I still remember when the original Uncharted was teased. “Who is this doofus with the half-tucked t-shirt?”, the gamer crowd asked. How far we’ve come: Nathan Drake is most gamers’ favorite relic hunter since Indiana Jones (sorry, Ms. Croft), and Naughty Dog’s series is now one of the best platform exclusives out there. Uncharted 2 was an absolutely brilliant experience that was only slightly marred by a lackluster co-op mode. How will its follow-up fare?
In Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception, Nathan and co. are searching for the lost city of Iram, the “Atlantis of the Sands”, and instead of a ‘roided out war criminal, Drake gets to match wits with a centuries-old secret society helmed by Helen Mirren’s evil doppelganger. You know, it didn’t dawn on me before, but in every Uncharted game, Nathan Drake has been searching for a lost city of some kind. An uncharted city, if you will. I see what you did there, Naughty Dog.
Nevertheless, the story is strong. Early on, we finally get to learn about how Nate and Sully met. Though a lot remains unsaid, we get to piece together what happened between the characters since the last game. There’s a good sense of the passage of time, since everyone seems to have moved on and/or solidified their working relationships. Thankfully, there’s isn’t any backstabbing going on between our heroes this time.
The biggest part of this series has been the action setpieces, and Uncharted 3 is no slouch. If you thought jumping out of the collapsing hotel in the last game was intense, wait until you play through the burning chateau level that was clearly designed to show off the game’s 3D TV support. Between that, the level that takes place in the cruise ship, and a short one in a cargo plane, Naughty Dog display absolute mastery in recreating disasters. Hell, they even make the few on-foot chase sequences in the game exciting. I don’t want to go into too much detail, as half the fun is in the “Oh sh**!” moments that occur throughout the game.
The action is great, the plot is entertaining, and the characters are just as likable as ever, but there are a few things that feel a bit like steps backwards. First, there are fewer (major) puzzles during the campaign than in either of the first two games, and they were sorely missed. The relentless pacing of the plot and combat made me crave a little more downtime than I was given.
Second, the intense focus on delivering a “cinematic” experience can leave a few sections with little margin for error. Though you’re in full control of Nathan, if you don’t make a leap just right, or fail to deliver a couple well-timed headshots, you might find yourself repeating 5-second sections for a while.
Part of the huge impact Uncharted 2 made was just how much of a leap it was over its predecessor, and in that regard, Uncharted 3 doesn’t really do much more. There’s a prevailing sense of “I’ve done this before” during the entire campaign, and though the plot is great, the pacing and placement of levels feels very familiar. I was able to wrap the campaign up in just over nine hours, which is shorter than U2 by a bit, but it felt tighter as a result.
Though we still have to live without true campaign co-op in this series, the co-op offerings this time around are a little more robust. First, there’s Co-Op Adventure, which contains a five-level, loosely-plotted campaign that reuses assets from all three games in the series.
Though the co-op is really enjoyable, I don’t necessarily feel like the whole experience of the single-player campaign is captured. The traversal and puzzle-solving aspects are almost completely absent, and combined with the barebones plot, you’re only left with the combat. Luckily, the combat is entertaining enough to keep players engaged. While most of the enemies are the bog standard grunts from the campaign, there are special enemies who can grab and hold players, or minibosses who can lob clusters of grenades around, keeping players on their toes.
Though it was fun, I was really hoping that Adventure would bring more of the Uncharted experience to the table. I really feel like the puzzles would be fun to solve with friends (and after the single-player campaign, I really wanted to see more of them), and setting up daredevil leaps over crumbling terrain could be just as exciting as rolling through combat arenas. Revisiting a few locations from earlier games in the series was a nice touch, although I would probably prefer to see something fresher.
Co-Op Arena mode makes a return from Uncharted 2, though rather than being three separate modes (Siege, Gold Rush and Survival), all of these variants are rolled into one. As rounds pass, players will be tasked with capturing control points (Siege), carrying relic to a treasure chest across the map (Gold Rush) and simply fending off waves of enemies (Survival). Arena is solid fun, and there is a bit more of variety in the map selection than before.
New to Uncharted 3 co-op is the addition of weapon mods, boosters and medal kickbacks. Money and experience earned in the multiplayer modes allows you to unlock these abilities, which can have fairly drastic effects on how you play. Some abilities allow you to move faster while carrying an object, which is great if you’re playing a Gold Rush round or happen to be doing the Syria mission in Adventure. Others allow for faster respawn times, or the ability to carry more grenades.
Across all of the multiplayer modes, you can find treasures in the levels, which are dropped semi-randomly by bosses or may appear if you complete certain objective in the competitive and co-op modes. Collecting sets of items allows you to unlock weapons for your multiplayer loadouts, and adds to the longevity of these modes.
Where the co-op implementation shines is in the breadth of options available for players. Not only is splitscreen online implemented, but there are options for LAN play as well. You can even mix splitscreen players into your LAN party! I know of a few community members who will be pleased to hear that. The online modes are not strictly drop in/out, but if you have one person drop out of a game, the matchmaking system will allow you to enter games in progress.
There is a baffling design decision in the way splitscreen is implemented, however: Though the slightly offset horizontal split has been done before, for some reason, the empty space in the UI this causes has been filled in with each player’s multiplayer emblem. I don’t know if you’re randomly assigned one to start out, but in my local co-op play, roughly a third of my screen was taken up by bright pink hearts. Now, I love my co-op partners, but not THAT much.
In any case, here we are again: a mostly-fantastic single-player experience mixed with solid competitive modes and a robust, but not always satisfying slate of co-op options. Uncharted 3 is an impressive package, and an easy recommendation. The co-op isn’t perfect, but there’s good content and a lot of fun to be had.