After playing the first Uncharted on the Nathan Drake Collection I couldn’t get enough. I wanted to play more, but wasn’t about to go all the way through that one again. Most of the series’ fans consider the second installment to be a masterpiece, so I thought it would be better to give the third game another swing and see if I had something new to say or missed anything with a new entry so close.
Only two years after their incredible success with the last game, 2011 saw the release of Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception. A new adventure that is very similar to the previous two is ready for our protagonists, along with a few nice surprises. The plot starts off strong with an opening dynamic several hours that I honestly loved, but not long after that the story gets lost in the random location changes and some screwy history lessons—which my best friend the history professor has asked me to stop taking as fact. The plot to this series of games is weaker because the focus is more on the visuals, having these giant over the top outrageous set pieces that the developers admit to building their game around. I don’t like that. This is like having some cool ideas and then forcing them into a warped framework to make sure the big ideas pop. This is why writers are told to kill their darlings. Don’t get me wrong, the boat and cargo plane sequences are excellently done and easily the parts I remember the most from this game, because it certainly isn’t the ending.
I will say that the developers finally gave Nate some more time to explore his relationships and personal growth, not just with his returning love interest, Elena, and infinite father figure, Sully, but showing our protagonist was as a younger man and how that life might have been shaped. It almost did something cool but didn’t drive anything home, trying to do a lot and tie it into the story as well. The least they could have done was show how Drake became a mass murderer, because he destroys everything he comes across and kills scores of nameless henchmen. Sully does at least call Nate out on his pride, which is something that has been obvious since the first installment, but there is a lot of story points left unanswered and character moments that are unexplored. I have a feeling Uncharted 4 won’t go back and answer any of these specifically, but I hope they do something with the potential seeds they’ve laid.
The characters are what shine here. The voice acting is great as usual and people question their decisions as well as play off the plot points even though they mean nothing. So even if the story isn’t grabbing the player they should at least enjoy the dialogue and interplay between Nate and his companions. I love the little things though, like Nate touching the walls when he walks close, or looking behind him nervously. The environments are their own entities in a way and I love when the characters acknowledge that.
Presentation in this game is the whole package, but for me it still feels a little too much like I’m not in control. The game is still incredibly linear, even though they made the environments bigger. There are just too many times when I try to explore or make my own way and end up being blocked or die because something looked like it was a viable route. This happened a lot in the platform jumping and wall climbing sessions, causing frustration until I simply followed the path the developers wanted their ride to go, showing off the huge stage production they worked so hard on. I’m harping on this, but I might not have minded being guided so much if the story continued well, the ending was more memorable, and the last boss fight—whose name I had to look up—had not been a pile of QTE sadness that made me queasy. There was almost something there with Talbot, but, no.
I will give Naughty Dog credit in trying to add something new with the combat. Nate has more animations, interacts with the environments when enemies are nearby, and counters do more, especially with grenades. I would have loved to see some more ideas tried out with this to help it feel more interactive, but I guess if it isn’t broke, don’t rock the boat too much—or something like that. I heard a ton of good things about the multiplayer in this one, bringing many players back with its progression system and simple to pick up mechanics—another compliment to the combat system. I am sad that the version I am playing didn’t have that though and I missed out.
Uncharted 3 has a continuous speedrun mode as well now, giving it a lot of replay value for the competitive types, or those who just liked the story more than I did. I’ve beaten the game twice now though, so other than enjoying a select few of the shooting sections, I think I’m done. I noticed a few more details and a couple of story bits I missed the first time, not to mention a couple of funny glitches that hadn’t happen before. Nothing beats being stuck in a floor while the house is burning down, but still getting to kill the bad guy with a shot to the nuts. To be fair a few more of those might have been fun. I almost wonder if we hold this one up to Uncharted 2 a little too much though? The third game is certainly better than the first, but many things just didn’t tick as well as the previous one had, and most fans seem stuck on it more. What this recent playthrough did accomplish was making me more excited for Uncharted 4. Honestly, even if the combat and gameplay remains mostly untouched I think I would still enjoy a new adventure just based off of the characters and how much I enjoy what they do together. The idea of Drake trying to be retired but pulled back in by his brother kind of makes me realize how well that fits in with what I just played again, meaning this franchise still has a lot of life left in it if they remain true to their characters.