Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception has grace and class, wit and good humor, and a generally jovial demeanor. It's a fun game, too. But underneath its movie star good-looks and affable personality, this game has teeth.
Most of the lengthy single-player campaign is a well-paced, breezy adventure full of snappy writing and lovely visuals. But occasionally, Uncharted 3 will throw up an absolutely brutal difficulty spike. It's a problem. A previously empty room will suddenly be bristling with armed enemies as reinforcements stream in from every corner, grenades flying from all sides. Sniper fire, rockets, and tank-like heavy soldiers mete out serious punishment.
You will die, and you will die often. And the kicker? After each death, your foes will laugh at your corpse. Despite its toothy grin and good sense of humor, sometimes I just want to punch Uncharted 3 in the nuts.
Taken on the whole, I would call Uncharted 3 "moderately difficult." It starts out surprisingly mellow, and doesn't explode into full-blown shootouts for five or six chapters. But once the enemies start coming at you en masse, so too do the difficulty spikes.
Take this scenario: I'm sneaking into a large theater on board a pirate-run cruise ship. There are three guys patrolling the lower level, and I can't see onto the balcony. I take one guy out quietly, and go to take out a second when I'm spotted. Things get hairy in a hurry, and before I know it I see an armored heavy working towards me with a shotgun. I shoot him about twenty times, and he keeps coming. I try to run away and he blows me away with a shotgun. As the camera fades to grey and Nathan Drake's lifeless body flies to the ground, I hear the jerk who killed me laughing. "Ha ha ha! I got him!"
Back to the top of the room again. I follow a similar pattern, head for cover in a different area once I'm spotted. Take out another guy and am going for cover when… I'm killed again. This time a jerk on the balcony laughs at me. "Aaaahahaha!"
I keep playing. I keep dying. I make it until a second wave comes into the room, this time with even more heavies, two snipers up top, a guy with a shield, four regular guards, and nowhere to hide.
Every time I die, the shriek of that reedy horn, and the laughter.
"Ha. Got him!"
"Ha ha ha ha!"
"Ha. You lose!" [Extra swarthiness]
Sometimes, the laughter is drowned out by the horrified screams of Drake's friends. "Drake! Oh god no!" shouts Elena. "Nooo!" cries Sully, his surrogate son dead at his feet.
The kind of roadblock I'm describing happens a good half-dozen times throughout Uncharted 3's single player campaign. The situations certainly aren't lazy—a lot of thought has gone into deciding how these battles will play out. When they're at their best (including a goddam great gunfight through a junkyard of floating ship hulls), they're wickedly entertaining—challenging games of cat-and-mouse filled with shifting vantage points and dizzying verticality.
But often, there are simply too many enemies for a given space. Hordes of foes will line up at every available vantage point, and no cover is safe for more than a few seconds. Sometimes this helps keep things moving, but more often it's merely annoying, particularly when I'm forced into a laborious hand-to-hand Quicktime Event while simultaneously being shot at by three different enemies. They're grenade-happy bastards, too, and no piece of cover is safe from being exploded.
Most of the game's big firefights begin with stealth segments. Drake sneaks into a room, or a warehouse, or a castle courtyard, and methodically takes down a few enemies. But sooner or later you'll be spotted, and any hopes of gradually thinning the herd evaporate—where there was one enemy suddenly there are two, and then three! So many enemies, and so little space. An encounter aboard a postage stamp-sized free-floating chunk of metal had me begging for mercy. I was in a shootout with four pirates in a space half the size of my apartment, and Drake's turning radius just couldn't keep up. I died over and over again, and each time I went down, it was to the sounds of my enemies' cruel laughter.
Having enemies laugh at me after they kill me isn't fun, it's infuriating. It makes me hate you a little bit each time it happens. Have we learned nothing from the accursed snickers of the Duck Hunt dog? If you're making a mainstream, mass-appeal kind of game, don't have your characters mock us for not being good enough at it!
The fact that Uncharted 3 puts up a fight should be lauded. Too many big-budget games neuter their difficulty in order to cater to a wider audience. And of course, player ability factors into this. I'm perfectly fine at the game, but I'm sure there are people out there who played through the game without dying once. But all the same, those difficulty spikes are jagged, and their cheap-feeling kills stand in contrast to the rest of the game's often brilliant pacing.
Sometimes, Uncharted 3 is an interactive movie in the best way possible—you sit back, relax, and watch cool stuff happen on screen. Other times, it's like your older brother's charming, fun friend who likes to annoyingly bust your balls in front of his friends. It's a well-put together, enjoyable game. But sometimes, it's kind of a dick.