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.