Uncharted: Golden Abyss PlayStation Vita Review

January 28, 2013 by  
Filed under Reviews & Features, PS Vita, PlayStation

Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment Europe  Developer: SCE Bend Studio  

Genre: Action, Adventure  Players: 1  Age Rating: 16+

Other console/handheld formats: N/A

Obviously with portable systems packing less power than the current generation of consoles, some experiences are going to be less rich on the small screen than what you may be used to on the big screen. While this would hurt some games considerably, the Uncharted series has always been a more than good enough action adventure to survive being diluted in the manner in which Vita’s first Uncharted game has.

The story and cast of characters are as clichéd as always, although the latter are as likeable as ever, while the former is a solid enough tale. In the Uncharted timeline, Uncharted: Golden Abyss takes place before Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune; the very first game in Naughty Dog’s popular series. Protagonist Nathan “Nate” Drake once again wisecracks throughout the game and, thanks again to Nolan North’s work, is a very likeable lead, while the central female character is Marisa Chase. Chase, as you’ll come to know her by, is another charismatic character with her own story to tell. There are twists and turns, historical objects to uncover, and a real sense of adventure. In terms of story then, Golden Abyss is very much an Uncharted game.

When it comes to taking control of Nate, and if you’re familiar with his PS3 outings, you’ll soon come to realise that developer Sony Bend has managed to make it so that Golden Abyss has a lot in common with the previous three Uncharted games. True, with its scaled down set pieces, it’s more akin to Drake’s Deception than its two PS3 sequels, although there’s no getting away from the fact that Golden Abyss is an Uncharted game that actually feels like an Uncharted game on a handheld.

The twin sticks of Vita should certainly make it so that those used to Nate’s adventures on the PS3 will feel right at home with this shrunken down version. But Sony Bend hasn’t neglected Vita’s extra features, although many of which are optional, and the game can largely be played by pressing buttons. When climbing, you’re able to tap ledges and whatnot with your finger and Nate will then automatically make his way upwards or downwards, although this makes a series that has often been criticised for taking the control away from the player feel even more automated, and I’m thinking that many would prefer to use the buttons. Aiming with weapons on the other hand can be achieved through Vita’s gyroscope, which is a nice option that actually felt really quite natural once I got used to it. There are a few actions in Golden Abyss that require the touch screen, and these include melee attacks and stealth takedowns; both of which are instantly reliable actions to perform.  Also, scripted moments sometimes sees you scrabbling for grip after a jump, which also calls touch screen swipes into play, and works just as well as it should. Finally, Nate is also armed with a machete, which is used to cut your way through vines and such, and this is done by copying directions shown on the screen.

Proving that Golden Abyss captures the spirit of an Uncharted game, it’s a complete and utter joy to watch. Like previous games in the series, the natural animations of Nate as he makes superhuman jumps, shimmies along ledges (some of which crumble and break away between his fingers) and swings across ropes is a wonderful sight. Typically, it may take away a lot of the control from the player, but it still does much to impress, particularly as this is on a handheld that I’m talking about.

The cover-based shooting mechanics are much like those of the PS3 games, and are just as dependable. Like I said earlier, Vita’s unique twin sticks feature makes action games feel extremely close to the sort of gameplay experiences we get in console games. It’s a shame, however, that we’re unable to toss enemy grenades back towards where they came from in the same manner in which we could do in Uncharted 3.

With the employment of the touch screen, Golden Abyss also has some interesting puzzles. True, jigsaw puzzles and the like may be used all too often throughout the game, although they do work well with the touch screen, it has to be said. I also should add that charcoal rubbings and cleaning ancient objects are also actions that are way overused throughout the game.

Lasting around 6-8 hours, Uncharted: Golden Abyss is one of the shorter of Nate’s adventures. Making this worse is the fact that the game has no multiplayer options to speak of. For those who like collecting objects, there’s optional treasure to be discovered, and Nate is also equipped with a camera in which you are able to snap various photos with. There’s certainly much to do for the perfectionist.

Visually, Uncharted: Golden Abyss is a true thing of beauty. Arguably, the game looks even better than the first game in the series on the PS3, which goes to show how powerful Vita actually is. The fluid and natural animations have been retained, and there’s also some stunning lighting and vistas to be found on this portable journey.

Uncharted: Golden Abyss does what the developer set out to do: create a handheld version of Uncharted that, in many ways, actually feels like an Uncharted game. True, there’s a bit of a lack of polish (I experienced a few bugs and glitches) in comparison to Naughty Dog’s games, while the large scale set pieces are pretty much absent, but everything else is intact, making Uncharted: Golden Abyss one of Vita’s leading lights.