The iVideo Game Apple would've Made

Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception Screenshot

HIGH My son telling me to jump back onto my horse after I chased down a moving truck with it, jumped into the back, and took out a bad guy.

LOW You’d think Drake has Wolverine-like healing powers after crashing through the floor for the umpteenth time.

WTF A middle-aged Sully convincing a teenage Drake to stay with him. There has to be some international law against that.

Apple has become one of the most successful and richest companies in the world by taking preexisting gadgets like MP3 players, smartphones and tablet PCs and applying an unparalleled level of industrial design and marketing hype to make them appealing to the mass market. In that sense, if Apple ever decided to develop video games for the current generation of console platforms, I suspect it would look much like the Uncharted series—which has now reached the end of a trilogy with Drake's Deception.

In its two previous iterations, the Uncharted games have taken the third-person action genre to another level by crafting Hollywood-like experiences with remarkably high production values and believable character performances aided by innovative motion-capture technology. Much like Apple, the developers of Uncharted have a keen vision on making that experience accessible to hardcore and casual gamers alike.

For the most part, Drake's Deception predictably follows the Uncharted model to a "T" with its returning cast of underwritten but well-acted (and likable) characters and set-pieces tailor-made for trailers that will blow viewer's minds.

However, my biggest problem with the Uncharted series has always been that the accessibility comes at the expense of any significant progress in terms of game design and interactivity. By being a jack-of-all-trades that derives much from its contemporaries in terms of gameplay design, Drake's Deception is ultimately a master of none. Though polished and streamlined, the end result feels as though the game is trying its darnedest to get out of a gamer's way rather than actually engaging or challenging them. For example, if a player struggles with a puzzle for a few minutes, the game offers up the solution. Climbing pathways are marked with impossible-to-miss colored bricks and/or ledges. The game auto-saves progress and step-by-step checkpoints ensure players will never repeat more than a minute of play upon death.

It's somewhat ironic that the frequent handholding intended to keep up the brisk pace of gameplay only serves to amplify any bumps typical of most other video games. Players don't expect to fail, so when death comes or there's confusion as to which direction to head in a stage, annoyance and frustration sets in faster than one would expect in single-player campaign that takes only around 10 plus hours to complete.

In my opinion, this is what happens when a game doesn't ask much of its players, and actually expects even less. While one can appreciate the level of craftsmanship that drives players towards this universal experience, the pandering degree of guidance replaces any sort of depth for a player to sink their teeth into. Beyond the multiplayer modes, there's very little reason to replay or even remember much of the main campaign.

The one saving grace of gameplay is that after the second half of the game gets underway (with the plot's plausibility firmly in the back seat) players are shoehorned into a series of remarkable stages that feel less like directed experiences and more like playgrounds to be engaged in. It is in these moments that the petty annoyances and frustrations subside in lieu of an exciting blend of platforming, shooting and even horseback riding action that didn't exist in the prior two games. In these stages, I found myself enjoying the game as a game and not as a second-rate Hollywood movie with things exploding and collapsing as I run towards the screen.

Following the hyper-approachable formula used by Apple in the electronics industry, Naughty Dog has crafted another Uncharted game that a majority of players will feel is a welcoming and praiseworthy achievement. However, in comparison to many of its contemporaries, the gameplay ultimately feels stale and doesn't emphasize the more unique and rewarding qualities that separate video games from other media. Uncharted 3 represents the pinnacle of Hollywood mimicry, but I can't help but wonder if we're starting to see diminishing returns in that endeavor. Perhaps games as a whole would be better served to define their sense of value on their own terms. Rating: 7.5 out of 10.


Disclosures: This game was obtained via rental and reviewed on the PS3. Approximately 12 hours of play was devoted to single-player modes (completed 1 time) and 0 hours of play in multiplayer modes due to the requirement of purchasing an online pass.

Parents: According to the ESRB, this game contains blood, language, violence. Despite the game's PG Indiana Jones aspirations, there is a marathon of consistent "shit" talk from nearly all the characters that made me uncomfortable to play around my son. It is unfortunately a huge detraction for what would have been decent family-friendly fair.

Deaf & Hard of Hearing: There are subtitles for all dialogue throughout the game, but they need to be to be turned on in the options menu to display. There are no audio exclusive cues or hints that would make this game unplayable for the deaf and hard of hearing.

Chi Kong Lui

Chi Kong Lui

In the 1980s, Chi grew up in small town on the outskirts of New York City called Jackson Heights. Latino actor, John Leguizamo referred to the town as the "melting pot of the world," and while living there, Chi was exposed to many diverse cultures, as well as a bevy of arcade classics such as Pac-Man, Space Ace, Space Harrier and Double Dragon. Chi's love of videogames only seemed to grow as his parents finally caved and bought him an 8-bit Nintendo Entertainment System (after being the only kid in the block without one). In the 1990s, Chi finagled his way into the prestigious Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School for the Performing Arts.

Somewhere between all the gaming, Chi some how managed to finish high school and get into the New York Institute of Technology. At the same time, Chi also interned at Virtual Frontiers, an Internet software consultancy where he learned the ways of HTML. Soon after acquiring his BFA, Chi went on to become the lead Web designer of the Anti-Defamation League. During his tenure there, Chi was instrumental in redesigning and relaunching the non-profit organization's Web site.

Today, Chi is the webmaster of the American Red Cross in Greater New York and somehow managed to work through the tragic events of September 11th without losing his sanity. Chi considers GameCritics.com his life's work and continues to be amazed that the web site is still standing after the recent dotcom fallout. It is his dream that GameCritics.com will accomplish two things: 1) Redefine the grammar of videogames much the same way French film critic Andre Bazin did for the art of cinema and 2) bring game criticism to the forefront of mainstream culture much the same way Siskel & Ebert did for film criticism.
Chi Kong Lui

Leave a Reply

14 Comments on "Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception Review"

Notify of
avatar
Sort by:   newest | oldest
Josh S
Guest
Hey, thanks for a glaringly honest review. I’m playing this because it’s one of the PS+ games for this month, and frankly, I’m bored out of my skull! Very few reviewers have the guts to say that a game with beautiful graphics, high production values, top-notch voice acting, a big-name studio behind it, and boring, insipid gameplay isn’t actually any good. This game stinks! Most of the time, I’m just pressing forward or repeatedly tapping X. The combat is merely passable, and it’s only about 20% of the game time. The rest of the time, you’re basically doing Press A… Read more »
Anonymous
Guest

To quote from this site’s own Richard Naik, in his Battlefield 3 review: referring to whether the single player and multiplayer could be taken seperately:

“If a game is going to be packaged as one product, then it must be evaluated as one product.”

MVZ
Guest
Just wanted to say loved the review. I’ll also throw in my 2 cents regarding the multi-player. Frankly, it’s not up to the reviewer to include it. The feature was not activated on the copy he received…they asked him to pay extra in order to play it, so it’s not part of the core game…plain and simple. If all these developers want to force online pass on the customer, then that’s one thing, but actually getting mad at a critic for not falling for the trick is absurd. You wouldn’t get mad at a film critic for only reviewing Harry… Read more »
Chi Kong Lui
Guest
Hey Jonathan, thank you for the extensive and well considered comment. I hope you’ll find answers satisfactory. [quote=Confused]I’d like to start off with the startling view you take on the series as a whole. Within a few jaded sentences, you seemingly dismiss what was likely months (or years) of technological and artistic efforts put into making the game the cinematic experience it attempts to be. I think it’s fair to say that there are very few games as visually enticing as Uncharted 3, or as heavily praised for their plot and locales. In too many ways this seems like going… Read more »
(Another) Anonymous
Guest
That’s actually the opposite of what I’d think, Eric! Game developers include separate modes almost explicitly to provide different experiences, which makes your question really unfair to ask at all. Game developers include “easy mode” into games because not all players want a harrowing challenge, and just as often include “multiplayer” to let players truly put their skills to the test. It should go without saying that competitions in Starcraft 2 are significantly more challenging than the single player experience, or that playing Call of Duty against human opponents is a very different experience compared to taking down pre-programmed AI.… Read more »
Confused
Guest
Dear Chi, I’ve arrived at your page after going through a slew of reviews from gamerankings.com. I always like to read the most dissenting opinions of a game, and your score of Uncharted has without doubt influenced the game’s standing on the site. If nothing else, I’d like to thank you for being honest about your opinion, and giving me some food for thought. Before I go further, I’d like to admit that I haven’t played the game, nor do I even *own* a PS3, so everything I say here will be based on discrepancies between what other reviewers have… Read more »
Anonymous1
Guest
[quote=Matthew K]While I understand the concern regarding not including multiplayer in the review, we have to be fair to Chi here and recognize that this was a financial limitation. Chi reviews games and pretty much has this site up out of love of writing and talking about video games; it’s not like he’s getting paid to invest in optional purchases. Also, while the title may reflect a review of the overall game, Chi upholds the policy of this site to transparently reveal the details by which he played the game. He expressly notes that he didn’t play the multiplayer and… Read more »
Anonymous1
Guest
[quote=randomrob]Review guideline suggestion: IF THE MAIN GAME ISNT MULTIPLAYER, THEN THE REVIEWER SHALL CONSIDER THE TACKED-ON MULTIPLAYER TO BE IN FACT, TACKED-ON MULTIPLAYER, AND MAY IGNORE OR REVIEW IT, AS THEY SEE FIT. [/quote] Surely MW’s “main game” isn’t multiplayer, but none of the reviews I’ve seen for it are soley for the campaign. If they were, it wouldn’t be scoring so highly! The multiplayer in Uncharted 3 is far from “tacked on”, it’s been designed as part of the Uncharted 3 package from the very beginning and is full of different maps, game modes including coop and local split… Read more »
Eric Bowman
Guest
[quote=Anonymous]Reviewing half the game isn’t a review. I shouldn’t have to read through the entire review before I find out you are basing your review and score on only part of the game. If you are going to review the game, cough up the $10 to review the full product. I noticed you reviewed the online components of Arkham City and Dirt 3, both of which include online passes, so why the change in standard here? You should be consistent across your reviews. At the very least, put “single player review” in the title because this is not a review… Read more »
Matthew K
Guest
While I understand the concern regarding not including multiplayer in the review, we have to be fair to Chi here and recognize that this was a financial limitation. Chi reviews games and pretty much has this site up out of love of writing and talking about video games; it’s not like he’s getting paid to invest in optional purchases. Also, while the title may reflect a review of the overall game, Chi upholds the policy of this site to transparently reveal the details by which he played the game. He expressly notes that he didn’t play the multiplayer and the… Read more »
randomrob
Guest

Review guideline suggestion: IF THE MAIN GAME ISNT MULTIPLAYER, THEN THE REVIEWER SHALL CONSIDER THE TACKED-ON MULTIPLAYER TO BE IN FACT, TACKED-ON MULTIPLAYER, AND MAY IGNORE OR REVIEW IT, AS THEY SEE FIT.

frogofdeath
Guest
Don’t own a PS3, probably never will, but I will say Uncharted 3 is one of those games that make it tempting to find a cheap version of the console. The commercials I keep seeing on TV and all the items I’ve read about the game pretty much are summed up in your analogy to Apple products. As for the other comments complaining about lack of mutli-player review, I don’t quite understand the complaint. If the game doesn’t come with a certain part accessible straight out-of-the-box (even while rented) then that part is obviously not needed to review the game… Read more »
Anonymous
Guest
Reviewing half the game isn’t a review. I shouldn’t have to read through the entire review before I find out you are basing your review and score on only part of the game. If you are going to review the game, cough up the $10 to review the full product. I noticed you reviewed the online components of Arkham City and Dirt 3, both of which include online passes, so why the change in standard here? You should be consistent across your reviews. At the very least, put “single player review” in the title because this is not a review… Read more »
Anonymous
Guest
I loved the game for the reasons you seem not to have been so impressed. I didn’t buy it expecting huge replayability of the campaign, but for all the massive set-pieces and Hollywood style grandeur. Also, glossing over the multiplayer means you’ve only reviewed part of the game. The multiplayer is fantastic and adds lots of value and longevity to the package. I doubt a review of Battlefield or MW3 would focus solely on the campaign, so I think it’s a little unfair on U3. I appreciate that you played a rental and didn’t want to shell out for a… Read more »
wpDiscuz