While Uncharted 2: Among Thieves was a huge leap forward in all aspects, Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception did not make any noticeable improvements to the formula. Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception plays remarkably similar to its predecessor, so much so that it barely feels like its own game. Since they are so similar, you should read my review on Uncharted 2: Among Thieves to understand my thoughts on that game. My thoughts on Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception are nearly identical barring a few minor changes.
One place of improvement that could be attributed to Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception is its overall story. While the story follows the same basic format of seeking treasure in a lost city, Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception does focus a bit more on the relationship between characters. This entry into the series finally recounts how Nathan and Sully met, and how Sully became a father figure to the young vagabond. During these flashbacks, a young Nathan is attempting to steal a ring from a museum when he encounters Sully. Many years later, the game takes place when Nathan and Sully utilize the ring to unearth a path to Iram of the Pillars. From there, the story follows the same general plot points as its predecessors as Nathan and company follow a clue laden trail.
Despite Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception being a nearly identical experience to Uncharted 2: Among Thieves, it still deserves credit for being an impressive adventure in its own right. The game mostly takes place in France, Syria, and Yemen, as well as a few chapters on the ocean. There are plenty of bombastic set pieces and action sequences which Uncharted is known for. From crashing a plane to escaping the clutches of modern-day pirates by sinking their ships, Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception is certainly not lacking on action.
There seems to be a new emphasis on melee combat in Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception. There are frequent scenarios in which Drake must punch his way through dozens of enemies. Unfortunately, this importance on melee combat is misguided due its mechanics. Melee combat is nothing but a quick-time event (QTE). Simply press the button that pops up on the screen. Not only does this take the player out of the moment, but it also removes any sort of decision making. I still feel like the gunfights in Uncharted are overly simple, but the fistfights are far worse in that regard. When the player is in a shootout, at least they are given the agency to choose what cover to get behind, what enemies they want to shoot at, what weapons to use, so on and so forth. Strategy and skill come into play during firefights. In hand-to-hand combat, you simply press a button when the game tells you to.
One other difference that I noticed was a change in how the combat arenas were designed. In most of the shootouts in the previous games, enemies would only appear in front of the player. The arenas in Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception are noticeably more open and enemies are prone to flanking the player. On one hand, I like that Naughty Dog is trying to encourage the player to move around a bit more. You cannot really sit behind one piece of cover when enemies are coming at you from multiple angles. On the other hand, there is no reasonable way to deal with these new flanking threats except targeting them before they reach you. Moving around from cover to cover is dangerous considering that getting hit a few times equates to death. And once an enemy is on top of you, they engage in melee combat, meaning that you are stuck in a QTE while getting shot at.
It is incredibly frustrating to die while being caught in an animation which you didn’t want to do anyway. I don’t want Drake to stand up and start punching at a guy when he’s getting shot at by a dozen others. Once an enemy has successfully flanked you, you are doomed. I appreciate that the developers realize that posting up behind a wall and taking shots at enemies when it is safe grows boring after a while. However, these new rushing and flanking enemies don’t have meaningful ways to counter them other than just prioritizing killing them before other enemies.
My biggest gripe about Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception was just how derivative it was. The climbing, puzzles, and shooting mechanics are all exactly the same as its predecessor. Even the story itself follows the same outline. I would’ve liked to see something to make the either the climbing or the shootouts more engaging. As it stands, the climbing sections are still incredibly mundane and not even remotely interactive. The combat is serviceable, but it does not match the explosive action to match the game’s bombastic set pieces. Uncharted is all about capturing the feeling of being an action movie, cowering behind cover for minutes at a time just doesn’t cut it.
Overall, Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception is in no way a bad game. It is just unfortunate that no strides have been made to improve any of the game’s core gameplay pillars. Instead, we got a game that seems afraid to deviate from the successful formula of its ancestors. Regardless, I think that Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception is a fine game, just not one that is ever going to be regarded as influential or important.