I am not a young gamer. I say that in the loosest sense; at twenty-four, I’m not exactly putting in claims for Social Security. That said, in terms of gaming I’ve seen a lot. I’ve played through a lot of the best that video games have had to offer all the way from the NES up to the modern day shininess of the current generation. I preface this review this way so that you can understand exactly what I mean when I say that Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception is one the greatest action games ever made.
I played through the entire game over the course of a weekend and throughout I was constantly rocked by shifting emotions of excitement, glee, and at times, genuine horror and sadness. The heroes in the game are some of the most human you’ll find in any game on the market, and manage to take the witticism and humor of the previous Uncharted games and elevate it to something resonant and meaningful that sticks with you after the credits have run their course.
The game’s story sounds fairly typical of the franchise. Nathan Drake, Sully and friends are trying to find the “Atlantis of the Sands,” a lost city rumored to be contain an ancient treasure of immeasurable wealth. Of course, they aren’t the only ones after the city. Competing against them is Marlowe, a figure from Nathan and Sully’s past who also wants what the city contains and would happily kill them to find it.
What makes the story special is the way it focuses on and treats the heroes. A long running criticism of the franchise is that Nathan Drake is kind of a jerk, and that’s putting it lightly. While he possesses all the charm and smarm of a lovable action hero, he’s constantly putting his friends and loved ones in danger for the sole purpose of finding treasure. Not to mention that his adventures generally also involve the mass killing of hundreds of people. Even if they’re trying to kill him, Mr. Drake’s body count could rival some small wars.
Drake’s Deception is the first game in the series to actually address this to a degree. After years of partaking in his quests, many of his friends are openly tired of the life he drags them into. While there is a quest and there are villains, the game is more introspective. Its focus is Nathan Drake himself, his failings and their potential costs to himself and the people he cares about. It’s an experience pumped as full of genuine emotion as it is with adrenaline.
No small amount of this emotion (or adrenaline) is owed to the expertly crafted cinematic feeling of the game. The Uncharted games have always been fairly cinematic but the developers have truly upped their game here. Gameplay and cutscenes are seamlessly mixed and brilliantly used. Whereas games like God of War III used scale and cinematic camera angles to make things seem more epic, Uncharted 3 employs similar tactics to display a wide range of moods and emotions. The most stunning moment in the game for me wasn’t one of action or violence, but rather a scene where the camera pulls back and puts across just how alone Nathan and the player really is.
None of this is to say that the game is flawless. The villains for instance, aren’t fleshed out well enough. Say what you want about the more cartoonish thugs that served as the baddies for the first two games, but at least you left the game knowing everything about them. Finishing Uncharted 3 I felt like I didn’t know nearly enough about Marlowe and her motivations. It’s a shame because there are definite hints of there being something more interesting in Marlowe, but as it stands she’s little more than the prerequisite opponent for Nathan and friends to fight against.
I was also a bit put off by the pacing of the game’s action sequences. Make no mistake, taken by themselves each of the big set pieces are fantastic bits of game design. If you want evidence as to why tightly scripted single player experiences are still relevant in the progressing age of social and online gaming, you need look no further than Uncharted 3.
The thing is, it often felt like the developer’s goal with each new set piece was just to outdo the last one. It might sound odd to action junkies, but the abundance of set pieces in many desensitized me to them over time. I don’t think the developers passed up a single opportunity to blow something up, have a roof cave in or a foothold come loose and after awhile the constant mishaps became predictable. I had a blast playing through all of it but I still fear the developers might have learned the wrong lesson from the positive reaction they received from the brilliant “train” section in Uncharted 2. That sequence stood out because it was built up to so well. The pacing in Uncharted 3 jumps from one big action scene to the next, often with little buffer to break it all up.
Beyond that there are the trifling problems. The controls are at times less than precise, especially in the gunplay. That said, this rarely detracts from the experience itself and once you get yourself used to them they feel as natural as anything the competition might have to offer. Some might also criticize the game’s multiplayer for not adding overly much from the second game, but honestly, Uncharted 3 is about the single player experience. The multiplayer is a nice bonus and quite fun in its own right, but the star of the show is the solo portion.
Uncharted 3 is not a perfect game, but it is an extraordinary one and as perfect a melding of cinema and video games as I have ever seen. It is a gorgeous, touching and thrilling experience that all gamers should partake in if they can.