A Deceptive Step Back
Naughty Dog put themselves back on the map as one of the top developers of this generation when they released Uncharted 2 just a couple of years ago. The game really had a great pace throughout, making sure to give you enough breathers that you'd enjoy the ride all the way to its thrilling conclusion. To me, it's a game that took everything that the first one did right and improved on it while shying away from the mistakes that were made. It had a flaw here or there, but overall, it was my favorite Playstation 3 title to this point. With Uncharted 3 arriving in 2011, I was expecting something that would try and rival it. Instead, I was a bit deceived as Naughty Dog decided to take things into a different direction. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but there's just something about this title that keeps it from coming close to the thrilling ride the second title provided. What kept it from being as fun as its predecessor? Let's find out.
Uncharted 3 takes pride in its melee combat, even opening with a rather drawn out sequence to get you into the flow of things. The system has been enhanced ever so slightly. Along with being able to punch and dodge with the square and triangle buttons, respectively, you also have the opportunity to push or throw your opponents into the scenery with the circle button. There, if you're in the proper position, you can hit a foe with a nearby object by pressing square again. These attacks generally knock out a foe much faster than if you were just trying to punch them out normally, and considering some of the odds you'll be facing throughout this title, there's plenty of incentive to using the environment to your advantage. The opening combat section also introduces fighting enemies a bit larger than yourself. While that sounds all well and good, these segments generally boil down to doing the same thing over and over again. Actually, now that I think about it, the first fight winds up being somewhat different from the other many, many times you'll be fighting one of these hulking brutes, but this does show that Drake's Deception is a little heavy on repetition.
Thankfully, that repetition generally steers clear of the gun fighting portions of the game. Taking a page from Uncharted 1's design philosophy, you'll clear a wave of enemies to think that you're perfectly safe only to have a second wave spawn in right behind you as you're moving forward and absolutely mop the floor with you. The areas you'll do combat in are generally smaller than the areas the second game had, too, so expect many times to have to choose which enemies you'll want to take care of quickly. Working in your favor, you'll now be able to toss back grenades that enemies have thrown at you with the proper timing. Even if you don't take out foes with your return toss, you'll knock them off balance long enough to either being able to finish them off or focus on their friends for a few more seconds. It's fast, frenetic, and generally fun, but there are times where it feels like there are just too many foes on the screen to have a fair fight with. That wouldn't be as much of a problem if you could clear full rooms with stealth like you could in Uncharted 2, but many areas can only be partially cleared in that manner, and it's only a matter of time before all hell breaks loose, leaving you trying not to get overwhelmed by foes swarming in on your position and fast. This is especially true in the middle and near endgame portions where it feels like it's Drake going up against the world. Before the aiming patch, this experience was an absolute nightmare as you would line up your targets as slow as molasses all the while they're storming in at you. With it, things were made a lot more manageable, and that's why you won't see as many complaints in the controls as you would have a week ago. Still, the fact that a patch was needed just screams that this game was rushed, and that's something I can definitely see throughout this title.
One of the biggest issues I have with Uncharted 3 is in the plot itself. The pace of the game is all over the place, and that's not something a patch could ever fix. While the game starts off slow, it does give you motivation right off the bat. Still, somewhere along the way, things just sort of deteriorate into a jumbled mess, and this winds up affecting the gameplay as well. Puzzles are generally a welcome reprieve in the series, yet I can't recall opening Drake's journal after the halfway point for one of these. Literally, the game goes along at a more puzzle-oriented pace with one or two big gun fight sequences for the first half of the game only to try and become mostly a straight up action game from there on out. I say mostly because there is one chapter in the late game that tries desperately to do everything it can to take you right out of the game. I understand the need to try and be more cinematic, but I really don't see the point in pushing forward on the analog stick to watch my character move at a snail's pace to advance the plot. It's a part of the game I don't care to repeat again any time soon and wish it would have been relegated to an extended cutscene just so I could skip the whole thing in any subsequent playthroughs. Too many times, Uncharted 3 takes you out of the action by forcing a few boring stretches at you where you do all but nothing. I think Naughty Dog tried to create more of a experience rather than a game at points, and it shows.
It's definitely not all show, though. Oddly enough, Uncharted 3's biggest disconnect with the plot arguably winds up being the most fun I had with the title. While I won't spoil the details, I will say that the middle of the game has a rather lengthy sequence that takes you away from the main plot and puts you into a personal playground for Drake. You'll be getting into a couple of massive firefights, climbing up a rather large structure, and even fighting a miniboss that isn't a glorified QTE fist fight... although you'll have to deal with one of these early on in said segment. Still, the variety and execution of this part of the game was really the one that felt the most complete, which is odd considering how ridiculous the whole scenario is when it's all said and done. One thing that I didn't mention about the shooting is that there are segments where you'll be hanging from ledges and aiming up and around to take on enemies trying to take you down. It's truly the part of the game where everything clicked the whole way through.
And while I loved that filler segment of the game, it's not like Uncharted 3 doesn't get it right throughout a few other moments, either. I had quite a bit of fun jumping around a few other areas including a certain segment that brought back fond memories of Uncharted 2 as well as the third Indiana Jones movie for that matter. Sure, it's utterly ridiculous when you stop to think about it, but video games are supposed to be fun, and you'll get few complaints from me here. The only problem is that these fun moments are in such short bursts outside of the aforementioned area that I found myself feeling a bit bummed that there weren't more of them. I will say that the ending of the game was pretty darn fun to go through as well, even if it ended in a similar fashion as it began.
In the end, I felt as though Uncharted 3 has made some mistakes that modern game design has brought about. Too many times, I found that Drake's Deception wanted to show players cool moments instead of letting you experience them. At its worst, it turns said experiences into simply pressing the right button prompt or slowly walking forward. Not exactly my idea of fun. The lack of balance brought about in both the plot and gameplay really keep you from ever getting into that real groove that I found myself having with Among Thieves. There's nothing wrong with not reaching the heights of that one, but some of the design decisions really scream of mistakes that I wasn't expecting to see from Naughty Dog in this third installment. I can see some getting a bit more playtime from the superfluous multiplayer, but at the core of the game lies a deceptively trying experience that may push some players away. This isn't a title for everyone, but I think it's an adventure worth taking on, even if it doesn't always know where it's going.