After the release of the critically acclaimed Uncharted 2: Among Thieves, hopes were high and anticipation through the roof for Naughty Dog’s next and final game in the PS3 trilogy. Yet, when Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception came out it was met with a much more mixed response (although it’s still sitting at 92% on metacritic, which is reasonable compared to Uncharted 2’s massive 96%). Whilst the game certainly looked the part many felt at the time, and still do to this day, that the gameplay simply wasn’t as refined and that the story wasn’t as well paced. As is usually the case, now that the hype train has passed, it’s now alright for critics to praise Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception and look hipster cool whilst doing it. In fact, in the reviews of the Uncharted: Nathan Drake Collection on PS4 many journalists have been listing the third game as their new favourite in the series.
The story starts off in London with Drake and Sully meeting gangsters in a dingy pub, where they are supposedly meeting to conduct a deal concerning the sale of Nate’s ring; the one “passed down” by Francis Drake and inscribed with his personal motto. It goes awry (introducing the player to the new fist fighting mechanics through a pub brawl) and the pair get shot in a back-alley, which leads nicely into a flashback where we play as young Nathan Drake acquiring the ring from a museum in Columbia. This flashback is important because it shows how Drake and Sully first met, and is one of many scenes throughout the game that adds depth to the characters and their relationships with each other. There are similar scenes later that add gravitas and depth to the relationship between Nate and Elena for instance, as it turns out at some point they got married – but it hasn’t really worked out. A criticism here could be that some supporting cast like Chloe are side-lined in favour of the original trio, but this seems reasonable and necessary to give the narrative the right focus.
The core plot this time is the search for “Atlantis of the Sands”, a grand city of immeasurable wealth, cursed and sunken into the desert, but which contains something of great importance to shady organisations and esoteric cults throughout history. The central antagonists this time are Marlowe, a Helen Mirren lookalike and leader of aforementioned shadowy organisation, and Talbot who is an illusionist that antagonises you throughout the story. Once again, this is a huge and bombastic action-adventure story that takes the protagonists all over the globe from chateaus in France to temples in Yemen, all the while packed full of exciting set-pieces like car chases, exploding aeroplanes, sinking ships, etc. Once criticism, that holds up, regarding the story is the flabby middle involving a pirate junkyard and the escape from a sinking cruise ship, ala the Poseidon Adventure. This whole sequence, while very exciting and extremely well designed, simply feels like padding or filler in a story that doesn’t really need it - if there was ever an excuse to excise some content and repackage it as standalone DLC it’s here.
While the story is fantastic, pacing issues and slightly-flabby middle aside, and the characters deep and fun to play as, the gameplay of Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception was met a little more coolly upon its release. Critics rightly pointed out that the gunplay didn’t feel as solid as Uncharted 2, and something felt off in this respect, whilst the platforming and puzzle-solving remained strong as ever. Naughty Dog recognised this fault and released a patch for the PS3 game to bring the feel of the gunplay more in line with fan expectations, with reasonable results. However, for the PS4 remaster BluePoint games have paid the third game the same amount of lavish attention as Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune, and overhauled the combat system so that it matches the second game blow for blow, even sprucing up the fist-fighting mechanics in the process. Going mano-a-mano with goons is so much fun here that I completed whole sections just using my fists!! But, the gunplay in the PS4 remaster is *solid* and feels great, and the issues surrounding the gameplay of Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception have been expertly addressed.
Visually, the game looks *absolutely stunning*, and the engine is a step up from both Uncharted 2 and The Last of Us in terms of visual fidelity, effects work, level geometry, etc. All running flawlessly in 1080p and 60fps! I did notice the odd glitch during my playthrough, which were absent completely from the second game, but generally speaking this is an incredibly polished title that gives many current-gen titles a real run for their money; the car chase in the desert in particular was a real highlight for me, it was just outstanding. The soundtrack is also top notch and contains some eerily beautiful and haunting tunes for the sections in Yemen and in the hidden city itself, as well as having fantastic voice acting throughout – especially Nolan North returning again as the voice of Nathan Drake. The increased emphasis on character-building and deepening psychology in the story gives the actors plenty of scenes in which to shine. Of the three games in the PS4 Uncharted Collection this probably needed the least work from BluePoint in terms of assets and textures, but they must still be commended for getting such as complex and powerful engine flawlessly working on PS4 in full-HD without any hiccups.
In terms of set-pieces and visual “oomph”, obviously Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception is a step up from its predecessors, and with the PS4 remaster addressing any gameplay concerns it is definitely a contender for the Uncharted crown. However, despite much needed moves in the story department to flesh-out characters and provide clear motivation for the crazy stuff they always end up doing, the pacing just isn’t as strong and the middle is weak. This alone wouldn’t be enough to offset the improvements over its predecessors but Uncharted 3 also has a few annoying difficulty spikes and frustrating sections that pull it down a little. In the end, whilst I still think overall Uncharted 2 is a better game, Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception deserves to be remembered as an absolute classic and masterful exercise in making action videogames; especially the new PS4 remaster with its myriad improvements.