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Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception Review

Chi Kong Lui's picture

The iVideo Game Apple would've Made

Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception Screenshot

HIGH My son telling me to jump back onto my horse after I chased down a moving truck with it, jumped into the back, and took out a bad guy.

LOW You’d think Drake has Wolverine-like healing powers after crashing through the floor for the umpteenth time.

WTF A middle-aged Sully convincing a teenage Drake to stay with him. There has to be some international law against that.

Apple has become one of the most successful and richest companies in the world by taking preexisting gadgets like MP3 players, smartphones and tablet PCs and applying an unparalleled level of industrial design and marketing hype to make them appealing to the mass market. In that sense, if Apple ever decided to develop video games for the current generation of console platforms, I suspect it would look much like the Uncharted series—which has now reached the end of a trilogy with Drake's Deception.

In its two previous iterations, the Uncharted games have taken the third-person action genre to another level by crafting Hollywood-like experiences with remarkably high production values and believable character performances aided by innovative motion-capture technology. Much like Apple, the developers of Uncharted have a keen vision on making that experience accessible to hardcore and casual gamers alike.

For the most part, Drake's Deception predictably follows the Uncharted model to a "T" with its returning cast of underwritten but well-acted (and likable) characters and set-pieces tailor-made for trailers that will blow viewer's minds.

However, my biggest problem with the Uncharted series has always been that the accessibility comes at the expense of any significant progress in terms of game design and interactivity. By being a jack-of-all-trades that derives much from its contemporaries in terms of gameplay design, Drake's Deception is ultimately a master of none. Though polished and streamlined, the end result feels as though the game is trying its darnedest to get out of a gamer's way rather than actually engaging or challenging them. For example, if a player struggles with a puzzle for a few minutes, the game offers up the solution. Climbing pathways are marked with impossible-to-miss colored bricks and/or ledges. The game auto-saves progress and step-by-step checkpoints ensure players will never repeat more than a minute of play upon death.

It's somewhat ironic that the frequent handholding intended to keep up the brisk pace of gameplay only serves to amplify any bumps typical of most other video games. Players don't expect to fail, so when death comes or there's confusion as to which direction to head in a stage, annoyance and frustration sets in faster than one would expect in single-player campaign that takes only around 10 plus hours to complete.

In my opinion, this is what happens when a game doesn't ask much of its players, and actually expects even less. While one can appreciate the level of craftsmanship that drives players towards this universal experience, the pandering degree of guidance replaces any sort of depth for a player to sink their teeth into. Beyond the multiplayer modes, there's very little reason to replay or even remember much of the main campaign.

The one saving grace of gameplay is that after the second half of the game gets underway (with the plot's plausibility firmly in the back seat) players are shoehorned into a series of remarkable stages that feel less like directed experiences and more like playgrounds to be engaged in. It is in these moments that the petty annoyances and frustrations subside in lieu of an exciting blend of platforming, shooting and even horseback riding action that didn't exist in the prior two games. In these stages, I found myself enjoying the game as a game and not as a second-rate Hollywood movie with things exploding and collapsing as I run towards the screen.

Following the hyper-approachable formula used by Apple in the electronics industry, Naughty Dog has crafted another Uncharted game that a majority of players will feel is a welcoming and praiseworthy achievement. However, in comparison to many of its contemporaries, the gameplay ultimately feels stale and doesn't emphasize the more unique and rewarding qualities that separate video games from other media. Uncharted 3 represents the pinnacle of Hollywood mimicry, but I can't help but wonder if we're starting to see diminishing returns in that endeavor. Perhaps games as a whole would be better served to define their sense of value on their own terms. Rating: 7.5 out of 10.

Disclosures: This game was obtained via rental and reviewed on the PS3. Approximately 12 hours of play was devoted to single-player modes (completed 1 time) and 0 hours of play in multiplayer modes due to the requirement of purchasing an online pass.

Parents: According to the ESRB, this game contains blood, language, violence. Despite the game's PG Indiana Jones aspirations, there is a marathon of consistent "shit" talk from nearly all the characters that made me uncomfortable to play around my son. It is unfortunately a huge detraction for what would have been decent family-friendly fair.

Deaf & Hard of Hearing: There are subtitles for all dialogue throughout the game, but they need to be to be turned on in the options menu to display. There are no audio exclusive cues or hints that would make this game unplayable for the deaf and hard of hearing.

Category Tags
Platform(s): PS3  
Developer(s): Naughty Dog  
Key Creator(s): Amy Henning  
Publisher: Sony  
Series: Uncharted  
Genre(s): Adventure/Explore   Shooting  
ESRB Rating: Teen (13+)  
Articles: Game Reviews  

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I loved the game for the

I loved the game for the reasons you seem not to have been so impressed. I didn't buy it expecting huge replayability of the campaign, but for all the massive set-pieces and Hollywood style grandeur.

Also, glossing over the multiplayer means you've only reviewed part of the game. The multiplayer is fantastic and adds lots of value and longevity to the package. I doubt a review of Battlefield or MW3 would focus solely on the campaign, so I think it's a little unfair on U3. I appreciate that you played a rental and didn't want to shell out for a pass, but I think a review should consider the whole package.

Finally, I have to disagree that "Beyond the multiplayer modes, there's very little reason to... remember much of the main campaign" - there are plenty of spectacular stand-out moments that I reckon most gamers will remember after they finish! The opening brawl in London, the escape from the buring chateau, the cruise ship flooding...

I agree that the language is unnecessarily salty, and would have liked Naughty Dog to reign this in a bit!

Reviewing half the game

Reviewing half the game isn't a review. I shouldn't have to read through the entire review before I find out you are basing your review and score on only part of the game.

If you are going to review the game, cough up the $10 to review the full product. I noticed you reviewed the online components of Arkham City and Dirt 3, both of which include online passes, so why the change in standard here? You should be consistent across your reviews.

At the very least, put "single player review" in the title because this is not a review of the full product and shouldn't be treated as such. Putting a disclaimer at the end of your review doesn't give you a free pass to ignore a huge chunk of the game. What next? You only going to play half way through a game?

Not Needed if Not Included

Don't own a PS3, probably never will, but I will say Uncharted 3 is one of those games that make it tempting to find a cheap version of the console. The commercials I keep seeing on TV and all the items I've read about the game pretty much are summed up in your analogy to Apple products.

As for the other comments complaining about lack of mutli-player review, I don't quite understand the complaint. If the game doesn't come with a certain part accessible straight out-of-the-box (even while rented) then that part is obviously not needed to review the game in question. The real problem should be the fact that so many games are coming out with new material for which you have to pay extra.

Since when is tacked on mutliplayer half the game?

Review guideline suggestion: IF THE MAIN GAME ISNT MULTIPLAYER, THEN THE REVIEWER SHALL CONSIDER THE TACKED-ON MULTIPLAYER TO BE IN FACT, TACKED-ON MULTIPLAYER, AND MAY IGNORE OR REVIEW IT, AS THEY SEE FIT.

Multiplayer portion

While I understand the concern regarding not including multiplayer in the review, we have to be fair to Chi here and recognize that this was a financial limitation. Chi reviews games and pretty much has this site up out of love of writing and talking about video games; it's not like he's getting paid to invest in optional purchases. Also, while the title may reflect a review of the overall game, Chi upholds the policy of this site to transparently reveal the details by which he played the game. He expressly notes that he didn't play the multiplayer and the reason for it, so he's hardly being deceptive (pardon the pun).

Anonymous wrote: Reviewing

Anonymous wrote:

Reviewing half the game isn't a review. I shouldn't have to read through the entire review before I find out you are basing your review and score on only part of the game.

If you are going to review the game, cough up the $10 to review the full product. I noticed you reviewed the online components of Arkham City and Dirt 3, both of which include online passes, so why the change in standard here? You should be consistent across your reviews.

At the very least, put "single player review" in the title because this is not a review of the full product and shouldn't be treated as such. Putting a disclaimer at the end of your review doesn't give you a free pass to ignore a huge chunk of the game. What next? You only going to play half way through a game?

Thanks for commenting, Anonymous.

When you're arguing that multiplayer is meant to, in any way shape or form, make up for the failings of the singleplayer, you're best off stopping yourself right there. Chi's problems with the singleplayer represent flaws in the game that a review score is meant to reflect. This is exactly what he did.

If you were to ask Naughty Dog if Uncharted 3's multiplayer was meant to make up for mistakes made in the singleplayer, they would undoubtedly say no. So if the game is meant to stand up on singleplayer alone as the developers would certainly state, who are we to argue?

randomrob wrote:Review

randomrob wrote:

Review guideline suggestion: IF THE MAIN GAME ISNT MULTIPLAYER, THEN THE REVIEWER SHALL CONSIDER THE TACKED-ON MULTIPLAYER TO BE IN FACT, TACKED-ON MULTIPLAYER, AND MAY IGNORE OR REVIEW IT, AS THEY SEE FIT.

Surely MW's "main game" isn't multiplayer, but none of the reviews I've seen for it are soley for the campaign. If they were, it wouldn't be scoring so highly!

The multiplayer in Uncharted 3 is far from "tacked on", it's been designed as part of the Uncharted 3 package from the very beginning and is full of different maps, game modes including coop and local split screen, so arguing that it's not part of the package and can be ignored in a review is daft.

Matthew K wrote:While I

Matthew K wrote:

While I understand the concern regarding not including multiplayer in the review, we have to be fair to Chi here and recognize that this was a financial limitation. Chi reviews games and pretty much has this site up out of love of writing and talking about video games; it's not like he's getting paid to invest in optional purchases. Also, while the title may reflect a review of the overall game, Chi upholds the policy of this site to transparently reveal the details by which he played the game. He expressly notes that he didn't play the multiplayer and the reason for it, so he's hardly being deceptive (pardon the pun).

[I am the first Anonymous poster, not the second] Surely this is going to be more and more of an issue in the future as network passes etc become more prevalent. I completely understand that someone renting a game might not want to shell out money for the multiplayer features, but I think that is an issue when it comes to writing a review for public consumption - I, for one, expect a review to cover the whole package. Having said that, I appreciate that Chi and other reviewers on your site make full disclosure about how much of the game has been played, and think it adds a lot of credibility to your reviews. Which is why I frequent the site.

To revisit a point in my other comment, I'd be interested in how a reviewer playing by rental would review MW3 if it required a network pass. I wonder if MW3 is almost the opposite of U3, in that people consider the single player campaign "tacked on". How would a review solely of it's multiplayer without any reference to the campaign go down?

(See Name)

Dear Chi,

I've arrived at your page after going through a slew of reviews from gamerankings.com. I always like to read the most dissenting opinions of a game, and your score of Uncharted has without doubt influenced the game's standing on the site. If nothing else, I'd like to thank you for being honest about your opinion, and giving me some food for thought.

Before I go further, I'd like to admit that I haven't played the game, nor do I even *own* a PS3, so everything I say here will be based on discrepancies between what other reviewers have said, and the value judgments you make.

I'd like to start off with the startling view you take on the series as a whole. Within a few jaded sentences, you seemingly dismiss what was likely months (or years) of technological and artistic efforts put into making the game the cinematic experience it attempts to be. I think it's fair to say that there are very few games as visually enticing as Uncharted 3, or as heavily praised for their plot and locales. In too many ways this seems like going into the premier showing of James Cameron's Avatar and saying "graphical charms aside, the story, while good, is simply a re-imagination of tales like Pocahontas." I don't understand it, because if Uncharted 3 doesn't deserve accolades for its visuals, plot, and voice acting, I can't imagine what games which don't boast this kind of production quality would receive.

It's important to note that the only reason I feel it's necessary to ask you these questions is because your review holds rather serious sway among a rather large collection of 9.5/10 and 10/10 review scores. After reading not one, but many, many glowing reviews of the multiplayer experience, and how Naughty Dog is committed to giving its players more multiplayer DLC to keep the online community going, I am unequivocally astounded by your writing this review without playing the multiplayer. One of the primary criteria of a game's review in the industry is and has been longevity of play, and by skipping the multiplayer it's hard to believe that you've played enough of the game to make a value judgment about the game as a whole. When a game has strengths and weaknesses, the final review score is an account of how well the strengths balance out those weaknesses; in your case, I can only imagine how much more enjoyable player-versus-player combat would be given how disappointingly easy you found the first player experience. It seems deeply unfortunate and highly worrying that your biggest complaint for the game might have been addressed by the part you didn't review.

Maybe I'm blowing this out of proportion--it's worthwhile to stop and ask you who you're writing these reviews for, and whether you expected them to have any clout at all. Perhaps you're not the only review site reviewing only part of the experience, and a score aggregation site should have read your disclaimer rather than adding you to a list of more notable sites boasting glowing reviews. Is this review for people who plan to rent the game, and are not looking for the production values that have made Naughty Dog's critical darling the success it is? Or was it more important to get a timely review of the game out than it was to try out the full package?

Either way, I appreciate where you're coming from, and I'd be very keen to hear your reasoning. Thanks for a thought-provoking review!

Sincerely,
Jonathan

That's actually the opposite

That's actually the opposite of what I'd think, Eric! Game developers include separate modes almost explicitly to provide different experiences, which makes your question really unfair to ask at all.

Game developers include "easy mode" into games because not all players want a harrowing challenge, and just as often include "multiplayer" to let players truly put their skills to the test. It should go without saying that competitions in Starcraft 2 are significantly more challenging than the single player experience, or that playing Call of Duty against human opponents is a very different experience compared to taking down pre-programmed AI.

So if you were to ask Naughty Dog, "Do you think you included a separate mode because of the flaws in your single player," it's impossible to say yes to that without admitting there are objective flaws. But if you were to ask an almost identical question, "Do you think players seeking a bigger challenge (one of the shortcomings listed by the review) will find what they're looking for in the multiplayer," I don't think you can eliminate doubts that the developer might say "yes, that's one of the major reasons we put so much effort into developing online multiplayer, with a separate leveling system, perks, and are committed to downloadable content!"

Well, I guess I'll stop myself right here. But I hope I made a point!

My official response to not reviewing UC3 multiplayer

Hey Jonathan, thank you for the extensive and well considered comment. I hope you'll find answers satisfactory.

Confused wrote:

I'd like to start off with the startling view you take on the series as a whole. Within a few jaded sentences, you seemingly dismiss what was likely months (or years) of technological and artistic efforts put into making the game the cinematic experience it attempts to be. I think it's fair to say that there are very few games as visually enticing as Uncharted 3, or as heavily praised for their plot and locales. In too many ways this seems like going into the premier showing of James Cameron's Avatar and saying "graphical charms aside, the story, while good, is simply a re-imagination of tales like Pocahontas." I don't understand it, because if Uncharted 3 doesn't deserve accolades for its visuals, plot, and voice acting, I can't imagine what games which don't boast this kind of production quality would receive.

I'm not sure how a few of my "jaded sentences" were so dismissive. For the first three paragraphs of my review, I wrote what I thought was a largely fair and positive assessment of Uncharted's successes. I don't see how anyone could mistake being compared to what most people regard as the most successful company today as being anything, but glowingly positive.

In my review, I said that Uncharted deserves praise for exactly those areas you cited, but should the game be given a 10 rating and GOTY distinction on those merits considering some glaring problems? What I tried to communicate in my review is that I think that praise for its achievements should be a tad more balanced and put in proper perspective of game criticism given it's gameplay deficiencies and inconsistent writing.

Confused wrote:

It's important to note that the only reason I feel it's necessary to ask you these questions is because your review holds rather serious sway among a rather large collection of 9.5/10 and 10/10 review scores. After reading not one, but many, many glowing reviews of the multiplayer experience, and how Naughty Dog is committed to giving its players more multiplayer DLC to keep the online community going, I am unequivocally astounded by your writing this review without playing the multiplayer. One of the primary criteria of a game's review in the industry is and has been longevity of play, and by skipping the multiplayer it's hard to believe that you've played enough of the game to make a value judgment about the game as a whole. When a game has strengths and weaknesses, the final review score is an account of how well the strengths balance out those weaknesses; in your case, I can only imagine how much more enjoyable player-versus-player combat would be given how disappointingly easy you found the first player experience. It seems deeply unfortunate and highly worrying that your biggest complaint for the game might have been addressed by the part you didn't review.

Multiplayer modes often pose a uniquely difficult challenge for critics because they can be completely different and ever evolving experiences from the single-player campaign. Regardless of this challenge, I was certainly willing to put in a few hours of the multiplayer to see if it would influence my opinion, but being that this was a rental and my time was restricted, the online pass restriction essentially made my decision for me.

While I'm aware that this is perhaps a controversial stance to take, I felt two things still make my review of UC3 a valid one: A) I was honest about why the multiplayer mode wasn't reviewed given my own circumstances of play and B) I provided enough information for the consumer to base their decision on whether the game is right for them. If you're someone who puts a lot of value on multiplayer modes, its clear that you would probably enjoy this game more than I did. And lastly C) I thought it would spark some interesting points of discussion given the current direction publishers are taking with online passes.

The heart of the issue is that many people (not necessarily you) mistakenly believe that game reviews are part of some collective universal grading system where critics need to be "fair" and "unbiased". The problem is that we are not all 24-year old heterosexual white males writing for the like. Each critic brings their own unique background and perspective to a review and so long as writer is honest and intelligently articulate about that perspective, their writing will be useful and in service to the reader.

Just wanted to say loved the

Just wanted to say loved the review.

I'll also throw in my 2 cents regarding the multi-player. Frankly, it's not up to the reviewer to include it. The feature was not activated on the copy he received...they asked him to pay extra in order to play it, so it's not part of the core game...plain and simple. If all these developers want to force online pass on the customer, then that's one thing, but actually getting mad at a critic for not falling for the trick is absurd. You wouldn't get mad at a film critic for only reviewing Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1.

I wish more reviewers would separate the single player and multiplayer reviews. The experiences are often so extremely different, that they shouldn't be considered the same game. Forcing you to make an ADDITIONAL purchase in order to play it merely reinforces the idea that they are, in fact, 2 separate games.

To quote from this site's

To quote from this site's own Richard Naik, in his Battlefield 3 review: referring to whether the single player and multiplayer could be taken seperately:

"If a game is going to be packaged as one product, then it must be evaluated as one product."

UC3 review

Hey, thanks for a glaringly honest review. I'm playing this because it's one of the PS+ games for this month, and frankly, I'm bored out of my skull! Very few reviewers have the guts to say that a game with beautiful graphics, high production values, top-notch voice acting, a big-name studio behind it, and boring, insipid gameplay isn't actually any good. This game stinks! Most of the time, I'm just pressing forward or repeatedly tapping X. The combat is merely passable, and it's only about 20% of the game time. The rest of the time, you're basically doing Press A Button To Advance The Scene. It's as much a "game" as Call of Duty's Theater mode.

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