Gamers are a story-starved lot. Case in point: the success of 2009’s Uncharted 2: Among Thieves. Its zippy storyline and witty, conflicted characters proved potent enough to make gamers forgive what were, even then, outdated gameplay mechanics.
In Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception, the story still zips and characters are still conflicted, but targeting is as twitchy as ever, bad guys still require three or four shotgun blasts to the head before they’re deterred, and the game’s star, Nathan Drake, still has no clue whatsoever about how to crouch. Two years after Thieves, Uncharted’s gameplay mechanics and conventions are no longer dated; they’re borderline archaic.
Drake and sidekick Victor Sullivan cross deserts, seas, and continents in search of “the Atlantis of the desert.” The game’s dialogue, written by series writer Amy Hennig, is often funny and poignant. In one cutscene, Drake and an ex discuss their failed marriage; a running joke involves Sullivan saying things which sound dirty out of context. Yet the narrative beats are more familiar this time. Tombs are plundered, treasures are discovered, and moments later, villains arrive as usual to claim said treasures. Impressive setpieces punctuate the game—most memorably, Drake must escape from a sinking ocean liner. Yet these moments somehow always feel shoehorned into the experience, as if developer Naughty Dog concocted them in advance, then built the rest of the game around them.
Much would be forgiven if the gameplay weren’t so woefully faulty. Creeping up on a goon for a stealth kill can result in Drake inadvertently performing a somersault—ta-dah!—into the goon’s backside. Drake moves like a staggering stew-bum, and as a result, cheap, undeserved deaths abound. The fuzzy mechanics also hamper the game’s superfluous multiplayer, which gamers will likely flock to for a few nights before returning to the more reliable confines of Black Ops and Halo.
Uncharted 3 shows more people and more places, but tells players less. Gamers felt like they knew Nathan Drake at the end of Uncharted 2, at least a little. But by the closing moments of Uncharted 3, after spending 12 or so hours in his shoes, players somehow wind up knowing even less about him than they did at the game’s beginning.