Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception (PlayStation 3)
Developer: Naughty Dog
Publisher: Sony
Release: November 1, 2011
Price: $59.99

When Uncharted 2: Among Thieves came out two years ago, it was rightfully hailed as a great action/adventure game. It was also, unfortunately, far from perfect. But while this sequel has many of the same minor issues as its predecessor, as well as one rather unique one, it’s also just as big of a thrill ride.


Score: 9/10

Like Lara Croft before him, Uncharted hero Nathan Drake is a globe trotting but somewhat accident prone treasure hunter and adventurer who isn’t afraid to get his hands dirty while looking for priceless historical artifacts. In other words, he’s Indiana Jones without the Nazis. And like the games of both Ms. Croft and Dr. Jones, the Uncharted series tells grand tales by mixing together combat, exploration, and story-driven puzzles.
What makes the Uncharted games as good as Lara’s, and so much better than Indy’s is how developers Naughty Dog pull all the elements together. Individually, the jumping, acrobatics, and puzzles are not as inventive as those in the Tomb Raider or Prince of Persia games, while the cover-based shooting works better in, well, dedicated third-person shooters. But in Deception, like its predecessor, the whole is far better than its parts, as it melds these elements together seamlessly in service of the story and without detriment to the gameplay.
It also helps that these games’ stories are told with a serious flair for the cinematic. Not only does it use movie-inspired camera angles, movements, and techniques like it’s shot by a professional cinematographer, but it seamlessly mixes them with the gameplay mechanics.
But the kicker is its exceedingly smart and well-written script. Not only does it make the characters feel multi-dimensional, but the dialog is so snappy that it would make Diablo Cody jealous. Though it does help that the lines are delivered by experienced (and clearly well-directed) voice actors.
This is not to say everything is the same in Deception as it was in Thieves, just that the changes are more subtle than substantial. The biggest addition is that Drake is a bit more of a brawler this time around, and can give bad guys the old one-two if they get too close. He’ll even get creative when the opportunity presents itself, whacking guys with nearby beer bottles or slamming their heads into walls, tables, banisters, doors, and any other hard surface. Granted, this doesn’t have a deep combo system of a dedicated fighter, and it actually feels a little sluggish at times, so it’s not as good as similar systems in such games as, say, The Bourne Conspiracy. But all things considered, it gets the job done.
What’s annoying is that they didn’t fix some of the previous game’s more irritating bits. Drake still runs like a spazzy kid who just heard an ice cream truck, while the camera is similarly a bit too loose. Most egregiously, you still have to pick up ammo for a gun you’re holding, instead of just doing it automatically, which means all the difference between surviving a hairy fire fight and dying repeatedly because you ran out of ammo and died while grabbing more.
Ironically, though, some of the series’ greatest strengths once again cause its greatest weakness. For if this wasn’t so smartly written, if its dialog wasn’t so fitting and funny, and if it wasn’t delivered so expertly by its voice actors, we might never have noticed just how blah the character of Elena can be, especially when she’s standing next to the feisty Chloe. Who, if Naughty Dog had any sense, would be the star of the Uncharted 4: Chloe’s Choice.
It’s also really distracting that Nathan’s pal Charlie is voiced by actor Graham McTavish, since he previously played the main villain in Uncharted 2. Yet another problem you wouldn’t have in a badly written/voiced series.
The similarities between Uncharted 2 and 3 continue online, where Deception has such competitive modes as “Deathmatch,” two and three group “Team Deathmatch,” and its own version of “Capture the Flag,” as well as some co-op ones that include a Horde-like survival one and a story-driven section where you shoot up the place and complete objectives. All of which work as advertised, with the requisite leveling system, loadouts, and character customization options required by law.
And therein lies the problem. As with Thieves, none of Deception’s online modes offer anything new or different. Which is good news for those who enjoyed Uncharted 2’s multiplayer, but if you’re looking for someone unique enough to tear your friends away from Call of Duty, it’s not going to happen.
It also doesn’t help that these modes remove most the story-telling aspects and acrobatics, reducing Deception to a simple shooter. Granted, it doesn’t ruin these modes, but it does give them a “so what” quality normally reserved for sugar free cupcakes and any Jane’s Addiction album without Eric Avery on bass.
Ultimately, Deception is a single-player game and thinking less of it because its online modes are uneventful is like thinking less of the new Steven King novel because the author photo is blurry. It’s still a thrilling ride told with compelling action, challenging combat, and a witty script that’s acted with accuracy. That it has the same minor annoyances of its predecessor is unfortunate, but hardly anything to bemoan since it’s also just as good as that game. Which makes it - no surprise - a great action/adventure game.