One of Sony’s most popular franchises on the Playstation 3 is Naughty Dog’s Uncharted series. In a nutshell the Uncharted games are fantastic adventure games that are highly polished, lots of fun to play, with perfect pacing and a captivating narrative. Uncharted: Golden Abyss is the latest adventure starring Nathan Drake and his buddies, although this time the adventure takes place on the screens of Sony’s new portable console the Playstation Vita.
If you didn’t know already Golden Abyss wasn’t developed by Naughty Dog, the people who made the series so famous, in fact it developmental duties were handed over to Bend Studios. At first this may seem worrying but they’ve done an excellent job retaining the Uncharted atmosphere we all know and love while at the same time introducing lots of new gameplay elements.
Set in Central America, a few years before the events of Drake’s Fortune, Golden Abyss sees our hero Drake recruited by his old friend Dante to help solve a 400 year old mystery regarding the massacre of an entire Spanish expedition. Along the way we discover that not all is as it seems, with new colourful characters withholding secret agendas and of course there’s the Golden Abyss itself.
For the most part the story is very entertaining, It’s defiantly not as cinematic or action packed as Drake’s other adventures. There are more chapters this time around, in shorter spells with less narrative to keep you hooked. This makes it ideal for playing in short bursts, for instance while on the bus, as well as long sessions at home. The pacing is a little slower when compared to other Uncharted games and narratively it’s a little too predictable. This leaves the game lacking some pulling power, but that won’t spot you from coming back; it’s the gameplay that will keep you going.
Taking full advantage of the Vita’s excellent touch controls Golden Abyss provides a very tactile experience, which anybody can pick up. For the most part it’s similar to the console controls, however there is also the capacity to use the touch screen to tap, or guide Drake around handholds and ledges to climb. You can use the gyroscope to lean and swing from obstacles and balance Drake on logs before he falls off. I did find the balancing sections little annoying, as you can’t walk across any logs without Drake losing his balance. If you found the Six-Axis controls in Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune irritating then you’ll likely be annoyed with these balancing sections.
The gyroscope is pretty useful for quickly lining up accurate shots when aiming. Holding down L1 will take you into aim mode then you can move the Vita around in the direction you want to aim. Only subtle movements are needed and you’ll soon find it becomes a much more efficient method of shooting bad guys than the control sticks are , which is as refreshing as it is surprising. A couple of new guns have been added to the arsenal but apart from that not much has changed in regards to weapons.
The screen is also used during fist fights, running up to enemies and hitting square or the fist icon on screen will initiate a sequence where you have to drag your finger across arrows that appear on screen, simulating the act of punching. This makes combat more interesting, as Uncharted’s combat has usually revolved around button mashing.
Every now and again you’ll pick up collectables or story items which you’ll have to rub clean with your finger to reveal markings. You can also use the rear touch pad to rotate said object and at one point in the game you’ll even use the Vita’s camera to solve a puzzle. In summation, all the technology the Vita has on offer has been utilised, maybe even to the point where it can initially be off putting, however if you give it time you’ll learn to love the touch controls.
Visually the game is on par (and in some cases better than) most console games; water and fire effects look realistic and the lush jungle, filled with vibrant colour, lighting, textures, particle effects, are all far beyond anything we’ve seen before on a handheld. There’s a few levels where you’ll have to navigate some fantastic looking rivers and rapids in a canoe while fending off enemies at the same time, adding some diversity. However sacrifices have been made. The sense of scale is much smaller with foreboding 3D landscapes being replaced by detailed backdrops instead. This isn’t necessarily all bad, it’s less impressive, yes, but Golden Abyss still has some spectacular views which you can take advantage of using Drakes camera to use as wallpapers for you Vita menus.
Uncharted Golden Abyss has a lot to offer and it’s a great game to play in spurts. You’ll need to complete multiple playthroughs to get all those precious trophies and the plethora of collectables which in turn can be traded via the game’s Black Market. You’ll use the Black Market to exchange everything from precious stones and enemy bounties, to artifacts and relics with you PSN friends via the Vita’s Near app. It’s simple but it makes playing the game a little bit more rewarding and it’ll be great for the completionists out there. If you do have trouble collecting them all there’s always a treasure map available as DLC via the Playstation Store for a small price. Hopefully we’ll see more DLC like this in future, perhaps extra chapters.
Graphics: 4/5 - Uncharted: Golden Abyss lacks a lot of the WOW moments the series is known for but the visuals are still very impressive, especially for a handheld.
Sound: 4/5 - Your ears wont be disappointed as the sound effects and the score are really strong. I can’t say that it’s all that immersive, but it is pretty impressive nonetheless.
Gameplay: 5/5 - Enemies are a duller than the average A.I and gunfights can feel repetitive but the gameplay never stops being fun, especially with all of the integrated touch controls.
Longevity 3/5 - Just over 10 hours in the campaign with multiple difficulty settings and god knows how many collectables to find and exchange only just makes the game worth it’s price tag. There’s no multiplayer to speak of, but the Black Market, in which you trade in-game items, goes some way towards creating meaningful interactions with other players.
Overall 4 Chalk Rubbings out of 5
What the game hasn’t inherited from the console’s Uncharted games it has made up for by implementing all the Vita’s touch controls perfectly, making the game a joy to play, especially in short bursts. It looks great, plays great, and shows the Vita’s potential as a portable platform that capably mimics the full console experience.