Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception (Review)

I played Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception over the course of about seven months. I initially started playing back in August of 2021, but I stopped after only a couple of hours. There was a simple reason for this- I was burnt out on Uncharted. 

I had played and finished both Uncharted 1 and 2 in May and June respectively. Uncharted 3's gameplay was, and still is, by no means bad, but due to my unique circumstances, I found it extremely samey due to the fact I had just played fifteen hours of basically the same thing. The Uncharted formula had lost its appeal to me- temporarily at least.

Over the remainder of the year, I played the game in little bits and pieces. By the time 2022 rolled around, I had made my way to Chapter 7. Slow-moving, but progress nonetheless. At the end of January, Uncharted: The Legacy of Thieves Collection was released on PS5, a remastered collection of Uncharted 4 and Uncharted: Lost Legacy. 

Suddenly, people across social media and online forums were talking about Uncharted. The chatter was inescapable and the bandwagon too powerful. Spurred on by the series' newfound attention online, I made the commitment to dive back into Uncharted 3 and finish the game once and for all. 

Source: PlayStation

Now I mention all of this because my thoughts about this game are scattered and incoherent. For me to write a detailed review of a game, one that covers all aspects from gameplay to story to visuals and everything in between, I need to take notes while playing. 

I did not take notes while playing this game, none at all. This leaves a gaping hole in my critique of much of the early and middle sections of the game. I also played the game over a long period of time, and this impacts how much of my thoughts on the early game I actually remember. 

I'm saying all this because this isn't one of my traditional reviews. I am not going to cover all aspects of the game in as much detail as I would like to because frankly, I don't feel knowledgeable enough to do so. Instead, I have a few lines of notes I took down upon finishing the game which I would like to expand upon in this article. I will delve into these points in detail, but not all aspects of the game will be covered.

So with that preambulatory disclaimer out of the way, here are some thoughts on Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception.

*spoiler warning*

A Character Story

Just like both previous entries in the series, Uncharted 3's overall plot isn't very good. The search for a lost city that contains vast sums of treasure has been done before, both by other pieces of media and the first Uncharted game. While the draw towards finding this treasure exists for Nathan Drake and his companions, it didn't resonate with me all that much. What did resonate with me however are the characters and their relationships. 

Nathan Drake and Victor Sullivan are once again superb. Their father-son dynamic and witty one-liners kept me invested and entertained throughout the game. Just like Nathan Drake cares about Sully, I do so too, and this comes to fruition when about midway through the game Sully is kidnapped, and you (the player) must go find him. Not only does Nate want to rescue his friend, but you want to do so too, and there is genuine motivation to push through these sections of the game so that you can find and save Sully. 

The game's second chapter is a flashback to Nate's childhood and provides much-needed clarity about how Nate and Sully first met. This is appreciated and gives players an interesting glimpse into the duo's past, while also tying into the game's main plot.

After her and Nate's reconciliation at the end of Uncharted 2, Elena's absence at the start of Uncharted 3 may come as a shock to some players. And while this may remain in the back of players' minds as they move through the game's early chapters, Nate and Sully are joined by two other companions. Chloe Frazer returns after her role in Uncharted 2, and she is joined by Charlie Cutter. Together with Nate and Sully, the four of them start the game off together in their search for the lost city. 

Chloe is familiar to players of the second game, and her character remains much the same. Charlie is positioned as an old friend of Nate and Sully, and his character is mostly fine but doesn't possess the same stand-out personality that Chloe does. Chloe and Charlie are no Elena Fisher, but they do a decent job in her absence.

Source: Screenshot taken by me

Charlie Cutter's reveal is a cool one, with the character posing as one of the enemy before the game reveals it was all a ploy and Cutter is instead working with our protagonists. This hoodwink manoeuvre was orchestrated so that the gang can get closer to Katherine Marlowe- the game's main antagonist. Marlowe is after the same lost city as Nate and the gang, and during the game, it is revealed that she is the leader of a centuries-old secret order that uses intimidation to get what it wants. 

I am not going to dive too deep into the game's main narrative here - you can read a wiki entry to find out about that - but I am going to tell you what I think about Marlowe as an antagonist.

Marlowe is a decent villain. It's debatable whether she is better than Lazarevic from the second game, but I think she is vastly better than Roman from the first. Marlowe has the evil potential, and this is demonstrated when she sets fire to the platform Cutter is standing on - leaving him to break his leg while attempting a ludicrous jump to safety - and when she drugs Nathan Drake to get him to walk right into her hands. While she never directly comes to blows with the player during gameplay, she does exert an aura of power around her and fear onto her opposers. 

But apart from these two instances near the middle of the game, Marlowe doesn't really do much. We do encounter her again at the end, and to avoid spoiling the game's ending, I'm just gonna say nothing happens at the end to improve her as a villain. There is a lot of untapped potential here. Marlowe doesn't feature at all during much of the second half of the game. She is there at the very beginning, once again near the middle, and then right at the very end. I think the game should have been written with Marlowe playing a more prominent on-screen role. 

Coming back to Elena's surprising absence, you do finally meet her in the game's 10th chapter. You are then, not explicitly told, but instead subtly hinted towards the fact that some time between the 2nd and 3rd games, Nate and Elena got married, except they ended up parting ways. This was likely due to Nate putting his obsessive lust for adventure ahead of their relationship, but its clear the two still have feelings for each other. The two largely ignore their troubled past and get on with the job, but their constant dialogue shows the player that the chemistry between journalist and treasure hunter is still there. 

Source: Screenshot taken by me

The two are then separated again when Nate gets drugged by Marlowe, but he eventually finds her again after a long sequence that involves him being taken captive by pirates, freeing himself, and then trying to rescue Sully from a ship where he isn't actually being held. This may sound confusing but in the game it makes sense. Finally, the two characters show that they actually care for each other, but before a happy ending can take place, they still need to rescue Sully. 

Elena helps Nate get on board Marlowe's supply plane that's heading towards the lost city that Marlowe's convoy and a captive Sully are also on their way towards. For fans of the series like me, it was great to see Nate and Elena back together, and the game culminates in a beautiful sunset scene on a runway that is arguably more impactful than the ending scenes in both Uncharted 1 and 2. Heartwarming stuff. 

That Airplane Scene

You know the iconic airplane fight/crash scene from Uncharted 3? Even if you haven't played the game, I'm sure you must have at least seen glimpses of it in trailers or random YouTube videos. If not, then maybe you've seen the recent Uncharted movie, because even that had a recreation of this scene. 

The scene I'm talking about takes place in Chapter 17. Once you enter Marlowe's supply plane through its landing gear, you promptly end up falling asleep or passing out. I can't tell which one it is but it doesn't really matter because once you wake up/regain consciousness, you crawl through the air ducts to get into the plane's main cargo hold. Unfortunately, you crawl right out under a big brute, who slams you against the wall and against all good judgement, decides opening the rear loading ramp to throw you out of the plane while flying thousands of feet in the air is a good idea. 

After a short fistfight on the rear loading ramp, you unhook one giant storage crate and it goes tumbling out of the airplane, taking the big brute along with it. Rather comically, this ends up detaching all the storage crates from the holding bay, so along with the rest of the cargo, you are promptly swept out of the plane, Luckily, the tethers connecting one bunch of cargo holds strong, so you grab onto the cargo that's now hanging out of the plane and begin climbing back up into the holding bay. 

Once you climb back into the holding bay, the tether finally snaps sending the cargo crashing down to the desert below. Back in the holding bay, you engage in a short gunfight with some enemy soldiers which leads to some fuel barrels exploding and the plane catching on fire. Suddenly it's all chaos. The plane breaks into two and barrels down towards the sandy desert below. You are violently thrown out of the plane and fall into the path of a conveniently falling piece of cargo. The cargo's parachute opens and you slowly but safely descend down towards the sand dunes below. If you want, you can watch the scene through this link.

Source: Screenshot taken by me

Before I share my gripes with this entire set-piece, I think it deserves some appreciation. NaughtyDog nailed the cinematic aspects of the scene, with the shots of the plane flying through the sky and the view of the desert below. The physics of tumbling crates of cargo are also cool to witness, and the way you end up slowly descending down to the flaming carcass of the airplane while riding on a piece of parachuted cargo is extremely badass. 

What the developers didn't nail however is making this set-piece interactive and different from the rest of the game. All you do is fist-fight, climb, and shoot from behind cover- three actions that are the staple of the game's gameplay loop. There is nothing unique about this, nothing that sets it apart from the rest of the game. There is the fact that this is all taking place in an airplane thousands of feet in the air, but simply having a cool setting isn't going to do all the work. 

I wish the developers did something with the part where you are climbing back onto the plane. It would have been so cool to see Nathan Drake leaping from one cargo crate to another as they fell downwards, while at the same time having to shoot enemies on the loading ramp. There was so much potential to do something really fun and kinetic with the cargo crates as they tumbled out of the plane. 

It's possible the technology of that time wasn't able to handle such intensive sequences, and maybe I am being too harsh on the game, but I just felt that the set-piece lacked something special. I am sure other people loved the set-piece, and to an extent, I can understand why. 

Source: PlayStation

There was another set-piece in the game which I liked much more. The caravan chase in Chapter 20 sees Nathan and newfound friend Salim chase down Marlowe's convoy across the Yemen desert on horseback. Controlling the horses is easy, and they actually run pretty fast, giving a good sense of speed. You chase after the caravan to rescue Sully, who is being held captive. 

During this chase, you can leap onto trucks to take out enemies who are firing at you, as well as use the truck as a cover spot to shoot other vehicles from. Trucks eventually catch on fire, however, and you must quickly jump back onto your horse which is conveniently running right alongside. You make your way through the speeding convoy, taking out trucks, jeeps, and bikes along the way. A quick cutscene later, Sully is rescued and the chase comes to an end. 

This entire caravan chase is exhilarating and action-packed. It sees you leaping from horse to truck, and trying your best to shoot down fast-moving targets. Its a lot of fun and elements of this sequence can be found in the famous car chase chapter from Uncharted 4.

Cool Environmental Effects

There are three instances during the game where I feel cool environmental effects are made use of. At the end of chapter 11, Nate is drugged by Marlowe, seemingly through a dart fired at his neck. This makes Nate hallucinate, and changes the way the player sees the game world. As the player runs through narrow market streets, the environment gets distorted. 

Everything is tinted red, and there's this haze with prevents you from seeing ahead clearly. The walls to your side and the road beneath your feet bend out of shape, all the while Nate's body is stretched out of proportion in some instances and squeezed tightly in others. Weird loud music plays in the background. It is an extremely trippy experience, one that makes the player uncomfortable. This is really cool and immerses the player into the experience. If my memory serves me correctly, this same thing happens towards the end of the game, but since the player has already experienced it before, it isn't as impactful as it was earlier.

The next cool use of the environment is in chapter 13. The player has to make their way across a bunch of moored boats and rafts while a storm is raging, leading to crashing waves and turbulent footing. This entire section is incredible. The work done to make the sea come to life is amazing, and shooting enemies while the boat you are standing on is rocking side to side is a real challenge. My pathetic description does this section a ton of disservice. Give it a watch yourself, it's really cool.

Source: PlayStation

The third cool environmental effect is the sandstorm in the latter half of chapter 20. After the caravan chase I spoke about earlier concludes, Nate, Sully, and Salim make their way towards Marlowe's convoy, during which they run into a sandstorm. Here, Nate and Sully get separated from the rest of the group. Still in cutscene form, Sully and Nate stumble onto the tail of the convoy, where the player is tasked with taking out enemy soldiers.

The sandstorm is still raging on, which adds a new layer to the fight. Visibility is low, and it's hard to see where enemies are standing. While this makes it harder to hit your target, it also means enemies can't see you sneaking up on them, making stealth more viable. I chose to go all guns blazing since my stealth skills suck, and firefights in the swirling sand are adrenaline-pumping moments. While not as nuanced as the previous two, the sandstorm is cool in its own right, and it's certainly an interesting moment when you ride your horse headfirst into it. 

General Improvements To Combat

I felt combat was better in Uncharted 3 than in both previous entries. Uncharted 3 had a lot more urban environments, and fewer shootouts took place in forests or the general wilderness. This worked well with the cover-based system Uncharted employs. Urban environments mean there is generally more natural cover. It also means that whatever pieces of cover the developers have placed in the combat arenas have more of a reason to actually be there. The slightly more indoor arenas also meant there was less sideways space to move into, meaning if I had to leave my original spot of cover, I had to push forward towards the enemy. This made the combat in Uncharted 3 more fast and aggresive.

I have no way to tell if this was an actual gameplay tweak made in Uncharted 3, but I felt as if the shooting and cover mechanics were less floaty and more grounded. I don't mean that Nate's actions were more realistic, I mean that Nathan Drake actually felt attached to the ground and to objects he took cover behind like gravity actually was a thing in this game world. I was able to move between cover more confidently due to the game's cover mechanics actually working consistently and not occasionally leaving me standing between two pieces of cover like an idiot. Vaulting over cover also felt much smoother and therefore more viable to use during intense gunfights.

Source: PlayStation

The shooting and cover mechanics in Uncharted 1 and 2 felt very loose, and Uncharted 3 fixed this issue I had with the game's physics. Was this a real change, or am I just imagining things? I don't know, and there's no way to tell. Call me crazy, but I just liked Uncharted 3's combat better. 

Another thing in the game that made combat better were the additional guns added to it. Uncharted 2 did expand on Uncharted 1's arsenal, but it drip-fed the player with new guns very slowly. Uncharted 3 on the other hand seemed to not only bring in a few more firearms but also introduce them much earlier on, meaning more time could be spent with each weapon. 

The Supernatural Factor

In my Uncharted 1 and Uncharted 2 reviews, I complained about the inclusion of supernatural elements in the game. Uncharted 1 had those zombie-like creatures, while Uncharted 2 had the Shambala guardians. Uncharted 3 has the djinn- supernatural fire-wielding demons that Marlowe wants to use to control her enemies through fear. 

Once again, I do not like the inclusion of supernatural elements in the game. I think they were added because all action-adventure media at that time seemingly had to have something like this. The story could've been just fine being about a hidden city with enormous wealth. I also think these djinns ruin the game's combat system, similar to the zombies and guardians from previous games. You have to use snipers and grenade launchers to do any substantial damage, and using the cover system is not viable as the djinn will just get close to you and burst into flames, dealing loads of damage. 

It should be noted that quite a few people do like the inclusion of supernatural elements, so NaughtyDog hasn't gone all wrong here, but personally, I don't like their inclusion in the games and feel that they most definitely mess with the flow of combat.

Source: Screenshot taken by me

Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception is a superb conclusion to the original trilogy and a great game in its own right. It seemingly wraps up Nate and Elena's relationship arc once and for all (although Uncharted 4 bulldozed right through this), and provides even more of that Sully wit and charm we all love to see.

It does many things really well like combat, general gameplay loop, and environmental design, but also falters in similar places to its predecessors. Having now played all four mainline Uncharted games, it's clear how NaughtyDog's formula developed and improved from Uncharted 1 to Uncharted 3.

I strongly recommend Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception- just make sure you play 1 and 2 first.

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