It’s been quite a while actually since I’ve written a full review of a video game, the last one being ‘Blue Toad Murder Files’ in October. So here I’m going to review the newest game by developer, Naughty Dog – Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception.
Just to introduce it, I’m going to mention that I’ve finished Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune and Uncharted 2: Among Thieves – and I did enjoy them. They were fun, adventure style story games. They aren’t really the sort of thing you play more than the once, but definitely worth playing. They’ve also been pretty critically and commercially successful, but then I don’t really care about that in a lot of ways…we care if the game is good, right?
A little set-up housekeeping first. The game has an impressive array of cinematic enhancements, (so to speak) particularly sound ones – the best one being a ‘Dynamic Range’ option, so you can have loud noises during the day…and the volume range squished quiet during the night! Good for those of us who happen to live near people. There are also the usual subtitles, game hints, swappable axis’, and range of difficulty settings.
So, the game then gets going and we’re in London! Or what I’m sure is supposed to look like London, but isn’t really all that convincing (to me at least) with flat caps and bald guys all round, that and an American style pool table rather than…you know, something you’d actually have in a pub, but ah well, they tried. Ironically enough, in the video extras the development team make a point of saying how authentic they wanted London to feel, and in the concept art it even looks like a Blackball set-up.
The very first thing that really strikes me is that the game flows – really flows – between cutscenes and gameplay. So much so that at first I found it very hard to realise when I was supposed to actually be doing something, but I think that’s a good thing. It felt pretty impressive. One hand-to-hand combat tutorial later (with what is basically the Batman Arkham Asylum/City fight system, if you’re curious) and the story is away. There are suited agents and an evil old lady acting all clock-and-dagger. Well, kind of clock and dagger. To me she came across very quickly as cartoon-ishly evil – with evil laughing, outlandish outfit, and hidden knife in umbrella madness.
Alongside the hand-to-hand and gun combat, there also feels like more emphasis has been placed on stealth. There are a lot of instances to stealth kill people, even having whole sections you can get through that way – granted it isn’t nearly as fleshed out as Metal Gear Solid 4 or (the alright, but still inferior) Deus Ex: Human Revolution. There are no hiding places really beyond chest high walls, enemies have very simple repetitive paths, and are often all facing in groups in the same direction. But it does still feel cool to stealthily cross a room, slowly killing everyone in it.
From then on the gameplay has very easily recognisable gameplay styles. Chase scenes – either chasing people/vehicles or running away from danger, are fairly common, as are fight areas (either gun or hand-to-hand) that you have to clear before leaving. There are also a few puzzle areas – using either your magically helpful note book or just your own head. For the most part it’s all pretty straight forward gameplay wise.
The big downside to all of this, sadly, is the difficulty. Difficulty bloat – this game has it. Uncharted 3’s difficulty settings don’t really feel comparable to those used in the first two games of the series. It has five levels of difficulty – I did start the game on ‘Normal’, but because I’m not a masochist, nor do I want to break my T.V. as I throw the control pad at it in rage (why yes, I do get gamer rage), I turned it down to easy. It can be quite difficult to deal with the number of enemies the game throws at you, when two of them have riot shields, there’s a guy in heavy armour, and the others want to punch you. It’s one of the main reasons I won’t get all the trophies – or keep the game for that matter. The harder difficulty settings feel very twitch/die. That and well…a whole bunch of Uncharted 3’s trophies are simply ‘Kill X number of enemies with Y weapon’ or ‘Do X a set number of times’ – far too dull for me to care.
The big upside, however, is the graphics. It takes a while to really sink in. Because it’s not just that it’s pretty – it’s the detail. It’s the wrinkles around Drake’s eyes, the dirt that accumulates all over him, and the individual footprints you make in the sand. It’s the sheer scale – the huge 3D rendered backdrops and (apparently) procedurally generated ocean. It’s lovely to look at – so at the very least, try and watch someone play this gorgeous game, even if you yourself don’t want to play it, to save breaking your television. The environments also really struck me as feeling lived-in, with a lot of expected clutter – though I do think this stands out so much after seeing Deus Ex: Human Revolution’s version of in-game clutter being mostly an obscene amount of cardboard boxes.
We learn more about Drake and Sully’s past in this game – which I thought was very interesting, and we also learn (apparently, I didn’t realise until I read Wikipedia) that Drake and Elena managed to somehow get married and split up between Uncharted 2 and 3. The relationships between the characters is quite nice – there’s a lot of fun moments between gun fights and chase scenes that make them quite likeable. Character-wise I also quite liked (intellectually, I suppose) the pirate, Ramses – who is a real evil, manipulative, murdering pirate, not some wise-cracking phony.
The story is mostly interesting (though very familiar if you’ve seen the film, ‘The Mummy’) involving like all the games so far in the series, a search for a lost location that may not actually be such a good idea to visit. It feels like it gets lost around a very visually stunning and interesting stretch of sea full of disused ships – there wasn’t much happening here relating to the story other than what really felt like an excuse to squeeze in another area, lengthening Drake’s search for Sully. Following this ship scene we have a sinking ship escape – which admittedly is something I’ve played before with Tomb Raider, but in Uncharted 3 it was very pretty and interesting to trek through, with upside-down rooms that are disconcerting to navigate, a sideways journey through an Lift and of course the previously mentioned procedurally generated ocean.
We follow Drake from one dramatic scene to another, from chasing a plane (then crashing it) to a bleak, but beautifully rendered desert until we finally get to this game’s lost city – Ubar, which (at the risk of sounding repetitive, but seriously) is very beautiful. At Ubar we see Drake hallucinate (not for the first time) in a really very visually interesting way, making the graphics sway and undulate across the screen while still being traversable by the player.
And then it ends. Calamity strikes, the place gets swallowed up, and our characters walk happily into the sunset. But it feels (to me at least) really unsatisfying. After tracking down the game’s cartoon-ishly villainous villains, and getting ready to have a final earth-shattering showdown, instead we get a quick cutscene and the final gameplay being Drake running away from danger and then having a little fist fight. And not a Metal Gear Solid 4 ‘two old guys on top of a submarine’ epic style fist fight.
So, to wrap-up! While the game felt all thoughout to be visually striking and accomplished, the story felt, for the most part, interesting enough – it’s sadly let down by the difficulty bloat and the unsatisfying ending. I just…hoped for more from the end – because by that point I’d already led Drake dramatically away from certain doom, from drowning in water, and death by spiders. After all that, drowning in sand isn’t that impressive (particularly considering it made no sense that the city would tumble down so easily after enduring a lot of gunfire and explosions already).
Post single player campaign wise there are extras in the form of videos, (which, to nitpick, you can’t pause) and concept art, as well as being able to look at collected treasures and game play statistics. It took me about nine hours to finish the single player campaign, during which I spent a whole hour in cover and half an hour climbing things, it’s interesting to see where all your time goes. The game does have a small offline co-op mode which is nice, and online multiplayer, but as I’ve said before it’s really not something I’m interested in (I don’t want to play with random people on the Internet – I have real live friends for that).
The game honestly isn’t really a keeper, (I haven’t kept any of the previous ones) as I have no inclination to hunt for trophies or play multiplayer – and playing the single player campaign is really a one time thing in a lot of ways, as it only has a full impact the first time. But I would still recommend you try it – rent it, buy it pre-owned (you’ll only miss out on the online multiplayer) or get someone to play it for you. It’s a good game with an enjoyable story and really fantastic visuals.