Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception is a far, far more fitting title than I would have thought. Something has gone terribly wrong in Naughty Dog's pulpy cinematic series.
Published: November 6, 2011
The problem here is that Batman integrated the core idea of the combat into its animation system with near-flawless results; The Dark Knight seamlessly branches his animations into varied, brilliant looking reversals that take into account the myriad punches and kicks of enemies, not to mention their position around Bats. The result is easily the best melee combat in any third-person game seen to date, and there's a stunning amount of depth there. In Uncharted 3, those blows are stiff, poppy sorts of reactions, and though Nate has a wonderful amount of variety to his finishing moves (he can bash someone's head into a pool table or bar, smash a bottle over their head or plunk a frying pan into their face, introduce them to a stove's burner and more), the actual combat is as stiff and predictable as can be, and the end returns diminish ever more quickly even as the game puts more and more of a focus on the combat.
So melee attacks have been "upgraded" even as the combat itself has become stiffer and more unforgiving. What seems novel and even brutal in a way the series hasn't seen before during these opening moments becomes an over-involved, possibly fatal process later in the game because most enemies aren't just bare-fisted, they're packing laser-precise weapons that will light you up from multiple angles when you try to repeat your brawling out in the open. Unfortunately, Uncharted 3 seems to ignore this tiny little detail, instead forcing situations where melee is necessary due to new enemies that will steadily march toward Nate's cover, heavily armored and packing heavy firepower. Your choices are to try to dispatch the enemy with multiple melee strikes and reversals while under fire, or catch their shotgun to the face and die. Instantly, if one is playing on Crushing, but then you'd die almost as quickly from two or three shots from all those other enemies around anyway.
If brawling has become unnecessarily involved, what about the gunplay? It, along with the game's platforming, are the cornerstones of the Uncharted experience, and it's with great displeasure that I must admit that the shooting is even more broken than melee attacks. For some reason, despite claims by Naughty Dog to the contrary, they've completely borked the shooting controls. There's now a bit of input delay and a massive dead zone in the middle of the controller. Diagonals, also, seem to have been dropped in favor of something that prioritizes the four cardinal directions. What this means is that precision aiming and fine-tuned adjustments are out, and when coupled with enemies that regularly bob in and out of cover and an aiming reticule that doesn't appear until Nate has popped up out of his own cover, there's an astonishing amount of overcompensation when trying to target enemies' heads.
Anyone who has played an Uncharted game will tell you that headshots aren't just preferred, they're an absolutely essential way to get through gun fights. See, enemies taking fire will respond to a shot, but during that response time they're basically invincible. So one must either fire-pause-fire-pause-fire-pause while waiting for the inevitable wincing animation to finish, or risk wasting valuable ammo while the enemy recovers into a state where they can be hit again. Headshots, though, are as lethal as one would expect, and when multiple waves of enemies are pouring into an area, quick, precise shots are paramount to making any progress.
Except they're inexplicably difficult to pull off this time. There was always some element of klutziness to the gunplay before, but now it's positively infuriating. Nothing will cause the blood to boil faster than repeatedly trying to nudge the targeting cursor toward an enemy's head only to have it skip right past to the other side of their noggin repeatedly while being fired upon. Unfortunately, this is not the exeception, it is the rule of Uncharted 3's firefights, and it is beyond maddening. I don't know why Naughty Dog opted to change things, but there's a clear and undeniable issue with the controls, and apparently they see nothing wrong with them despite multiple videos and player testimony to the contrary.