed you. It’s told and plays like a more traditional game. There are some fun action scenes that show growth from that original vision but whereas it builds on Uncharted 1, it takes a step back from Uncharted 2.
In terms of the amount of shooting, I felt like there was about the same amount of Uncharted 2, with maybe a little less. However, it was breezier and it rarely overstayed its welcome. The same cannot be said for the melee combat. Uncharted 3 has far too many “Nate is going to beat up 10 plus bad guys followed by a big bad guy”, moments. The hand to hand combat is a huge improvement over the previous games but that doesn’t mean that I was to fight rooms full of enemies all the time. After the initial bar fight I was expecting another that got my blood pumping but the rest are standard rooms and could have been removed with little change to the game’s story and feel.
As you can see this wasn’t my favourite Uncharted. I’ve probably been more critical of it than any of the others as well. However, that is because I can see a lot of wasted potential. I think the story is the best they’ve told so far with dark moments and some great character grown, although I think the ending is very rushed. Overall though, if this was the end of the Uncharted series I think I would have been disappointed. However, as a game that is on the road to Uncharted 4, it is a great addition that fleshes out some interesting characters and has some great moments, I just wish it did more with what it had.
Thank you for reading. If you would like to check out my retrospective of Uncharted 1: Drake’s Fortune or Uncharted 2: Among Thieves, then help yourselves. If you would like more video games then why not check out my article about Blitzball in Final Fantasy X.
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