To say that there was a significant amount of hype going into Uncharted 3 would be an understatement. In Uncharted 2, Naughty Dog crafted arguably one of the greatest titles of the modern era. Could Uncharted 3 once again raise the bar for the action/adventure genre? The answer isn’t exactly so black and white.
Uncharted 3 isn’t as good as Uncharted 2. There, I said it. A couple of months after the release of Uncharted 3 this opinion has remained tucked in the back of my mind, and doesn’t seem to waver. Sequels typically don’t see such radical changes to the core design; changes that are present and littered all over Uncharted 3. While there are tons of small improvements, most notably to the single-player, there are also far too many miscues that really hurt the overall experience; especially in the multiplayer.
Uncharted 3’s single-player takes you through (just to name a few) a burning chateau, stormy desert, and the mysterious London underground, while providing exhilarating set-pieces and well constructed puzzle sections. The set-pieces, much like Uncharted 2 is really what sets the Uncharted franchise apart from the competition. One of my biggest issues with Uncharted 3 is that some of the unique set-pieces are short-lived. Take for instance the flaming plane sequence. What could have been a relatively long set-piece just doesn’t last as long as it could have. That’s not to say that each of the unique set-pieces are short-lived, but rather the plane sequence is one of the worst offenders.
It doesn’t help that this particular sequence leads the player into one of the worst sections of the game. Roaming the desert kills quite a bit of the momentum that was built up, and the player essentially loses most of the control during this particular part. I completely understand the need to mix up the moments and tension, however it feels like this was poorly tacked on. That isn’t the only case of odd moments that really do nothing to progress the gameplay or story forward.
The main story arc also has a few issues. While I was a fierce supporter of the side stories and background context given to Nathan Drake, the overall plot was lacking in key sections. Both Talbot and Katherine Marlow were not nearly fleshed out as they could have been, especially when it comes to the reasons for finding the fabled “Atlantis of the Sands”. What was the origin of Talbot and Katherine’s relationship? Why and how was Katherine involved in the mysterious organization? These are the types of questions that aren’t properly explored. Without giving too much away, I was also quite disappointed with the ending. It didn’t really move any of the characters forward significantly, other than the implied relationship between Nathan and Elena. That’s great; however it’s not much different from what we saw at the end of Uncharted 2.
From a gameplay standpoint there are a few really great additions to Uncharted 3’s single-player. The melee system has been refitted to handle multiple opponents, and Naughty Dog did a fantastic job in the opening sequence of showcasing it. Players now have the option to throwback grenades which is incredibly useful in the desert locations. The aiming has been tweaked, though it’s difficult to argue that it’s any better than the system present in Uncharted 2. Uncharted 3 also does a much better job of adding verticality to the single-player, which makes some of the low key fire-fights more interesting.
After completing the excellent single-player, players will have the option to take their skills online. To be honest, the multiplayer offering is a complete mess. Uncharted 2 wasn’t overly complicated, however it was extremely balanced until Naughty Dog screwed it up with a few patches. There’s something to be said for the way they designed the multiplayer in U2. There wasn’t a level-based progression system that gave expert players horribly unfair advantages against newer or even mid-ranged players. I understand that this type of perk system, which is present in Call of Duty is extremely popular, however Uncharted 3 didn’t need it, and it was an absolutely horrible design decision on Naughty Dog’s part.
Essentially at this point there’s an eco-system in place that makes it impossible for new players to have a fair shot at killing higher level players. There’s no balance to the weapons, because essentially everything can be customized, and given a stat upgrade. It would have been better to give players tons of appearance features, without the stat upgrades, in order to combat the balancing issues.
Essentially there’s nothing Naughty Dog can do to regain balance in Uncharted 3’s multiplayer because of the way it was designed. In Uncharted 2 a basic tweak would have done wonders, however there are so many variables that it makes it very difficult to properly fix things. The maps also don’t really stand apart in any positive ways in comparison to its predecessor. Simplicity is a key to making a compelling multiplayer experience, and Naughty Dog failed horribly in this regard.
Despite my harsh criticisms of the multiplayer component I still believe Uncharted 3 is still one of the best titles of 2011. Is it as good as Uncharted 2? No, it’s not, however there’s a lot of value and positive tweaks that will be sure to please players.
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