I know what you want to read below. You want to read all about how Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception is a bona fide GOTY contender that sets a new benchmark in the action-adventure genre. It would be fantastic to be able to write that review for Naughty Dog’s latest, but it wouldn’t be honest. Despite achieving its goal of delivering another thriller of a blockbuster movie trapped in the body of a video game, the developer has wildly missed the mark on many of the actual “game” elements; that cannot be overlooked.
Drake’s Deception looks and sounds absolutely spectacular – it’s probably the best on the PS3 in both of those categories. The inspired art direction and incredible technical wizardry on display combine to form a marvelous delight for the eyes that will wow even gamers with the highest of standards. Players trot ‘round the globe to exciting locales such as Syria, France, and England; and they’ll all be sold on the illusion of actually being there.
The architecture is marvelous and it all comes to life thanks to the brilliant iridescence Naughty Dog paints it in and the believable NPCs they fill it out with. Cities are bustling with life, castles feel ancient and give the impression that wonderful discoveries are awaiting around every corner (they often are), and the natural beauty of the moon-lit dessert is awe-inspiring in its grandeur and depressing in its desolation. Both small details like individual grains of sand caught in Drake’s hair and in-your-face elements such as entire environments being ripped asunder create the impression of a great atmosphere. It’s difficult to put down something that appears so captivating.
Deception’s score is also outstanding. It’s always clear precisely what level of urgency is appropriate for any given situation. Each piece further pulls one down into the depths of the portion of the game over which it is played. As all great scores do, this one creeps into the player’s subconscious and informs him/her exactly how they should be feeling from moment to moment.
Voice work is superlative, as it has been throughout the trilogy. Nolan North is Nathan Drake; the character could not have been so successfully brought to life by anyone else. Sometimes the cheese gets stacked a bit thick, but those lighter moments help to break up the more serious aspects of the title and usually come across as good, stupid fun. The rest of the cast turns in fabulous performances, too. Superb writing blends wonderfully with the voice-overs to create characters with development arcs that are fascinating to watch, rather than the caricatures of other games that are amusing only in passing.
Speaking of the writing, the scribes have again weaved a yarn worthy of the silver screen. It’s another crucial ingredient in recipe that will keep nearly everyone hooked until curtain call. The bond between Drake and father-figure Sully is strengthened to the point of it becoming one of gaming’s most believable relationships. Elena is oddly absent in the early going, but pops in eventually to play a prominent role. The villains aren’t nearly as multi-dimensional as the heroes, but they certainly possess personalities that go beyond the mere Pinky and the Brain “Try to take over the world!” basics we’re used to as gamers.
Uncharted 2 was famous for being stuffed full of wondrous set pieces. This threequel can’t quite keep pace with it in that regard, but it tries its damndest to do so. The aforementioned dessert is fantastic and it’s just one of several beautiful environments that your eyes will be glued to. Nothing on display here can overtake the quaint towns of Nepal or insanely awesome train hanging over a snowy cliff, but this third entry certainly has its moments in that regard.
It unfortunately loses some of its majesty by the almost laughable amount of crazy shenanigans that Drake survives without a scratch. Naughty Dog tries their best to paint a picture of a man at wit’s end that somehow summons the strength to overcome, with everything in the world stacked against him, when he stumbles without water for days through the dessert into an ambush. Taken by itself it would have been a fantastic sequence, but it just doesn’t work due to what came before it.