I think everybody was incredibly excited for Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception when it was announced. Uncharted 2 had left everyone in awe and we had to see what Naughty Dog had in store for us next. It was another great adventure, but something seemed a bit stale.
Don’t get me wrong, I still think Uncharted 3 is an amazing video game. It is easily a 9 out of 10 video game for me if we are going to put it into review terms. It plays very well, the story is pretty great, Drake is back at it again, adventuring with Sully and company, and some of the new gameplay elements improve upon Uncharted 2. Although, something just feels rushed about the game. Not enough actually changed between 2 and 3 and that’s the problem. I honestly wish this game had another year of development just so we could see more innovation. This is why expectations for Uncharted 4 are so high (and have delivered) because it has been five years since the last official installment (although I will be doing a retrospective on Golden Abyss because that is also a great game).
The opening of the game feels like something out of a James Bond movie and feels like it is edited in a more cinematic light. It’s a welcome change and the game immediately makes it clear that it wants to show off the improved melee system. The Uncharted 2 melee system wasn’t awful by any means; it was really simple and worked pretty well. Drake’s Deception adds more counter moves and actually makes the system more complex and deep beyond mostly pressing square. Is it the greatest melee system in a video game? No, not really, but Uncharted’s melee is meant to be simple and quick and easy for the player to keep trucking along in the game.
We then get one of the best parts in any Uncharted game: the Young Drake sequence. We finally get to see what Drake was like before he was the treasure hunter we know him as. We get to meet Sully before he’s an older man. We get to understand that Sully basically mentored Drake and we learn how they meet. That is one of the best parts of this game: learning more about the past than we ever have before, and it feels great. The chase on the rooftop in this part of the game is one of my very favorite parts of any Uncharted game and makes me feel like I am playing an action movie chase scene, and makes me question why I should ever watch an action movie again if I can just play this.
The game starts to drag a bit during the London Underground sequence but it is mildly interesting to get through. It gets a bit better when we hook back up with Sully and get to run the hell out of a burning building. That usually always makes things a little bit better.
Once we arrive in Syria, it still isn’t the most interesting sequence. It is beautiful to look at and some of the new shooting sequences the game puts you through (such as scaling a wall and having to shoot guys down at the same time) are a great time.
Elena eventually returns once we get to Yemen, and a welcome return it is. Elena, Drake, and Sully are the characters that mean the most to me in these games. They are the original characters we met in the first Uncharted game. They will always be the ones that matter most and I find it so questionable how little Elena is actually in Uncharted 3, but, from a story standpoint it does make sense with what she went through in the 2nd game.
Also in Yemen, we get to one of the most interesting sequences in the game and it involves drugs. Specifically, you getting drugged by the crazy villains and going through a bizarre sequence of running through Yemen with weird stretchy things happening on the screen. It’s certainly interesting but the drug sequence that happens later on in the game is far better.
The better part about Yemen is a cut scene with Marlowe and Drake where we learn even more about Drake’s past, probably the most important details about his past up to this point. We learn about how his mom died of suicide and his dad ended up taking him to a boy’s home. Marlowe also challenges Drake to question his relationship with Sully and that it may be for worse rather than for better. Some of this is the best writing Naughty Dog has ever done. Nathan Drake has always been a mystery in terms of his past and learning about him makes his character far more dynamic and less of an everyman type that he has been in every single game.
Afterwards, Drake is taken away on a pirate ship and has to escape his way out. It is the most action-packed sequence in the game but maybe a bit too action-packed for my tastes. It reminds me of some of the issues that the very first Uncharted game has with too many enemies coming at me all at once and it becomes more of a frustration than a good time. Despite this, the sequence is still pretty good and is still way more dynamic than anything in the first game by far. It just simply isn’t as good as everything else in this game.
After all of that, we get a really nice calming scene with Drake putting his head on Elena’s lap and it is one of the most simply intimate scenes in the game. It feels right. It’s one of my favorite Uncharted moments because the relationship between Drake and Elena is one of the best parts about the Uncharted franchise. It’s one of the most comfortable and intimate relationships we’ve really seen in video games and it really just works.
The plane-crashing sequence is also one of the best things we’ve seen in an Uncharted game up to this point. It’s dynamic and plays wonderfully and is one of the most “cinematic” moments the franchise has ever had. On top of that, we get the super self-indulgent desert sequence that Naughty Dog has no shame about. It just keeps going. And going. And going. And going. And Naughty Dog doesn’t give a crap. It’s incredibly beautiful to look at and is exactly how good storytelling in video games should be done. In short bursts, I want these sort of self-indulgent sequences that the developer forces the player to go on because it makes gaming a more unique experience than film making because I have some type of control, even if it is minimal.
Some of my favorite combat sequences are the ones in the desert village when Drake is still dehydrated and should probably be dead but realism isn’t a thing in Uncharted (for the most part). The combat sequences are tight and not too massive, which was my problem with the pirate ship sequence. It was too massive and poorly done. These sequences just give you a good variety of weapons to work with and the right amount of cover to use. Everything just feels right at this point.
The horse sequence isn’t necessarily amazing and doesn’t control completely well, but it certainly is still a blast to play. Also, who the hell doesn’t want to control Nathan Drake while he’s on a goddamn horse?
Although the lost city trope at this point is a bit repetitive, it’s still pretty well done. You end up getting drugged from the water that Drake and Sully drink, apparently killing Sully in the process. His fake death is really well executed and is different enough from his “death” in Drake’s Fortune so that it works. On top of that, you have to kill weird demon soldiers and you turn into Kid Drake again so that’s pretty rad. The whole sequence is trippy as can be, but it’s nice to see something so offbeat in a game that isn’t usually too crazy (except for the monster twists in the previous two games but let’s disregard that, okay?).
The last bits of the game are good, but somewhat fall flat at the same time. The actual combat sequences are pretty good when you fight soldiers, but the final boss battle with Talbot isn’t amazing. Although the fact is just about every single boss battle in Uncharted games are garbage. They simply aren’t well designed and this is one of the better ones in my eyes. I’d prefer to have a decent fistfight with Talbot than the “boss fight” in Drake’s Fortune or being chased by Lazarevic. It isn’t great but it’s an improvement. Also, Marlowe’s fate is basically everything I could ask for because she’s just a horrible person.
The ending of the game feels rushed. We get one last quick scene with Drake, Elena, and Sully and it’s nice and we assume that Drake and Elena are happy once again. The scene is so quick and doesn’t hit anywhere near as hard as Uncharted 2’s final scene with Elena does.
Some of the aspects of Uncharted 3 are crucially important to the stories in all of the games as a whole. We learn so much more about Drake’s past and that alone makes Uncharted 3 a crucial game to play for anybody who loves the stories in these games. Naughty Dog still has top-notch storytelling in this game and it shows. It’s the gameplay that lacked in innovation, even if it still plays well. As a whole, Uncharted 3 is still a fantastic game and Naughty Dog still proved themselves as a studio that always delivered, and I don’t see that changing anytime soon.