Game: Uncharted: Golden Abyss
Developer: Bend Studios
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Available on: PlayStation Vita only
Not too long ago, we were graced with one of the finest third person action games ever to hit home consoles; Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception was a rip roaring success among fans, and with Naughty Dog announcing The Last of Us, it seemed that Nathan Drake and co were off to greener pastures.
Enter stage right, the PlayStation Vita, looking to show its grace and power by taking the incredible cinematics and exciting gameplay onto the handheld. With a different developer on hand – albeit one with a fine pedigree – is Golden Abyss a worthy addition to the Uncharted series?
STORY: Set before the first Nathan Drake outing (Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune) the player is tasked with once again piloting Drake through luscious environments, exhilarating gunfights and fiendish puzzles. As has become the norm for the Uncharted series, Drake is not alone, joined early on by old friend Dante and his partner (of sorts) Chase.
A monomaniacal ex-army Spaniard is after the same thing as you, meaning you’ll clash heads more than once along the way. The story is fairly standard Nathan “Treasure Hunter” Drake style, but enjoyable for the most part, tending to hit the emotional beats more than it misses. That said, you’ll be able to see most of what is coming your way, though it doesn’t lower the enjoyment of the title very much. The humour that is prevalent throughout the series doesn’t really kick in until past the half-way point too, but Nate is as sharp as ever.
GRAPHICS: The closest comparison to draw visually, would be to the first PlayStation 3 Uncharted adventure, Drake’s Fortune. Whilst Golden Abyss doesn’t quite reach the heights of Drake’s Deception, there are some sublime vistas on display and Drake himself looks fantastic, as do most of the characters rendered. You will spend most of the game indoors, which is a shame as there’s nothing to hide – so to speak – with the outdoors sections really shining above all else.
When you consider what you are seeing is being produced by a handheld gaming system, it really is quite astonishing. If there is to be a complaint it is simply that at times you can tell Naughty Dog aren’t the people behind the game. Nobody quite executes cinematic gameplay the way they do, so it’s a shame that the cut-scenes don’t quite slide into view as well as the PlayStation 3 Uncharted titles. It really is minor, but it’s a shame to see a fade-to-black before a cinematic.
AUDIO: Uncharted: Golden Abyss is best played with headphones (aren’t all handheld games?) the voice acting is pretty much as you’d expect; spot on. The Uncharted theme music we all know and love is back, giving the sense of excitement that only these games can bring. Golden Abyss is alive and the audio will swoop and swell. Some of the gunfire is a little soft at times, but overall the audio is superb.
A seasoned player of the series will be playing at such a speed, that at times the off-the-cuff dialogue is interrupted for more important story dialogue. Some of the voice-work is fairly immersion breaking and at points you will literally have someone explaining what to do, even though you’ve already figured it out.
GAMEPLAY: Golden Abyss builds on the structure of the previous three Uncharted titles, whilst adding a veritable bounty of additional ways to play. Touch screen controls are used heavily throughout, but a high percentage of the time they are merely a choice, not a requirement. When traversing the environments, using the many convenient foot and hand-holds, you have multiple options. You can draw a path with your finger, telling Drake where to shuffle and shimmy, allowing you to take in the beautiful visuals or have a momentary break from control. You could also tap ledges and Drake will head there automatically. If you want to play through Golden Abyss exactly as you would with a PlayStation 3 controller, you can – for the most part – do that too.
You will be forced to use the touch screen though, as a lot of the puzzle solving has gone in that direction. Some of the touch puzzles do get a little repetitive (there’s only so many wax rubbings you can do before it loses its charm) but generally, there’s enough variation throughout. Likewise, any button mashing for opening doors has been replace with on-screen gestures. Even some hand-to-hand combat will require you to use touch gestures to finish the enemy off.
The rear touch panel is also used a fair amount, again though, this is optional. If you want to zoom in or out with the sniper rifle you can stroke a finger across the panel to do so, and in truth this is actually one of the most comfortable ways of doing so. You can climb ropes with rear touch too, simulating hand over hand climbing, but you can also do this with the aforementioned path-drawing on the touch screen, or just use the analogue stick.
Even the motion controls are implemented; you’ll be crossing a precarious log and Drake will (always, without fail) stumble half way across causing a mini-game of sorts where you have to tilt in the opposite direction that Drake is falling in, to steady his balance. It’s the same as the PlayStation 3 Sixaxis controls and still as annoying. Bend Studios even manage to make use of the rear camera, which involves a nice surprise I won’t spoil here.
All of these gameplay options mean that you can play Golden Abyss any way you want to, but that wasn’t even enough for Bend Studios. On top of all the mechanics you know and love, due to the incredible amount of collectibles to find, there is now even a photography mode, used to capture moments from your diary, as yet another collectible. Some collectibles are picked up during cut-scenes where you just tap the glowing objects, some are hidden in the traditional way, some are puzzles that are off the beaten path; there is a lot to find here.
The Black Market is a game designed for use with the PlayStation Vita’s “Near” app. Whenever you kill certain enemies, they drop a tarot card of sorts, which you can put for sale on the black market and trade with others who are “near”. Think of it as similar to a trading card game.
LONGEVITY: Rather cleverly, Bend Studios have split some of the chapters into smaller, bite-sized handheld chunks, meaning you can happily sit and play two to three chapters at a time on your travels, or even at home. The main game is actually fairly large, a good 8-10 hours (depending on difficulty) and with an absolute plethora of collectibles and trophies (even more than the PlayStation 3 adventures), there’s plenty of reason to come back, aided by the multiple control methods, meaning you can play the same section 3 times in slightly different ways.
VERDICT: At times, you can tell Golden Abyss isn’t made exclusively by Naughty Dog, the set pieces never quite approach that of their work on the Vita’s big brother. However, to draw comparison once again to the first Uncharted title, Golden Abyss is a superbly executed piece of video game design.
For a launch title, Uncharted: Golden Abyss is an exciting, hugely playable and enjoyable romp. If there is to be no more Uncharted on the PlayStation 3, then it appears Bend Studios are more than capable to continue the series on Sony’s incredible new handheld device.