Before I get started, let me say for the record that Uncharted 2 remains my favourite PS3 exclusive and was my favourite game of the year 2009. The game is a fun throwback to movies like Indiana Jones; it has lots of humour, near perfect pacing and a well-rounded story. The game also has excellent graphics and sound. I’ve played other great PS3 exclusives, like Metal Gear Solid 4, Killzone 2 and 3, and the first three PS3 Ratchet and Klank games (I haven’t had time to play All 4 1 yet.) Every part of me wanted to enjoy Uncharted 3 as much as I did Uncharted 2.
Also, this article is based on the single-player mode because I’m not much of an online gamer. I prefer multi-player with real life friends over playing against random people any day. That said, Uncharted 3’s multiplayer is a huge step above Uncharted 2’s bare-bones multiplayer experience – and even that was fun. The maps in U3 are very creative and extra things like “Power play” add variety to the otherwise standard death matches.
Even the single-player mode does a few things well. It explores Nathan Drake’s darker side as a treasure obsessed man who is too persistent for the good of his companions. In previous games, he was only trying to stop the villain from gaining power. This time, he’s in a deadly race for, as far as he knows, treasure. On the other hand, the game throws all subtlety out and has every one of Drake’s friends say over and over again “You’ve gone too far this time Drake.” – That’s where the game’s problems start.
One of Drake’s allies in this game, Charlie Cutter, has claustrophobia. I guess becoming a treasure hunter wasn’t his greatest career choice then. Anyway, the scene where Cutter goes crazy after hallucinogenic drugs kick his claustrophobia into overdrive was brilliant. You have a fight where you’re trying not to hurt your opponent. The problem; you never see him again after the end of that mission.
(This scene was brilliantly done, but it's too similar to Drake being alone in the snow in Uncharted 2)
For a game that’s supposed to focus on Drake’s relationship with other characters, most notably Victor Sullivan, characters come and go way too much. For the first half of the game you’re interacting with Chloe Frasier and Charlie Cutter, but you only see them for two missions before Cutter breaks his leg and they leave the rest of the game. In the second half of the game, Elena Fisher returns, but you only see her for two missions and the game’s ending – more on that later. While you do see a flashback for when Drake and Sullivan first meet, and they do have some good character development together, their relationship isn’t explored as much as I hoped for.
As for the villains, well … this game’s villains almost feel inconsequential. Unlike the first two games, their motives are never fully explored. In the first game, the villain simply wants the statue from El Dorado to the point where he might even be delusional. In the second game, Lazarevic wants to become immortal – simple enough. Katherine Marlowe, the main villain, is less direct than the villains in the last two games. That’s perfectly fine and refreshing for the series. Beyond her methods however, she isn’t explored much as a character. She’s supposed to be cold and calculating, yet she never does anything nasty or hardcore enough to make herself interesting or memorable.
Marlowe’s right hand man, Talbot, feels like little more than an anti-Drake. He has the same basic skill set and resorts to using dirty tactics more than anything else. Most of your interactions with him are chase scenes that fail to advance the plot. He is barely explored as a character and I only remembered him as I did research for this article. The final battle with him felt anti-climactic as well. That leads to a bigger problem.
(In concept the villains are interesting, but the execution is just boring.)
This game is technically impressive. While it isn’t as much of a visual leap from the second game, the animation work is nothing short of amazing – in fact it’s the best animation work I’ve ever seen in a video game. The most technically impressive scene however, is the sinking cruise ship. The waves in the ocean aren’t just drawn, those are handled by the game’s physics engine; they’re real-time. But in the grand scheme of the game’s story, what’s the point of the cruise ship scene?
The cruise ship scene has nothing to do with the main story. Drake gets captured by pirates shortly after he escapes being captured by Marlowe. For two full chapters, you’re fighting nothing but pirates in a ship graveyard, a boat chase through a rising storm, and then on a cruise ship that starts to sink in the middle of the level. These are long chapters too, and comprise of several of the game’s most frustratingly difficult moments – more on that later.
You can’t just have a detour like this that has no effect on the rest of the game, especially one that lasts more than an hour. It just feels like an excuse to show off the game’s shiny new tech. If this was the game’s intro (and/or shortened,) I would have forgiven it. If you saw the pirates again after this, I might have forgiven it as well. Instead, you escape the sinking ship and you never see any pirates again.
(A technically impressive scene that has absolutely nothing to do with the main story.)
You know what would have been awesome? If the pirates were in Ubar, the sunken city in the desert, trying to get treasure. You could have had a 3-way chase/battle for the treasure; the main villains seeking power, the pirates seeking wealth, and you trying to stop the cursed artifact from harming the world. It would have been a 3-way war with actual significance to the plot.
Another question I have about the sinking ship scene is why is this necessary? There’s another similar scene with an airplane crash in the desert later on. Why do we need two big scenes like this in the same game? It’s almost as if the only way they can make this game exciting is by putting you in epic set pieces and throwing hundreds of enemies at you rather than having legitimately challenging AI. Uncharted 1 and 2 both had the same problem by the way.
As for the finale in Ubar, it felt rushed and cliché. It’s hard to describe how it feels rushed, but the cliché is obvious if you think about it. This is the second Uncharted game in a row where the location of the lost treasure is destroyed. Is this truly the only way to make the end of the game exciting? Not only that, but now it’s predictable how the games will end. This time, it doesn’t even make any sense. The whole city sinks in to the desert just because a small crane is blown up? Last time it was because the fountain of youth and its explosive liquid was blown up, which caused a chain reaction. Will a small crane blowing up cause an entire city to sink? That leads to my next problem.
The plot in this game progresses exactly like it did in Uncharted 2. The start of each game has Drake either injured or seemingly killed. Shortly after he falls to the ground/seems to die, there’s a flashback. The following gameplay is stealth based where you jump around on rooftops. You’re eventually betrayed/ discovered, and then the action begins.
(Top: Uncharted 3. Bottom: Uncharted 2. They don't just look similar,
but the context in the story is exactly the same.)
After you escape, you get the jump on the enemy even though they’re already in the area. In the second game, it’s a tomb raid. In the third game, it’s an enemy storage raid. Either way, you quickly discover a new location using artifacts that the enemy has already found but couldn’t figure out. The enemy soon arrives and tries to kill you. After a series of locations where you somehow remain one step ahead of the enemy, you’re eventually captured and have to fight your way out. Oh no, they have your friend and you have to get him/her back. See where I’m going with this?
Toward the end there are a couple chase scenes, and then the game ends in a lost city with the treasure that everyone’s seeking. The treasure is found, destroyed/sunk, and the last survivors try to escape the exploding/sinking city. The only survivors are Drake and all of his allies. Drake and Elena Fisher reconcile (again more on that later) and the game ends.
This game has an uncanny resemblance to another famous story too. Notice how there’s an early flashback to when Drake met Sullivan. You know what other treasure hunting fiction starts with an origins flashback? Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. What other treasure hunting fiction features a fight on a sinking ship? Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. It seems that the Holy Grail’s resting place was also destroyed in that movie, like the city that sunk in Uncharted 3. Hmm…
Uncharted 3 hits on every single note of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Both feature a canyon chase where the good guys are helped by a middle-eastern secret society, and the title character is trying to rescue a father figure/literal father more than he’s racing for the treasure. Both feature a sneaky character that finds alternate ways to manipulate the main character into helping the villains (Talbot for Uncharted, Elsa Schneider and Donovan for Indiana Jones.) There’s the blonde love interest, a boat chase (although Venice is different than the ocean I’ll admit,) and a burning building in both stories. Both of them explore the relationship between the main character and either a father figure or a literal father. The hero sneaks/barges onto an enemy aircraft for transportation aid, only to steal an airplane from the blimp/crash the cargo jet after he’s discovered.
Go ahead, re-watch the Last Crusade after playing this game and see how many similarities you can spot. Sure, I know this franchise is supposed to be like Indiana Jones in some ways. Part of the fun of the franchise is that it's a modernized Indiana Jones in game form. It's just that there are simply too many similarities to call this a tribute – it borders on rip-off whether intentional or not.
Uncharted 3 seems to lack any shred of originality that Uncharted 2 has. It feels like a rip-off of both Uncharted 2 and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. The series has become so formulaic that it’s become far too predictable for its own good. The story was written after some of the levels were created and it really shows. At least in Uncharted 2 every mission had at least a minor effect on the main story. Now to be fair, there are differences between Uncharted 3 and the Last Crusade, but there are so many similarities that it’s suspicious.
I promised earlier that I’d explore Elena Fisher, and now it’s finally time to talk about this. Drake’s relationship with Fisher is exactly the same in all three games. They start off at odds with each other, learn to work with each other when they have to, and they reconcile by the end of the game. This is both predictable and problematic.
(Nathan Drake (left), Elena Fisher and 'Sully'. This game reveals that Sully is Drake's pseudo father.)
In the first game, they were at odds because they simply didn’t trust each other. Drake didn’t want a journalist exposing his discoveries to the world and just wanted cheap transport. He was a jerk, but when they had to work together Fisher saw his better side. They fight alongside each other for most of the game and find themselves attracted to each other. There’s nothing wrong with that.
In the second game, they meet up about half-way through. Apparently they went their separate ways after the first game because of incompatible priorities in life. Through the course of the game, they grow even more attracted to each other than the first. While the game is subtle about it, it seems they finally start a relationship by the ending. Again, you fight alongside Fisher for a large portion of the game. That’s also perfectly fine.
In the third game however, the idea that they’d get back together is ludicrous. Just like the second game, they discover that their priorities in life are utterly incompatible. The game tries to be subtle about how far their relationship became, yet they both possess what appear to be wedding rings. You can’t throw those in there without telling the audience what happened – there’s no room for subtlety if they have what appear to be wedding rings. Did they divorce or did they just separate? That’s never explained. By the end of the game, they’re back together again.
While Fisher is a dignified character in the first two games, the idea that she’d fall for Drake again just makes her look like an utter fool. The same could be said for Drake. They’ve already had two falling outs in their relationship and the only thing that seems to bring them back together is risking their lives to stop a villain from gaining power from ancient artifacts. That can’t be the base for your relationship. And that’s the biggest problem with the game’s story.
The single-player campaign has gameplay problems this time as well. The first two games both had a couple overly frustrating moments. The first game’s finale was cheap because every enemy kills you in one hit. The second game featured the ancient warriors by the fountain of life that had way too much health and strength, making the first fight with them way too difficult, yet somehow the crossbows kill them in one or two hits.
This game has an overload of frustrating moments however. The pirate shipyard has several moments in particular where you’re overwhelmed by dozens of enemies at once in a relatively open environment – several of which either have ridiculously heavy armor or are using heavy machine-guns. Shortly after that you’re on the cruise ship, trying to fight multiple heavy-armor opponents on a moving environment, which makes it hard to aim. Your enemies don’t seem to have problems aiming their sniper rifles as the ship sways unpredictably – that’s not fair. This is coming from someone whose beaten every Halo game on legendary (except the first one, which I don't like,) all three Gears of Wars on insane, Timesplitters 2 and FP on hard and plenty of others. I'm experienced in shooting games, so when I'm having trouble aiming in one when the AI isn't, there's something wrong. I don't mean to brag, and I'd probably get destroyed in a pro tournament - just saying.
What might be the worst part is when you’re hallucinating in the final chapters. You’re fighting these demons with fiery skull heads with way too much health and speed. These guys aren’t even real in the game’s world, so how are they killing you? When you finally kill these guys, they explode, but these explosions only seem to harm you.
This game has some serious bugs and glitches as well, neither were apparent in the previous games. There are dancing enemy glitches that can make you have to restart from the last checkpoint. There’s a moon walking horse glitch that can potentially force you to restart chapter 19. There are occasionally glitches where you can walk out of the map in both campaign and multi-player. If they didn’t spend so much time on wave physics these glitches could have been fixed.
Ignoring the game’s glitches, the gameplay is still lacking in several ways. I loosely mentioned this earlier but why must this game rely on throwing hundreds of enemies your way to make things challenging? The AI in the Uncharted series is dumb and predictable. Regular enemies simply pop in and out of cover, rarely moving to a better position. Heavy armor enemies simply walk in your general direction, often firing their guns even if their shotguns don’t have the range to hit you.
Take Gears of War for comparison. Enemies will make co-ordinated efforts to flank your position. They’ll sneak up behind you and chainsaw you from behind. Enemies will shoot explosives at you to draw you out of cover so that their enemies can pick you off from the side. Sure, the AI isn’t brilliant like in FEAR 2 (haven’t played the third yet) but it’s competent enough to give you a challenge in smaller firefights. In Uncharted, they only get behind you if they’re lucky; otherwise you’ll drop them like flies or get swarmed by too many heavies while several sniper-rifles are aimed in your general direction.
Another problem is that as soon as one enemy sees you, everyone automatically knows exactly where you are. I thought we were long past this level of weak AI programming in blockbuster titles. You’d think that by the third game the AI would have improved.
(Like I said near the start, this game's multi-player is awesome.)
I’ve talked enough about the game’s problems. There are more, but the rest of them are minor and can be ignored. Like I said I still like this game, but it was a huge disappointment when compared to the excellent Uncharted 2. The originality is gone, the characterization ranges from disappointing to almost insulting, and the story has gaps and holes that bring the campaign mode down several notches. It’s still a good game but if there is an Uncharted 4, hopefully these issues will be fixed.