Each one of Naughty Dog’s games has earned a place on my list of favorites: Crash Bandicoot 2 was my first and most cherished PlayStation title, Crash Team Racing still holds my number one spot for kart racer, and Jak & Daxter surprised me when it evolved from a simple and easy platformer to a crushingly hard, mature trilogy with a clever third act to wind down with. Uncharted has been no exception, proving to be another superb inclusion on Naughty Dog’s resume, but the third game in the series—the final entry before the developer moves on to The Last of Us, which already has gamers hungry for more—didn’t hit quite the high note that Jak 3 or Uncharted 2 did.
Let me clarify: Drake’s Deception retains all the essential elements of a good Uncharted game, and in some ways it delivers much more. Uncharted 2 cemented the series as an action wonder that could serve up a good story, and the third game follows that mantra to a moderate degree of success. It’s got good twists and turns and delves into an engrossing backstory between Drake and Sully, a relationship that has always fascinated fans and left them curious about the duo’s old adventures. The game also presents a chain of incredibly involved and well-designed sequences that sends Drake scrambling through a burning building, navigating a sinking cruise ship, etc. Naughty Dog demonstrated largely with Uncharted 2 that it understands how to best build these scenes: that the key is the right mix of cinematic guidance and player control, one that tightly regulates the action but also instills a sense of frantic, unpredictable energy. That’s the kind of adrenaline that hooks players on Uncharted, and the brilliantly executed camera work, with its immense sense of scale (from Drake’s tiny figure in the desert to the vastness of the churning ocean waters), lends incredible value to the production and gives the journey its magnitude.
Naughty Dog’s crowning achievement in this department is undoubtedly the blazing French chateau scenario, which is impressively long and complex and much more creative than expected. It’s interactive storytelling at its finest.
But there are issues, and plenty of them. Oftentimes scenes won’t trigger correctly, or dialogue will initiate preemptively, before the player reaches a point of interest. What’s worse, occasionally to solve puzzles players must first talk to a character or zoom in on a section of the scenery, even when they don’t need to. This isn’t a huge hindrance, but it does have a common enough presence to be a problem.
While Nate is now more responsive to his environment—smashing pots against his enemies’ heads or pressing his hand against pillars and walls as he moves through his surroundings—this new feature, while likeable, also makes him terribly clumsy, a quality that’s certainly more comedic than disastrous.
Once again Uncharted adheres to the same system of combat: sticky cover and shooting with sometimes imprecise aim, depending on the gun. The zoom-in options for the better weapons are nice as usual, but the array of firepower has basically remained the same—and by this point, it’s a disappointment that they didn’t find ways to offer more. The developers did pitch in a grenade throwback capability, which lets Drake toss live grenades back at his foes, but sometimes Drake experiences difficulty in actually grabbing hold of the grenade when you want him to—and there’s no easy way to master this component other than to jam the triangle button as soon as a grenade lands.
Despite the fast-paced sequences like Drake’s escape through the burning chateau, Uncharted 3 feels the lightest on actual action out of the three. Particularly in the first half, the game focuses heavily on narrative—so exploring rather than maintaining ground in a gun or fist fight. And that’s another problem entirely: Without spoiling anything, the overabundance of one-on-one brawls in the game starkly diminishes a climactic moment later on, a scene that’s meant to satisfy gamers but doesn’t. Uncharted 3 doesn’t end with the same explosive action that Uncharted 2 does, and the denouement that wraps up the story isn’t nearly enough to give gamers that warm and fuzzy “the end” feeling. For a developer that prides itself on attentive storytelling, it’s perplexing as to what went wrong.
The game still achieves the same high-grade quality as the other two (better than most games on the market), and its puzzles are some of the coolest around. Still, it forces hints upon players even when they choose not to enable them, with the game concealing annoying clues in the way of dialogue. While working alongside Chloe, Sully, and the other characters deepens the experience by making it more of a collaborative, team effort, it does too much to help the player. Overhearing their dialogue while you’re stuck on a puzzle doesn’t necessarily make the situation transparent, but it does make it easier to solve.
Drake’s Deception disappoints in other ways, as well. In hindsight, many of the characters—including newcomer Charlie Cutter, whose sardonic personality and extreme claustrophobia made him a welcome addition—were snubbed in favor of the main trio of Drake, Sully, and Elena, who didn’t even receive the closure they deserved. The villain Marlowe turns out to be a joke, with the developers robbing gamers of a true showdown and instead relegating the most devious acts to her lackey Talbot, who does more damage than she does. But even he’s neglected, as his motivations and supernatural powers are never thoroughly explained.
Perhaps more inexcusable than any of these problems are the loading times, which stretch on ridiculously long when starting up the game.
Uncharted 3 is highly playable, full of breathtaking environments, and just as imaginative as the other games in the series, but it feels rushed in places and often poorly structured. The series will be remembered for its exhilarating cinematic moments, its beloved characters and storytelling, and its overall quality and contribution to the action-adventure and third-person shooting genres, but Uncharted 3 doesn’t close the curtain with as much flair and bravado as it should. The game tries to replicate the success of Uncharted 2—maybe not in the most obvious manner, since it does surpass the second game in some respects—but in many ways it fails—not in becoming more, but rather in maintaining its glory.
Pros: Charlie Cutter’s comedic relief, the puzzles, the Old Adventures of Drake and Sully, escaping from various collapsing structures
Cons: No monsters, shafted characters and an inconclusive ending, unimpressive final battle