Drake’s Disappointment – Uncharted 3 Reviewed

Uncharted 2: Among Thieves begins with a bloody and bruised Nathan Drake escaping from a wrecked train dangling off a cliff somewhere in the high passes of the Himalayas.

Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception begins with a bar fight in an English pub.

If that disparity in scale and ambition doesn’t bother you, you may want to stop reading now.

It would be unreasonable to expect Drake’s Deception to fill its predecessor’s Raiders of the Lost Ark-sized shoes, but the fact that the game is such a mess is surprising.

For a franchise renowned for its handling of story and character development, there is precious little of either on display here. Drake and his chums, who conveniently drop in and out of the story with little to no explanation, are following in the footsteps of the 16th Century explorer Sir Francis Drake on a quest to find Iram, the city of pillars, lost centuries ago in the sands of the Arabian Penninsula. They must get there in order to stop an old woman and a smarmy Englishman from getting…something. The game never really explained what the villains were after or why it was important they not get what they were after.

Let’s hope the next game in the series is called Drake’s Apology.

In fact, the game is a little fuzzy on a lot of details. Even the title is unclear – if either of the Drakes were deceiving anyone, I completely missed it.

Drake’s Deception certainly looks good, but it takes a long time before the settings inspire the jaw to drop. The sequences in the desert and the lost city of Iram are gorgeous, but they are in the last act. By then, you’ve already spent the majority of the game slogging through pedestrian sewers, caverns and ruins.

In one scenario, Drake has to escape the clutches of a pirate by picking his way through the rusting hulks of a ship graveyard. It should be a novel environment, but thanks to the level design it becomes particularly tedious – a feeling that grows exponentially after it becomes apparent that the entire chapter has nothing to do with the main plot.

Meanwhile, much has been made of the time and energy developers Naughty Dog spent expanding the multiplayer portion of the game. I am not much for multiplayer, but it is my understanding that good multiplayer is dependent on rock-solid controls, something the Uncharted series has never had. In this, Drake’s Deception is no exception.

To say the gameplay is loose is an understatement. The most difficult thing in the game isn’t the puzzles or tactical combat – it’s simply getting Drake to do what you want him to. I lost count of the number of times he would leap to the center of a group of gun-toting enemies when I was desperately trying to get him to snap to cover. The only saving grace is that combat was so forgiving that it actually takes a concerted effort to die.

Drake’s Deception isn’t a bad game, but it isn’t an amazing game either – a sad state of affairs in light of the fact that it is the follow-up to one of the most impressive titles of the current generation. It would be one thing if the game was really swinging for the fences but everything about the experience feels uninspired and safe. That’s just depressing.

I’d still like to see more Uncharted, but not if it is going to be strictly by the numbers like this.

Let’s hope the next game in the series is called Drake’s Apology.

Rating: Three out of Five Pies
(a word about our ratings)

———

Stu will be seeking out high adventure elsewhere for the time being. Follow him on Twitter @StuHorvath. Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception, from Sony Computer Entertainment, is available exclusively on PlayStation 3.

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  • Fabien

    Interesting review.
    I have been disappointed by the latest Nathan Drake's adventure too, even if it has some really "wow" moments. Everything seems to be inferior to the second installment : the scenario, the gameplay, the rythm… The first chapters are really not interesting, when I can still remember the beauty of the museum level in UC II.
    Besides it's only really a new scenario for UC II, not a new game. The few things that changed are worse than previously (aiming, for example).
    Still it's a good & entertaining game, but not the punch in the face that was its predecessor.
    And I don't play multi (especially with this new "online pass" thing that I don't want to use in order to be able to sell it back more easily, when I would have tried it, and maybe liked it – and maybe bought some DLC for it -) so I don't have an opinion about it.

    • Stu Horvath

      I forgot to mention the aiming mechanic in the review. It is so slow and temperamental I opted to punch my way through most of the game. How does that happen in this day and age?

  • Boris

    I, too, was fairly disappointed with Uncharted 3. I can't help but wonder if Naughty Dog came up with a bunch of multiplayer maps, then tried to join them all together with a story. Because the locations in this game are so random. You start out in an English pub, then you jump to France, then you're in Syria, then you're on a ship in the middle of the ocean, then you're in the middle of the desert. There was just…no flow to the plot. It kept jumping around randomly, and each level was so painfully short and uninspired (oh a gunfight, oh a puzzle, oh another gunfight, oh some platforming, oh another gungiths).

    Uncharted 2 was a gorgeous masterpiece. Uncharted 3 felt like a step back.

    • Stu Horvath

      Agreed!

  • http://twitter.com/Paranoimia @Paranoimia

    Sounds like you had trouble following the story, or dashed through the game without really paying attention.

    I've completed it once so far (currently on a 2nd play-through on Crushing) and had no trouble following why you were where you were, or what Marlowe and Talbot were after. Nor any control problems. If you're having trouble dying, you must be playing on easy, as on Hard or Crushing, a few shots – or one shotgun blast – are all it takes; I've died plenty, and from some of the comments on Twitter, so are many other people.

    As for not seeing Drake's deception… jeez, it's explained right there in the dialogue. How obvious do you need it to be?

    Seeing as the story has been widely praised by reviewers and gamers alike, perhaps you need another, more patient run through, without the pressure of dashing through it to get a review out.

    • Stu Horvath

      I can't help but disagree. The more I think about the story of Uncharted 3, the more nonsensical is seems.

      Take the ruined chateau. Aside of the fact that the entire environment is preposterous, you are there because T.E. Lawrence was there at some point. Lawrence didn't find anything of note except a carving of a labyrinth pattern (the significance of which is never explained), but Nate is sure there is something else important there. So he and Sully trudge through thick forest to find the place. When they do, the bad guys turn up soon after, in jeeps, and Nate says they must have followed them. Huh?

      The boys eventually make their way to a tomb deep beneath the chateau where they find half an amulet. Why the dead knight only had half is never explained (who he was is never adequately explained either). What the amulet means, or why is seems to indicate to Nate that the final destination is in Yemen is likewise left a mystery. Why did John Dee have a laboratory in the wilds of France? Why does the spider swarm wait until after Nate takes the amulet to appear if they were left as a security measure? Why and how is a spider swarm a security measure in the first place?

      I am sure there is a good answer for all those questions, but the game never bothers to tell them to me. Those fine details are important to the overall quality of the storytelling – like when they were used the first time in the Venice catacombs in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.

      • Andrew

        Okay, first of all, totally felt like this game didn't pay off its characters well enough at the end as you did. Actually really enjoyed the combat, puzzles, and sneaking, though.

        I do have some answers for you. The storytelling in this game is surpisingly minimalist. Here's what I picked up:

        A Chateau built around an old castle isn't preposterous. Architecture works like that all the time. Go to any Church in Europe–bet an older one's foundations are in there. You're following Francis Drake, not TE Lawrence. It's in the Chateau that Nathan first sees a connection to Lawrence. Drake was chasing Iram for some reason. We learn that the city was actually destroyed by its water supply that was turning its people insane. Thus, as Nathan learns, Drake laid traps (Spiders etc) so that any following him would be dissuaded, culminating in his warning written on the walls in Yemen. I figured the bad guys just did the Indiana Jones thing of letting the smarter guys solve puzzles before rolling in and taking the info.

        The two knights are knights of the crusades, meaning they pillaged the Islamic holy lands. Symbols are Sabean, from that area. So, maybe they were partners who got this cool amulet but broke up. Didn't really bother me not knowing that, but I bet playing through it again would give me a better idea.

        Dee had a lab here because Godfrey, who was buried here, and Dee were both part of the English Cult now run by Marlowe. Just one of their hidden bases. Drake left the spiders as a security measure. He left them everywhere in hopes of keeping people from fucking with Iram.

        This is all in the game, Mate. More, too. It's not spoon fed and it's even a bit obfuscated. Naughty Dog tries really hard to not have too much expositional dialogue. I kinda like that.

  • tomy

    another troll looking for hits on the interwebs, im sure you will get your 15 hits of fame, this review is just as poorly executed as AV club, and honestgamers. congrats.

    • Stu Horvath

      I can't honestly disagree with either of those reviews overall, though Tom Chick is, as usual, about 15% more negative than is probably warranted. Weirdly, both he and Scott loved the ocean liner level, which I found to be painfully boring.

      • tomy

        ametuer kids thinking they are reveiwers. thats cute, if uncharted was really a 3/5 or 4/10, then it would not have over 40 100/100. ironic. you think your a pro.

        • Stu Horvath

          What is it about videogames in general and Uncharted 3 that creates in certain people the need for a critical concensus?

          • geo

            Tommy must also be a fan of twilight because 17 million people bought that book and loved it.

  • sarah

    if your too stupid to differentiate X from the O then you should not be reviewing games.

    • Stu Horvath

      It isn't a matter of hitting the wrong button, its a matter of not being able to stick to cover. This is a mechanic that has become tack sharp in other games in recent years. That Uncharted 3 can't manage it is an excellent example of its shoddy, out-dated controls.

      Also: it is 'you're.'

  • Strings

    I've been watching a friend play through this game and missed quite a few of the cut scenes yet I am still able to folow the story line fine so I dont see how its nonsensical. i do however agree with the controlling issue…diving into a heavily armoured, shot gun weilding soldier will get you killed rather quickly

  • Agostino

    Hate the fanboys! they get all pumped up! Stu I am with you in almost every issue pertaining UC3. I think controls are a step back regarding fighting and shooting, these were so good in UC2. Other than that (which is extremely important of course) I think the game is all about improvements.

    Always refreshing to read critical reviews.

    • Stu Horvath

      Thanks man!

  • Ivan Beamish

    I agree with most of the reasons for disappointment with U3 posted here but I think the tendency towards negativity – though on the whole entirely justified – is amplified by comparison with the innovations and sheer awesomeness of U2. For me the opening and the whole first half of the game were hugely disappointing. Why on earth the opening wasn't the desert plane crash and then (a la U2) the story played out retrospectively up to that point, I'll never know. A fight in the pub?! Huh?! Another point that needs to be made, I think, is the almost criminal underuse of the two wonderfully strong female characters from U2. Chloe's barely in it; and Elena doesn't appear till halfway through then, after less than an hour (I think), disappears till the ending. OK Sully was underused in U2, but for me he's overused in U3. Anyways, I'm about to start a Crushing playthrough and am dreading it because they somehow managed to make the aiming and character control worse than in U2! Because of which I probably won't bother with multiplayer at all.

    • Stu Horvath

      I was disappointed with how they used Chloe and Elena as well

      Regarding Elena: did it strike you as strange to have her be so comfortable with a gun? I don’t recall her actively participating in the combat in the previous games, but in the cistern in Deception, she’s right in there with her shotgun. Later, at the airport, she says she hopes she doesn’t have to use the pistol she has (which felt more in line with my expectation of the character) but as soon as the shooting starts, she was dropping guys left and right…

      • Danny

        Well what would you do?
        Lets see if people with guns were shooting at you, and you had a gun…

  • IcyEyes

    Oh my … I never read a so … so childish and biased "review". You simply try to earn some viewing. Your review is not an opinion, it's a manifesto of ignorance. But let me say this straight : you got you boost of viewing, but you use the only one you have. Good luck kid. You really need.

    • Stu Horvath

      Who you calling scruffy-looking?

  • self-awareness

    I will put this simply. I will also use proper grammar, because it seems that the writer of this review, who claims in his other story that he does not read his comments, makes a point to respond to every comment in this entire chain, a rather strange twist of irony.

    All of this back-and-forth is pathetic. Fact is, anyone in today's world can start a website and write a review, and it minimizes the impact of much of this criticism. Stu Horvath is no more knowledgeable of video games than anyone who makes a point to play them consistently. He simply has a website forum to present his views. He makes it a point throughout this website to say that everyone who writes for this site – including him – is just like you and me. He is not high-and-mighty about this, even if he takes a heavy-handed tone on this particular game. Fact is, he is just another person with an opinion, and you know what they say about opinions and assholes.

    For those who have leveled harsh criticism on him in the comments, all you do is legitimize somebody who is no better or worse than you, adding credence to what is nothing more than one man's opinion. It is a pointless opinion; if you want the game, buy it, if you don't want it, don't buy it.

    But oh, the irony. Stu, who apparently reads the comments on everything far more often than he lets on, then adds credence to your unnecessary opinions of his one-man opinion. And then we have a senseless debate. I call it senseless not because it is worthless, but because the name-calling makes it terribly unproductive.

    It would be one thing if this were Gamespot and the review lacked these basic tenets of a review and made these brash statements. But again, this Stu is a good man, a man who says quite plainly that he is no better than his readers, that the readers of this site do in fact evolve – or rather, can evolve – into writers here, and that this is everyman's site. He started a site, and he listed an opinion, plain as that.

    But now, the common man disses the common man. And then the writer of this review, suddenly taking himself too seriously, responds to the common man as some kind of "expert," when he professes throughout his site and on his Kickstart that he is not such a person, and this site is not made up of such people.

    Serious re-evaluations to everyone all-around. And now, I myself get off my soapbox, because I realize that I, like everyone else here, are just another person with an opinion.

    • Stu Horvath

      You want to write for us?

  • Austin

    I just finished it. Wow… the story really was utter shit. I was incredibly disappointed, especially since Uncharted 2 is one of my favourite games of all time.

    so many plot holes… *shudders*

  • Yeah

    For an Uncharted game – which immediately implies it's at least a decent game – I found it didn't engage me as the last two did. I was there with Nate as far as I'm concerned in the last two. This one my mind started drifting a few times…Once the details came out I was actually thinking "another chase to an end-of-the-world artifact to prevent someone with two much money from killing us all story", but then I realized it was the telling of said story and not the premise that was leaving me bored.

    The controls are shit and they turned me off going for the platinum even though I did it for UC and UC2. Lining up shots was moderately frustrating (not just annoying) on hard so I'm not gonna put up with it on crushing even though it can be done, no way. While Nate is out of cover and pointing all over the place to try to center on a guy 10 feet away, I'll get hit so hard and so fast I'll travel back in time. To be fair there's also the fact that they put A HUNDRED treasures in again that's stopping me from a platinum. I can't justify wasting so MUCH TIME looking for 100 hidden and useless items for a second time. And it bores the crap out of me too. That is all.

  • HeyManNiceShot

    Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception really disappointed me. Granted, it surely wasn't an awful game without its own merits, but it was an awful sequel in one of the best franchise of this current console generation. Uncharted: Drake's Fortune–which still had its faults–had great character development, overall storytelling, and great environments to explore. Then for the sequel, Uncharted: Among Thieves, Naughty Dog polished up the core gameplay and blew everything out in grand fashion, such as the graphics, set piece moments, etc. However, Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception takes forever to get started. It's definitely a slow burn. After hours and hours of playing through similar scenarios, you finally get to the boat scenario–which I actually think is the best part of the game–and the desert levels that should've had more presence within the game. Early on, Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception really feels like it's hardly trying to even impress you, as it's a very run-of-the-mill experience. Only later do you get to experience some of the brilliance that past Uncharted games had, but it's too late at that point.

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