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Critical Consensus: Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception

The battle between player agency and crafted spectacle rages on

When this console generation finally ambles to a close, when Microsoft and Sony have exhausted every "additive" feature or peripheral that could delay the inevitable for another few months, Naughty Dog's Uncharted 2: Among Thieves will stand out as the very pinnacle of a certain kind of game. The kind of game that trades interactivity and player expression for tight scripting and elaborate staging, going directly against what many see as the very nature of the medium, while still feeling like an essential part of it.

If the 40-something reviews currently circulating the internet are any barometer, Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception does a better job of being that kind of game than its predecessor - which is to say, it is a marginal improvement on what many hold up as one of the best games of the last 10 years, if not all time.

And if we're brutally honest, few would have expected it to be anything less. Giantbomb's Brad Shoemaker kicks off his 5 star review by paying lip service to this unspoken understanding. "If I were to tell you Naughty Dog has just delivered another superb Uncharted game, would you be the least bit surprised?" he asks, but Shoemaker wouldn't raise the question if he didn't already know the answer.

Ultimately, Uncharted 2 was the perfect realisation of a formula Naughty Dog roughly established with Drake's Fortune, the first game in the series. The problem Drake's Deception faces is that its predecessor got the mix so right, leaving only the responsibility of not dropping the ball - no small task, of course, but sticking to a formula is far easier than reinventing the wheel.

"By now, you should know if you're onboard with Nathan Drake's smirking brand of globe-trotting adventure or not. If you are, you could just stop reading here, because anyone who enjoyed the previous games should play Uncharted 3, full stop."

Frankly, that probably covers most people. Drake's Deception offers a pleasingly familiar mix of puzzles, acrobatics, gunplay and knockabout adventure, garnished with some of the most audacious set-pieces in an industry increasingly besotted with them.

"Man, those set pieces," Shoemaker opines. "The way the game frequently transitions almost seamlessly from gameplay to cinematic cut-scene back to gameplay in short bursts is just as exciting as it was when you'd never seen it done before. There's still nothing else quite like it.

The Telegraph's Tom Hoggins is also captivated by the Uncharted formula, but the mechanics of aiming and shooting - never the series' best quality - display a curious lack of attention in such a carefully polished package.

"Two years down the line, Drake's Deception gunplay can't help but feel just a little dated," Hoggins says in his 9 out of 10 review. "Weapons and feedback are a touch too light, while enemy AI can be erratic, often swarming on you with fierce intelligence, but just as often bumbling past your hidey-hole on set paths without acknowledging your presence."

"It's never less than punchy and fun, but given that it was the one area you could argue Among Thieves needed improving on, it's disappointing to see the core gunplay unchanged."

Nathan Drake's climbing skills, on the other hand, feels more precise than before, and the melee combat has been improved in a range of satisfying ways.

"Fights are longer and more dramatic, given a delightful dash of over-the-top Hollywood crash, bang and wallop. Drake can also now charge up to an armed assailant, yank the weapon from their hands before giving them a generous taste of the butt-end. It's a lot more fluid, with new animations stitching the brawling together fabulously."

Wonderful, so now there are even more ways for Drake - a supposedly good man in extreme circumstances - to maim and kill hundreds of faceless goons.

While the loss of agency grates, the developer's visual execution is peerless. It's impossible not to get swept up in the drama, and succumb to the ride

Simon Parkin, Eurogamer

Indeed, the juxtaposition between how Naughty Dog wants you to see its protagonist and the murderous feats the player makes him performs to accomplish his goals has been a sore point among beard-stroking critics since the start of the franchise. Drake's Deception doesn't resolve this, but Edge's 9 out of 10 review gives it credit for at least having a go.

"The Drake of previous installments was a likable everyman, historically conversant but inescapably shallow. Sure, he could save the day, get the girl (correction: girls) and crack a joke as deftly as Indiana Jones did a whip. But he could just as often feel like a vacuous narcissist with a taste for looting and third-world killing sprees."

In both previous Uncharted games, the Macguffin Drake lusted after was a single relic that featured prominently on marketing materials, instruction manuals and loading screens. This time, however, the focus of the quest is less certain, allowing Naughty Dog to drill down into the series' façade of wise0cracking heroism.

"Uncharted 3 hosts its fair share of gun battles and bloodshed, yet themes of fidelity and commitment muscle their way to the fore repeatedly. The backdrop of violence merely serves as a furnace which repeatedly tests the relationships between Drake and his comrades, most notably his mentor and father figure Victor 'Sully' Sullivan."

For Eurogamer's Simon Parkin, however, the aspects of Drake's Deception that most other critics spend hundreds of words drooling over are a given: the set pieces are spectacular, the art direction exquisite, the dialogue snappy and endearing, but these are all a part of the Uncharted formula, and for Parkin that formula is starting to feel restrictive.

"Uncharted 3 is the most exciting game in the world, but only until you deviate from the script," he says. "Beneath the spectacle there's a nagging feeling that your presence in the scene is an irritation rather than a preference."

"Frustratingly, you must always move at the script's pace. Enter a room with two giant cogs that need turning and Drake won't call over a comrade to help him until the correct sequence of cut-scenes has played out. The world is destructible, but only when Naughty Dog says so, and at times you cannot even un-holster Drake's gun, the developer simply disabling the button till the appropriate juncture. Oftentimes the game feels like a simple series of puzzles in which the puzzle is simply to locate the next trigger point for the drama."

The benefits of this approach certainly aren't lost of Parkin, who still awards the game a very respectable 8, but this is a reviews that assesses a game not on what it does, but what it doesn't do, all of which is predicated on the reviewers personal taste in videogames.

"The execution exhibits a kind of workmanship and polish way beyond the ambition of most other developers, let alone their abilities or budgets. As an expression of all that a video game could be, however, Uncharted 3 is narrow, focused and ultimately shallow."

"While the loss of agency grates, the developer's visual execution is peerless. It's impossible not to get swept up in the drama, and succumb to the ride."

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Matthew Handrahan avatar
Matthew Handrahan: Matthew Handrahan joined GamesIndustry in 2011, bringing long-form feature-writing experience to the team as well as a deep understanding of the video game development business. He previously spent more than five years at award-winning magazine gamesTM.