Ever since Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception launched in November 2011, its single player campaign has been declared by many as weaker than 2009’s Uncharted 2: Among Thieves. Although Uncharted 3 did launch with high critical acclaim by most media outlets, if you ask anyone about if you should play Uncharted 3 you’ll often be greeted with the answer: “No, skip it. Just play Uncharted 2 or play both Drake’s Fortune and Among Thieves.” This is then followed up with the question. “Why?”
And that question simply can’t be answered with just one reason. There are several reasons but in particular there are three big ones that are often brought up, which are: the narrative is unfinished, the pacing of the story is all off, and the gameplay and combat design is worse. As a result, Uncharted 3 comes off as a much weaker entry than Uncharted 2 among gaming enthusiasts and Uncharted fans alike.
1. The Narrative is Clearly Unfinished
The narrative in Uncharted 3 is unfinished, as evidenced by how many questions fans have at the end of the game. Naughty Dog had pegged a release date a full year in advance at Spike’s Video Game Awards in 2010. There’s no denying the super early release date confirmation affected the team’s ability to cram the entirety of the planned narrative into the game. They had to make cuts somewhere and these cuts happened to be story bits and as the game goes on questions about why or how keep piling and piling all the way until the end of the game.
For example, much of Talbot is never explained. While he is Marlowe’s right-hand man, much like Flynn is to Lazarevic in Uncharted 2, there’s some air of mystery around him. The clearest point in the game this can be shown is when Talbot mysteriously disappears just before Chapter 8. There’s no explanation given to how he was able to disappear. Then, just a few chapters later, Talbot gets “shot” and magically he is fine with no bullet hole in his suit. And while one can argue he was wearing body armor underneath his clothes, there’s no hint of this in the game so you may as well just throw any theory at the wall and hope it sticks to explain away that sequence.
Additionally, Talbot’s character as a whole is completely missing any background story. He runs away from Drake at some point in the game just so there is a chasing set piece. It goes completely against the context of the situation (Drake is captured, all the guards and even Marlowe are around to restrain Drake from running after him, Talbot has the upper hand, Talbot would never run away, etc). Yet the narrative is completely thrown out the window in the name of a set piece; while fun, it should have been either cut or placed more appropriately.
Furthermore, this isn’t even touching on Marlowe being completely underutilized as a villain. She barely gets any screen time and she’s never an active threat to the player. She also gets a very anti-climatic death at the end of the game; the player doesn’t even get to fight her! Instead, the player fights Talbot at the end. It almost seems like the roles for Talbot and Marlowe should have been switched around.
In any case, there’s many issues with the narrative. Including the unnecessary cruise ship segment of the game. Yet another part of the game that was created solely for a set piece and nothing more.
As a result, it boils down to the fact the game starts out pretty well but about mid-way through narrative issues begin to creep up. Right when Chloe and Cutter are axed from the story completely. This happened because the actors had other obligations but still, it’s an issue that goes all the way back to the initial release date they pegged. If they had another year, the narrative would have been fully realized.
2. The Pacing of the Story
It’s amazing the second game got this so right yet the third game got it so, so wrong. Uncharted 3 just doesn’t give the player enough time to soak in a single location. First you start in a bar in London and before you know it, you find yourself in France. You’re only ever in a given location for less than five chapters. While yes it’s a globetrotting adventure, Uncharted 2 does this aspect so much better.
It’s simple: Naughty Dog planned for too many locations for Drake to go. Uncharted 2 is very clean in the sense there’s only two major transitions: from the museum heist to Borneo, and then Borneo to Nepal. Everything that occurs in Nepal has the player go straight to the train, from the train to the Tibetan village, the Tibetan village to the Monastery and then finally Shambahla. The player feels like they’ve made this journey with Drake because the game funnels them through these environments; hardly taking control away from them (barring cutscenes, of course). It really feels like an adventure the whole way through with tons of action packed into it and some quiet moments to mix it up.
Uncharted 3, on the other hand, has you hopping from location to location without you actually going through the places in between those locations. Basically, the way Naughty Dog had this narrative structured was far too focused on going to locations without thinking about how important it is to make it so the player feels like they traveled to these locations. Instead, it’s just Drake and Sully taking planes or driving somewhere off-screen. There’s no control given to the player in the same way Drake goes through Nepal to Shambahla in Uncharted 2. Uncharted 3 simply does not funnel the player the same way.
However, the only instance where this occurs in Uncharted 3 is when Drake crashes from the airplane in the desert and he finds himself at the desert village. Then, Salim finds him and they travel to Iram of the Pillars after rescuing Sully. But it’s more that they stumble on it by luck. And there’s still lots of transitions in there. Which isn’t inherently a bad thing but again it just shows there wasn’t much thought put into how the player was supposed to end up at the lost city in Uncharted 3. It’s just another mark of how Naughty Dog was too focused on outdoing Uncharted 2 in spectacle (more locations = more amazing visuals to see) rather than thinking about what actually made Uncharted 2 so good.
3. The Gameplay and Combat Design is Worse
Finally, the gameplay and combat design is worse and though it can be hard to notice upon multiple playthroughs it becomes much clearer how much worse Uncharted 3 plays than Uncharted 2. Especially when you look at the encounters, level design, and the overall state the PS3 version launched in. In the original PS3 release of the game, the aiming was flat out inferior to Uncharted 2. Naughty Dog had to gather up some people from NeoGAF to their studio to pinpoint exactly what was wrong and then patch it with an option called “Alternate Aiming.” The mere fact this happened is enough to show the game was being rushed to market when it wasn’t ready. Thankfully, in the Nathan Drake Collection the aiming problems for Uncharted 3 are completely fixed and the result is the aiming is exactly like Uncharted 2; as it should have been in 2011.
But that’s not all, the combat design is worse in a lot of places in Uncharted 3. The only silver lining is the amazing Shipyard combat arena, but that’s only one out of a dozen of combat arenas in the game. The worst offender is the desert sandstorm combat arena just before Drake and Sully find the entrance to Iram of the Pillars. The AI can see you through the raging sandstorm but you can’t see them. They have perfect accuracy and there’s very little well placed cover in the area. While it is partially explained away with the henchmen having night vision goggles and Tau pistols (the only scoped pistol in the game) that still isn’t good enough of an excuse for having AI that knows exactly where you are 100% of the time in a desert sandstorm.
This is in complete contrast to the blizzard combat arena just after the train wreckage in Uncharted 2. In Uncharted 2, there’s a lot more cleverly placed cover and it’s actually possible to stealth through this entire sequence. The enemies have clearly defined patrol patterns and the cover is placed in such a way that there’s multiple ways to stealth knockout a single enemy. That isn’t possible with the desert sandstorm in Uncharted 3, the player is forced to go into the offensive and alert all the enemies in the area. They set it up for stealth but it’s actually not possible to stealth the entire segment; only the first area Drake and Sully enter. Cover is placed to push the player forward rather than going in any direction the player likes and tackling the arena how they please.
Once again, this is more evidence of Uncharted 2 overall being a much better designed game. A sequence that was nearly copied over to Uncharted 3 is somehow done worse than Uncharted 2. It just doesn’t make sense. There’s more problematic arenas in Uncharted 3, such as two of the arenas on the cruise ship and the arenas where you fight the Djinn, which aren’t designed very well either.
In addition, there’s questionable decisions with the controls by having grab, roll, and taking cover all on the same button. And don’t forget about how aggressive the AI is, much to the game’s detriment, causing extremely silly situations to occur when in close quarter combat.
As a result of these reasons, Uncharted 3 overall is considered a much weaker game when compared to Uncharted 2. By itself, it does some things well such as the direction of the story in its attempt to explore Nate’s character and his relationship with Sully. However, the story elements are not enough to elevate the game above its problems. And it’s these reasons that keep it from being a stronger game than Uncharted 2 and why most people suggest to skip it.