The middle east is known for its weavers. We all know the tapestries and, well, Persian rugs that the region has produced – fineries and things of luxury, of the highest quality. It is in this setting that Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception, is mostly placed, as well as structured in the manner of its luxurious tapestries.
Games have worked for years to meet and exceed the ideals and standards of Hollywood, and they have achieved success in some manner, at least financially. But where film can dictate the terms of its presentation to its audience, games are subject to the participation of the player. The thing of it is, game characters are more than just what he or she does during pre-rendered cutscenes. The requirement of the player to become the actor, to take the role of the character for the bulk of the game, makes the dynamic of a video game entirely unique. So it is the best games that can incorporate the player as an actor in its proceedings, and it is something that Uncharted as a series, and Uncharted 3 in particular, does very well.
In this third outing as Nathan Drake, gamers are given an imperfect character, and in that imperfection he is something that we can be. Drake trips on things, he yelps in pain when things hurt. He bumps into walls – sometimes due to the player’s own imperfect control – and pushes off of them in moving forward. He reacts, sometimes with incredulity, to the outlandish situations he is put in. Players are even given more freedom, in this third installment, to handle things the way they think Drake would handle them. Maybe he wouldn’t be as much of a stone-cold killer as we imagine. Drake can sneak past conflict, avoid it altogether, if that would suit him better – not that he isn’t capable in a fight. In fact he’s even better, with the improvements Naughty Dog has made to the combat system. But Drake reacts, often, in a way that we would react to those situations, and they become, by extension, the situations we are put in.
And it is those situations that form the weft of the tapestry that is Uncharted 3. Some of them we’ve known for some time, as Sony and Naughty Dog has made sure to inform the gaming public well in advance of the game’s release as part of its marketing effort, leaving relatively little as a surprise. But the developers have continued the tried-and-true Uncharted formula of smartly blending history, mythology and a dash of conspiracy theory to create a tale that will keep players glued to their couches. Throughout the game’s 22 chapters, Uncharted 3 continually keeps gamers in that state of “just one more” that all great page-turners share.
This time around, Drake journeys to the fictional city of Iram of the Pillars, racing a shadowy global organization that has roots entangled with his own personal history. Along the way, gamers are treated to lush landscapes and gorgeous backdrops to the adventure, punctuated by some clever (and some not-so-clever) puzzles and tense firefights, as well as the requisite witty banter.
Though it’s not just the events on Drake’s journey through the Rub’ al Khali desert, that comprise this adventure. Where the weft is the situations, the weave is the personalities that populate the tale. Uncharted 3 takes the opportunity to develop much of its characters’ history, through well told flashbacks to an earlier time when Drake begins his career as a treasure hunter, and the beginning of his friendship with supporting character and surrogate father Victor ‘Sully’ Sullivan. It builds on the relationship between Drake and continual love interest, Elena Fisher, as well.
Sadly these developments leave a little something to be desired. It feels as if these developments were rushed, as if they were not as fleshed out as they could have been. In teasing the player with the possibility to create some of what could have been some of the most particularly poignant moments in the medium, the threads are mostly dropped and the game’s potential in this regard ends up squandered. Other supporting characters seem unceremoniously dropped from the story partway through as well, and the loss is noticeably felt.
As the game progresses, we can see the products of a hurried development in other areas as well. Enemies begin to look the same, behaviors work the same way, animations become shared across a wide swath of characters, and there is little attempt to hide it. One class of enemy is fought almost exclusively as a quick-time event that looks the same almost every single time, and even the game’s ultimate conclusion feels similarly anticlimactic.
In our playthrough, we discovered a few graphical bugs, and the multiplayer even flat-out refused to work on several occasions, citing an inability to synchronize maps with the servers or other less decipherable errors. Though from our time with the beta, we’re well aware that Uncharted 3′s multiplayer is largely similar to Uncharted 2′s multiplayer – which is fun, but strips away all but the gunplay from the experience, leaving something that is only barely Uncharted. Certainly we expect the technical issues to be addressed, and likely already are by the time of this posting, but it is hard to tolerate in a commercial release.
However disappointing these elements might be though, they do not take away from the game’s status as a particularly satisfying experience that is better than most. Its luxurious presentation is a treat, and when it’s over, it’s not unpleasant to think back on the game and maybe – want to play it again. Certainly, Uncharted 3 is a strong enough game that it is easy to avoid comparing it to its predecessors, and weighed on its own merits it is still a game that stands head and shoulders above most of the rest. Though, considering its pedigree as the successor to the groundbreaking and jaw-dropping Uncharted 2: Among Thieves, which was 2009′s game of the year across several publications – including ours – it makes the game’s deficiencies stand out that much more.
Nonetheless, despite the game’s flaws, Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception is a tremendous effort by the folks at Naughty Dog and Sony. The opportunity to walk in the world and the shoes of Nathan Drake is a welcome one, and the game lays out a particularly riveting path for us to walk along. Indeed, it’d be doing oneself a disservice not to take Naughty Dog up on the chance.