DISAPPOINTED! Uncharted 3’s brawling component proves that something that seems as effortless as Batman’s combat engine is actually a rare feat.
What the hell happened? When Uncharted 2: Among Thieves came out just two short years ago, it hit like a bolt from heaven. Mixing an engaging story, eye-popping action set pieces, and unparalleled presentation, it seemed like the next evolutionary step for action-adventure games. Now we have Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception, which has more escapes, more death-defying drops, and more quips as our hero slaughters hundreds of bad guys. Drake's Deception delivers everything you'd expect from a new Uncharted game — and that's exactly the problem.
Uncharted 3 cycles among four major components: cinematic cutscenes, platforming sections, combat, and puzzles. The cutscenes are still the best in the biz, thanks to sharp dialogue and exceptional acting. Nolan North, the lead actor, has become something of a running gag in the gaming world because of his ubiquitous voiceover work, but his Nathan Drake remains the perfect union of player and part. It is the role he was born to play.
Despite their quality, the cutscenes are so pervasive that it can be hard to tell whether you are watching a movie or playing a game. That's not meant as a compliment. Sometimes I felt like I was pressing buttons just to feel involved in what I was watching; other times, I sat with the controller in my lap, waiting for my avatar do something, not realizing that I had regained control.
This is true even during action sequences. The more successful portions of Uncharted 3 feature Drake climbing, scrabbling, and hanging by his fingernails. These are fun enough, but they're packed with numerous non-interactive moments that you can see coming. By the tenth time Drake leaps across a chasm, grabs a handhold that breaks under his weight, and shouts "Crap!," it feels a little predictable. And Drake starts to seem less like an endearingly human protagonist than like a dullard with nothing more interesting to say than "Crap!"
But it's in the combat category that Uncharted 3 falls down, for two reasons. One, the gunplay just isn't executed well. Aiming is sticky, and taking cover while moving is a toss-up. You might crouch in safety, or you might somersault into the middle of the arena. From a narrative perspective, the length and repetition of the firefights strain credulity. Enemies keep joining the fray long after it seems necessary. They're like the guys in the cell phone commercials who got the Evite too late.
Uncharted 3 also has a brawling component, which has all of the simplicity of Batman: Arkham City's fisticuffs with none of the flair. Instead of balletic, flowing combat, you essentially stand still until an onscreen icon prompts you to press the counterattack button. It goes to show that something that seems as effortless as Batman's combat engine is actually a rare feat.
As our raffish protagonist racks up an increasingly genocidal body count, it becomes clear that we're going through the motions. We had a shootout; now we need a puzzle. We were in a burning building; now we're on a sinking ship. God help you if you try to deviate from the script. So intent is the game on giving you a cinematic experience that you might die a half-dozen times during a 30-second chase because you didn't step exactly right. This can be thrilling when it works, and stifling when it doesn't. But it's no surprise.