The Uncharted series is known for its awe-inspiring cinematic effects including everything from the truck chase in Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune to the plane sequence in Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception and everything in between. So when the Playstation Vita launch line-up was announced and listed Uncharted: Golden Abyss as a front-runner many were skeptical about how well our favorite adventurer would hold up.
There are many reasons this game could have failed not only was there the fact that this was going to be a portable romp for Nathan Drake, but there was also the uncertainty behind the developer. That’s right this time around Naughty Dog was not going to be in charge of creating Drake’s all new adventure, instead Bend Studio (Syphon Filter) would be taking over the reins.
Golden Abyss succeeds where many other high-profile games sent to a portable device fail. From the story stand point Uncharted: Golden Abyss succeeds in bringing you the entertaining, swashbuckling adventure that we have all come to know and love about the Uncharted series. Golden Abyss starts off in the present time and it is immediately obvious Drake, as usual, has been betrayed. This more or less makes the rest of the game up until this point feel like you are simply waiting for it to happen. If you can let this slide and pay attention to the story as opposed to waiting out the inevitable then you’ll find the story is worthwhile.
This Uncharted entry brings in a few new characters that more or less are interesting enough. Jason Dante is brought in as an old friend who Drake is following through the jungle and while most of his narrative seems stereotypical and annoying he does become more than just what is visible on the surface. Marisa Chase or simply “Chase” is an archaeologist who for the first part of the game pretty much only serves as a pointless sidekick. Chase also for some reason refuses to use a gun and when asked about this (or anything relevant to the situations her and Drake are in) only replies “it’s a long story” (Ummm right…). Although she does not really seem worthwhile to begin with she does end up having a good amount of depth and you learn to respect her character. Drake obviously feels the same way as soon there is a start to a budding romance which is typical in the Uncharted series. You later find, when Chase decides to fill Drake in on her “long story”, that her grandfather is a missing archaeologist by the name of Vincent Perez and the story shifts to finding him and the mystery he is trying to uncover. The shallowest character in this game is that of General Guerro who is a failed revolutionary and won’t seem to give up his lust for power. This character is the typical antagonist, simply hell-bent on what he wants. While it’s not typical for the “bad guys” in games to have much depth, if any, it would have been a breath of fresh air for Guerro to have something more to bring to the table than what is given.
While most of the main story is brought to you through cut scenes and gameplay a good part of the main mystery is found by uncovering artifacts and treasures. These provide a “codex” of type and fill you in on some of the smaller but interesting details of the mystery. The search for these treasures is made easier with the additional map pack DLC available on the PlayStation Store.
Playing using the original control scheme of its console brothers Golden Abyss holds up remarkably well. All the controls are pretty much the same as they are on the console predecessors and using these definitely gives you the “handheld home console” feel that Sony has been pushing with the Vita system.
The only minor complaint found here is that the shooting and enemy AI is a bit sketchy. For some reason Drake’s shooting seems slow in a few areas and while you are obviously hitting an enemy it does not register on some occasions. Aside from the fact that enemies can easily be killed with a single head shot or take damn near a whole clip to finally die, the AI is pretty decent effectively running in and out of cover. Some enemies even bum rush you with a shotgun in hand calling for Drake to use some bare-knuckle persuasion. Overall though these flaws are small and are not enough of a reason to skip out on this game all together. It simply demands a bit more patience here and there.
Now for the real meat and taters; of course by now everyone has heard of the Playstation Vita’s controls and features but what they might not have seen are these things in action. Uncharted: Golden Abyss takes the new input options and puts them to good use. While the controls may sometimes interfere with the fluidity of the game play they do add an original touch.
A good example of this for instance is the bare-knuckle, hand-to-hand combat sequences. While fighting sans firearms a fist button appears to enable Drake to throw a punch. Then while Drake is ducking in a fight an arrow runs across the screen prompting you to swipe the screen in order for Drake to throw an uppercut, effectively knocking out his opponent. The touch screen is also used when taking rubbings and cleaning off artifacts/tools. During the series’ trademark platforming sequences you are also able to simply tap the rope, ledge, or bar you are trying to move to and Drake will automatically jump to that. One thing that made the gameplay slow down a bit was the inclusion of the back touchscreen of the Vita during rope or pipe climbing. In these sections you would stroke the back screen to move Drake up or down. While this wasn’t exactly a flaw at times it proved to be somewhat gimmicky. Of course this being a launch title for the Vita it is understandable that everything was showcased.
Another Vita feature that was taken advantage of in Golden Abyss was the six-axis motion sensor. Use of this sensor in-game allows Drake to maintain his balance when crossing everything from logs to pipes. The sensor also is used when you need to have Drake lean out to nearby hand grips during platforming sequences. Taking pictures of maps and clues in the game even has its own motion sensor use. When trying to take pictures in the game all you need to do is point the Vita in whichever direction you need the camera to face in-game.
Personally though, of all these “look what I can do” gimmicks my favorite part was how the game ingeniously used an actual light to reveal clues. In these sequences you literally hold your Vita up to the light until the clue was shown. This ultimately made me forget that I was in public, on a packed train as I struggled to get the light to shine just right to uncover the clue. Once I realized that people were staring and I was being the weirdo on the train (there’s always one) all thoughts I had on how this is “just” a handheld game were out the window. Once I came to terms with this and realized how great Golden Abyss is I sat back and enjoyed the originality the Vita’s features brought to the game.
Now for the visuals (oh Vita you do have a beautiful screen). The 5-inch OLED screen housed on the Vita platform is enough to make any game look gorgeous, but for Uncharted it takes that beauty to a whole different level. First off, the cinematics I mentioned earlier. Overall the cut scenes look exquisite minus a few frame rate hiccups here and there. Game-play itself looks robust and vibrant and holds up well to the series’ big brother console versions. Traversing a cliff has never looked so great on a handheld and the lighting is so spot on that everything looks rich and detailed.
Overall Uncharted: Golden Abyss is by far a great start to the PlayStation Vita’s life cycle. It is a great game that will please both Uncharted fan boys and those simply wanting a game for their new shiny handheld. Although some areas could have been more thought out and the shooting mechanics could be tighter, these are peanut shells when compared to the great visuals, engaging story, and the overall success of the gameplay mechanics. The worries gamers had regarding if Bend Studios could effectively pull off a Naughty Dog esque Uncharted series triumph can be put to rest, this is definitely a game worthy of the Uncharted name.