Hello, and welcome back to Load of Bollocks’ Uncharted series critique. It’s been a while, hasn’t it? I got burnt out thinking about Uncharted when I wrote the first couple installments in this series that I decided to shelve the critique, and return to it when I felt compelled to, and had the time. And the time is now for me to finish talking about these damn games. I’ve got a lot to say about Uncharted 3 too, so I hope you all came prepared.
The reason is that I wanted Uncharted 3 to be incredible. The jump from Drake’s Fortune to Among Thieves was so profound that I wanted history to repeat itself. I wanted Drake’s Deception to take the next step, evolving the series past its roots as visually engaging adventure games with great characters, into a character-driven adventure game where the visuals are mostly there to impress and immerse. It would have been the next logical step in the series, building on the foundation from games prior, while creating a masterful narrative that for the characters to partake in. It would have been this, but unfortunately, Uncharted 3 falls short of this goal after a few hours of playtime.
Why? Well…a lot of reasons. The gameplay was largely unchanged from Uncharted 2. The platforming remained serviceable but boring. Yet the worst thing about Uncharted 3 is the blatant lack of care put into growing the characters, and developing a compelling story. The plot makes absolutely no sense whatsoever in this game and watching our lovable cast of characters try to navigate it is just sad. The plot didn’t need to be some incredible story that would make critics shit themselves, but couldn’t it at least have been on par with Uncharted 2? Whatever. Welcome to Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception.
All men dream - but not equally.
I may have gone a little harsh on U3 just now, but I no way think that this is a terrible game. It’s good, and the beginning is actually pretty damn great. It’s just that the connective tissue that allows these games to soar it clearly strained and hardened. This game raises a lot of questions that it doesn’t answer, and doesn’t make a lot of big steps forward. But Uncharted 3 is not devoid of its own contributions, and does a lot of things right with a new character called Charlie Cutter.
Cutter is the shining light of Uncharted 3. I don’t think I would give this game the same score without his inclusion. He’s a snarky English bloke who’s incredibly smart, can hold his own in a fight, and is the only other character in this series that knows as much about treasure hunting as Nathan Drake. His enthusiasm and his humor add a lot to his character, but there’s something else that I love about Cutter. Loyalty. Our introduction to Cutter is him antagonizing and soon after, fighting both Nate and Sully. From the outset, he plays the part of the muscle, and confirms that suspicion when he guns down Nate and Sully in an alleyway minutes later. Of course, we’re wondering how in the hell these two are supposed to survive this, and as luck would have it, the entire confrontation was staged. The fighting, the faux execution, everything was put in place to lure Marlowe (U3’s villain) into a false sense of security. All thanks to Cutter, that beautiful son of a bitch. The level of infiltration and trust he needed to build with Marlowe to even get into a situation like that shows how committed he is to being your ally. And I like that. Cutter is a guy with a heart of gold; his endearing persona, enthusiasm and utility to the group make him one of the most memorable characters in the series.
So, Cutter is good. Great even. What about the rest of the characters? Well, they’re around, but that’s the extent of it. This is my biggest reason why I find this entry disappointing; there are so many well established and likeable characters in Uncharted, and this entry fails to develop them further in any way. Chloe? Sidelined. Elena? We don’t see her until a third of the way into the game, again. Sully? Don’t even get me started.
Sully’s role in Uncharted 3 is one of the biggest missed opportunities in the entire series, and I can’t let that stone go unturned. From the outset, Uncharted 3 goes out of its way to build up the relationship between Nathan and Sully by providing context. Nathan and Sully have been partners since Nate was a child roaming the streets of Colombia. And Sully became partners with Nate after Marlowe threatened to kill him, a child, for stealing Sir Francis Drake’s ring. Sully rescues Nate from Marlowe’s guards, and the two begin their partnership from there. This setup paints Sully as Nate’s father figure, and it’s easy to see that while the two are certainly friends, their relationship is considerably stronger than people who are just friends. Sully cares for Nate and wants to help him, and that care has time and again drawn him into some treacherous situations, especially as an aging man. In return, Nate has become more and more protective of Sully, but still fails to realize that his sentiment stems from taking his aging father-figure on dangerous treasure-hunts.
This new dynamic is perfectly postured. The following story easily could’ve been about Drake realizing the dangers inherent to his lifestyle, and learning to put it behind him to protect the ones he loves. This story could’ve been delivered not only through his relationship with Sully, but Elena too. And it doesn’t. Until Uncharted 4.
Nothing happens to Sully. There is no moment where Drake realizes that his friends are who is most important to him. There is no sense that these characters have developed on this journey, nothing at all. There’s a brief fake-out concerning Sully’s death, and that’s it. Once it’s over, the game forgets what it was doing, and continues with its half-baked plot.
Oh god, the plot in Uncharted 3. The lack of character growth may be Uncharted 3’s biggest flaw, but the plot is it’s second. The story makes almost no sense, things happen for inexplicable reasons, and worst of all, it’s plain boring. I have a lot to say about the story here so…buckle in guys.
To start, why does Marlowe want to find Iram of the Pillars? Elena stated that she’s already incredibly wealthy, so that seems an unlikely reason. Which only leaves the legend of the Djinn, cast down in a brass vessel that tainted the water of Iram, dooming the city. Why would she want that? The game tries to explain that the tainted water has hallucinogenic powers which frenzy whoever drinks from it, causing them to be overwhelmed with fear, and that for this reason Marlowe wants it but that just doesn’t make sense because…Talbot. Talbot can already do all that bullshit. He’s drugged both Drake and Cutter with his fear toxin over the course of the game, so why doesn’t Marlowe just create a bunch of that toxin that they already have fucking access to instead of scouring the blasted desert for some hidden city.
Oh, that reminds me, how are there hidden cities in the modern age? This was a question I was asking myself at the end of Uncharted 2 when they reached that other hidden city, and it’s one that still goes unresolved in Uncharted 3. These games take place in the modern day and I have to wonder how a satellite hasn’t snapped any pictures of it. Even though there’s technically a sandstorm around the city, shrouding it from the outside world, you can see blue sky above you once you enter the city. There’s no way a city like this could stay hidden in the modern age unless there’s some sort of magical spell cast upon it. Like there is in Harry Potter universe at Hogwarts. But, unless someone wants to make the argument that these games exist in such a universe, I’m calling bullshit. It’s breaking the suspension of disbelief, even for a series that routinely contains supernatural elements.
Moving on to more bullshit, can anyone explain this Talbot guy? Nothing he does makes any sense. He gets shot by Cutter in the chest, and shows up minutes later with Marlowe in perfect health. How? What? I’m seriously at a loss for words here. Was he wearing a bulletproof vest? If he was, why the hell did he seem to drop dead when he got shot? That seems a bit too dramatic. Also, why…. why can he teleport? He someone shows up everywhere and everywhere the plot needs him to, just because. It’s so bad that at one point, he turns around a corner, Drake & co start to give chase, and he’s already gone. Is he a cheetah? Does he have supernatural abilities? I have no idea. It’s ridiculous. Later on, you get into a chase sequence with Talbot, but the sequence starts in an area with Marlowe and all of her men. So…why does Talbot start running away from them? They have guns, and they’re on your side. They will fucking shoot Drake if you just run towards him and start fighting him, which Talbot shows he is more than capable of doing during this games runtime. Just…no, don’t run away? Why ARE YOU RUNNING AWAY?
So Talbot is dumb. He does dumb things that are never explained and seems to have no character motivation at all. He doesn’t even have a good character design. Why does he exist. I don’t know.
There’s also this strange…strange bit of plot development that I cannot comprehend. The opening infiltration of Marlowe’s headquarters sets up the entire adventure for Nate & Co. They have information from both Sir Francis Drake and T.E. Lawrence that when combined, will allow them to locate Iram of the Pillars. This is clearly communicated in a cutscene, and when Chloe interjects to say that she doesn’t want to risk her life on another high-stakes adventure, Nathan reassures her. He asserts that they are the only ones with this information, and that Marlowe has nothing to go on. No way to find the city. Which seems amazing, until Marlowe and her men show up anyways, claiming that they just, uh…” followed them.” That’s their explanation. Seriously. That’s all she wrote.
I get that this is Uncharted, and Drake needs meat bags to pump lead into, but could you maybe, maybe take a little more care in your setup? Like, followed them? Really? How? You completely lost them when they ran off with the clues, and there’s no way Marlowe could find a small group of people in a day in a sprawling city. It just makes no sense. Maybe there could have been some tracking device, or maybe one of Nate’s friends could have betrayed them. I don’t know, and that’s the problem. I don’t know. There’s no TLC put into the setup of the plot, and unfortunately, that trend continues for the rest of the game.
Those who dream by night, in the dusty recesses of their minds, wake in the day to find that it was vanity...
I’ve mentioned lots of stupid story bullshit above in quite the display of rambling writing, but there’s one last piece of BS I have to talk about before discussing the other elements, and wrapping up the critique. There’s a section right in the middle of Uncharted 3 where Drake is captured by this pirate dude. I’m not looking his name up because he isn’t memorable or important. And…what follows is a long sequence of gameplay that culminates after an hour or slightly more, for most players.
Now, in the gameplay department, this sequence is the best section of Uncharted 3, and one of the best in the franchise. Drake is forced to navigate underwater and get the upper leg on his unsuspecting foes. The level design toys with verticality, having Drake pop shots at enemies from below them while he scrambles up some pipes. But before the scrambling, before the underwater excursions and the tight gameplay, the visuals capture the player's attention like nothing else. You’re fighting through a pirate shipyard that has slowly decayed over the years. It borders on becoming derelict, save for the few goons manning turrets and patrolling the rusted metal platforms you must scurry across. It’s a gorgeous setting to fight in, and is a pretty creative one as well.
This is essentially a distraction. Nothing, and I mean nothing, of importance happens in the story department. You’re just captured, then escaping, and you escape so hard that you end the whole thing by blowing up multiple ships and washing up on shore, somehow. Now, I love the game play here, but when there’s no through line for the action, no reason to be fighting, and no characters for Drake to talk to the entire time, interest dies. I found myself hating this section near the end of it for sacrificing the pace in favor of filler levels. And while it’s damn good filler, it’s filler nonetheless.
Okay, I believe my rant about the story is done. So, what’s left? Not much.
The gameplay is unchanged from the second game. Pretty much all the mechanics return, and the difficulty is balanced just as well as Uncharted 2. There’s one new mechanic (relative to the series) that become quite useful however, and that’s being able to throw enemy grenades back at them. A big problem I had with Uncharted 2 was how damn enemies could lob a grenade right at your feet, forcing you to dart through cover, or make a desperate attack on them to advance. I would have varying levels of success or failure each time I had to adapt, since this series has little in the way of defensive means of playing besides, well, hiding behind cover. This one little change made my moves far more deliberate and calculated, allowing me to run and gun when I wanted to, and letting me breathe when I needed to.
Also, the guns sound way louder and dirtier in this game. I like this change; in Uncharted 2 most guns felt underwhelming, and the new sound effects improve the game feel quite a bit.
Okay, the final section, set-pieces. We’re almost there, folks. I’ll touch on this briefly, and instead of running through every set-piece, I’m just going to talk about the ones that I felt were done well. First up, The Chateau.
Early on, Nate and Sully head to a French chateau to look for clues, Scooby Doo style. All is well until Marlowe’s men show up and start shooting, and set fire to the mansion. What follows is an intense, fiery escape sequence through the burning structure, with Sully right behind you. What sets this apart is how sudden and dangerous it feels. The level had started with a lot of quiet time, simple platforming and puzzle solving. Now, it’s a struggle to survive amidst the brilliant flames that lash out unexpectedly, collapsing the floor beneath you. The constant change in your environment is exhilarating, and makes this section feel alive in the best way possible. This is a personal favorite of mine because of the beautiful visuals, excellent feeling of the ever-changing level, and the control given to the player. For most of this sequence, the game is in your hands, and that supports the frantic nature of the set-piece.
Next would be The Plane Chase. No, not the Plane Crash, though that one is pretty fun as well. The level leading up to getting on the plane is great, I love stealthing through enemy compounds before the whole thing devolves into a fire-fight. What’s more, chasing after the plane with the help of Elena is truly fun, and a nice callback to previous entries as well. What’s good about this set-piece is obvious; it’s spectacle and characters combined. Slowly making your way to an object in the distance is something Naughty Dog has a massive erection for, but I’ve never seen it fail to work in one of their games before. And doing this with best-gril Elena was the right decision, allowing ample opportunity for great dialogue between the two, as well as a clash in their characters which leads Elena to save Drake’s ass once again by helping him board the plane.
I have only one gripe; please, Naughty Dog, stop leading me to believe that I can completely stealth through sections, only for me to realize that the alarm has to sound to progress. Like I said before, I like firefights, but I want the option to stealth through an entire combat sequence to be there.
Finally, I have to talk about The Convoy sequence. This is a sequence that popped up in Uncharted 2, and in Uncharted 3, it’s improved in every way. Instead of passively riding in a car this time, you’re on horseback, immediately letting you feel in control. You board trucks, shoot at motorcycles, blow up a few cars with an RPG, and make your way to the front of the convoy. The game clearly communicates what it wants you to do, leading to far less accidental deaths than in Uncharted 2’s version, and riding around on horseback gives this feeling of forward momentum that the previous entry lacked. There’s even time for a good visual joke where one of the goons gets run over by one of his own trucks. The shooting isn’t too inaccurate, and the visuals are spectacular. Chasing a convoy of trucks and motorcycles through a desert gorge is a gorgeous sight to behold, and combined with that forward momentum on horseback, the sequence adopts and air of feeling alive, much like the Chateau set-piece. Towards the end, you need to rescue Sully from one of the trucks, and his escape is very Sully-esque, complete with a sucker-punch, and mad dash to safety, and the awkward fumbling of an old man just doing his best. You have a quick QTE fight with a big bad guy, and it’s all over. The sequence has great flow, and because of that the action and the escape feel thrilling.
But the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act their dream with open eyes, to make it possible. This I did.
Uncharted 3 is a good game, marred by a poor story. The characterization and theming are weak, and this only serves to highlight the bog-standard gameplay that should usually be forgotten about. The set-pieces are there, but unfortunately, they couldn’t make up for the huge burden that is this game story elements. Naughty Dog attempted to tell a mature story, but faltered in the execution, leaving huge tonal issues and plot-holes in its wake. They simply weren’t ready to abandon the simple nature of the first two games, and ended up sticking to their guns rather than venturing forward. Understandable, considering that the game was rushed in its production, but the product still suffered. Uncharted 3’s quality is somewhere smack dab between the first and second games; not as atrocious as the freshman outing, but not as enjoyable as the sophomore either. It wouldn’t be until Uncharted 4 that Naughty Dog made good on their promise to deliver a mature Uncharted game.
Well, sort of.
That’s it for this round of my critique! We’ve got just one more game in the series, Uncharted 4. After that write-up, I’ll be talking about the series on the whole, and doing a big ‘ol recap of what the series did right, what it did wrong, and how it could improve in the future. I’m really excited to finish this series, so stay tuned! I’ll have the next installment out…soon.
See you then!