I've written a full review of this game, but all you really need to know is that if you enjoyed Uncharted 2 you will enjoy its sequel. If you haven't played Uncharted 2: play that first. From the action to the visuals to the characters, this game follows a very familiar pattern. The plot is weaker this time but the melee combat and enemy AI have been upgraded and I dare say the cruise ship level sets a new high water mark (pun intended) for the series' level design.
Naughty Dog has said that they often come up with exciting setting ideas and then find a way to work them into the story. While this makes for consistently epic action, it can take a toll on the story. I never felt like Uncharted 2 was negatively impacted by this but Uncharted 3 had me skeptically raising an eyebrow with a few of the excuses it used to visit several admittedly awesome set pieces. The logic of the antagonists can be puzzling at times and certain transitions from one locale to another are flimsy. Fortunately, the historical grounding that is a hallmark of the series continues to be a strong point.
The plot again hearkens back to the expeditions of Sir Francis Drake. This time the focus is on Drake's secret venture to uncover the "Atlantis of the Sands" also knows as "Iram of the Pillars" or Ubad. In finding out our hero's modern day connection to this journey we are shown how Nathan and Sully first met which also introduces us to this tale's antagonists. Uncharted as a series has never impressed me with its villain depth and Drake's Deception is only marginally better in this regard.
The leading adversary is a woman called Marlowe who clearly is a woman of means and shady morals. She's more cerebral and secretive than previous games' antagonists. We're shown that she and Sully have some history together but we don't get to see enough of that to make her truly interesting. With unknown motives, she is also seeking to follow in Drake's footsteps to reach Iram. Her right hand man, Talbot, has about as much personality and independent thinking as a lap dog. His sole memorable trait is a penchant for using a hallucinogenic, fear inducing drug on others. A mildly interesting mercenary/pirate is also thrown in for the sake of a few ocean faring chapters.
While the plot points themselves weren't always predictable, the game still felt predictable. Let me explain more. The rhythm of how the story progresses, when major events happen in the grand scheme of things and the layout of the big picture itself, all follow the path trodden by the two games before it. Even the climbing sections suffer from this because you can sense when a floor, bridge or handhold is likely to crumble underneath you, which diminishes the excitement of it. On a similar note, foreshadowing of one particular event was overdone to the point where it cheapened what actually happened.
The places you'll visit on this adventure are both beautiful and fantastic. There are less vehicle segments this time but in their place are more foot chases. The game's final location is awe inspiring but was a little underutilized. Cool things happen while you're there but I felt like I was shuffled in and out too quickly. Contrast this with a grueling desert chapter that dragged on more than was needed to get the point across. Throughout, everywhere you go is a richly detailed visual feast. I also got the most enjoyment out of the soundtrack as I have from the series so far.
A criticism I've had of all the games in the series is present here too. That is, there is a jarring schism in how danger is perceived in cutscenes as compared to regular gameplay. Cutscenes are largely realistic, albeit with an extraordinary amount of drama. Meanwhile, in gameplay many perilous situations are punctuated by an "Oh crap!" from Nathan that rings hollow since he frequently shrugs off so much punishment.
I'll close with a few more random comments. A more complex and simply better melee combat system has been implemented. In conjunction, the enemy AI has been altered to be more aggressive in rushing you. This is a nice change of pace but makes things tough later in the game when there are more and stronger enemies. There are fewer "boss" fights here though you'll occasionally brawl with some really big dudes that take advantage of the spiffed up fisticuffs. Gunplay is virtually unchanged. Returning characters are as likable as ever and the couple new friends of Nathan are quality additions. It took me 8 hours 46 minutes to complete the single player campaign where I collected 76 of 100 hidden treasures. This makes it the shortest entry in the series so far.