Reviews// Uncharted: Golden Abyss

Posted 13 Feb 2012 14:00 by
Even though the PlayStation brand has never officially had a ‘mascot,’ it’s fair to say that Naughty Dog has been responsible for creating unofficial ones with each console generation.

Crash Bandicoot, Jak & Daxter, and now Nathan Drake. That legacy, on top of fan loyalty, could be the reason why it took Sony so long to leverage the Uncharted franchise for its handheld platforms. With the launch of the Vita comes a Drake adventure courtesy of Sony Bend - does it do the series justice?

In this pint-sized treasure hunt, Nathan Drake sets off in search of a lost city in the Americas, following the trail of a 400-year-old secret Spanish cult. He gets a lead from an old friend, Jason Dante, who in return wants Drake to help him uncover some of the fabled riches attached to the legend.

As is usually the case with our wise-cracking, Nolan North-voiced hero, shit hits the fan on a colossal scale as a deposed South American guerrilla general wants to lay claim to any fortune that sits on ‘his’ land. Alongside this and complications with Dante, Drake befriends Marisa Chase, the granddaughter of a missing archaeologist, and teams up with her to uncover the mystery of the sect.

Uncharted games are always spectacular in the visuals department, and Sony Bend has done an incredible job at translating all of Naughty Dog’s technical wizardry onto the PlayStation Vita. The graphics in Golden Abyss are absolutely stunning, and is guaranteed to turn heads among friends and passers-by. The OLED screen simply beams with colour and crisp textures, from tropical green jungles to exotic villages and icy caverns.

The same can be said for the sound direction too - orchestral pieces introduce you to the world of Uncharted: Golden Abyss, and level soundtracks elegantly weave between relaxing and tense themes depending on the current situation. And it’s all coming out of a handheld. This game is definitely the best example to demonstrate the power of the PlayStation Vita.

Gameplay-wise, if you’ve ever played an Uncharted game on the PS3 then this will be all-too familiar territory. Connections to Indiana Jones are not without merit - a refreshing cocktail of slow-paced treasure-hunting and quick-fire third-person shooting segments. One moment you’ll be engaging in lateral thinking and acrobatics, the next you’ll be fighting for your life as enemies try to take you down.

The primary method to control Drake as he leaps from ledge to ledge and dashes through jungle foliage? The good old fashioned way - analogue sticks and buttons. However, the touch screen, rear touch pad and gyro sensors have been implemented in such as way as to provide an alternative if you so choose. And while most games would tack-on such functionality, I would argue that these additions are actually quite useful.

For example, instead of holding the left analogue stick down in a particular direction and waiting for Drake to clamber around rock faces on your command, you can simply draw a path on the touch screen. Drake will then automatically climb using the route you set. It’s pretty cool, and gives your left thumb a break.

Other benefits include using the Vita’s gyroscope instead of the left analogue stick to position your crosshairs whilst in aim mode. You don’t have to set any options for your preferred control scheme - either use the sticks if you want traditional aim, or move the Vita around if you’d rather the direct approach. I found myself flitting between the two quite naturally. Usually, I’m naff at sniper aim, see, but using a combination of analogue sticks for quickly darting to the next target and using the gyro sensors to fine-tune my accuracy really helped.

There are some other uses for the touch screen, of course - certain events will cough up a Quick Time Event that asks you to draw a line in a particular direction. This also happens if you use Drake’s machete to chop down bamboo. Frequent mini-games will require you to use the touch screen to perform charcoal rubbings, or clean artifacts (while using the rear touch pad to rotate said artifact). While these sequences do a good job of breaking up the core gameplay, it’s a bit transparent and feels like throwing in feature support for the sake of it.

An upside to these mini-games existing, however, can be found in Drake’s Journal, which includes a log of all the mysteries you’ve solved during the story. Each mystery requires you to discover items hidden away in multiple levels, take photos of certain areas (which nicely enough uses the gyro functionality of the Vita to aim in first-person view) and solve various puzzles. It adds quite a bit of replay value to the 30-chapter story, which is just as well because Golden Abyss features no other gameplay modes for your money.

Along with mysteries, you can also collect little treasures that are kept in Drake’s ‘Fortunes’ section of the Journal. Gemstones can be found squirreled away in nooks and crannies of the levels, while certain enemies will have a bounty card attached to them which you’ll collect if you manage to kill them. All of the fortunes you’ve discovered can be offered up for trade at the Black Market - a separate mode which uses Vita’s Near program to find local friends and initiate swapsies with them.

So does Sony Bend do the Uncharted series justice on PlayStation Vita? The short answer is ‘yes’ - the long answer is ‘yes, but...’ You see, Golden Abyss does a great thing in bringing the series back to its treasure-focused roots somewhat, as Naughty Dog’s console counterparts have turned into being a bit too focused on third-person shooting and less on exploration and puzzle-solving.

But, there’s something about Golden Abyss that feels distinctly lacking. I can’t quite put my finger on it. For all its grandstanding cutscenes and several near-apocalyptic gameplay moments where Drake’s trying to escape from some explosive scenario, the game still seems to be missing that same spark and punch that its older console brothers have had. Simply put, Golden Abyss is the TV movie to Drake’s Fortune’s Hollywood blockbuster.

Still, it’s more than bloody nice to have Drake in portable form. And on all other fronts, Golden Abyss doesn’t disappoint. The story is engaging, the gameplay gripping and the experience rather addictive. It’s rare for an action-based third-person game to pull that off on a handheld console - much rarer on a handheld made by Sony. This is a must-have for the Vita - just bear in mind that you’re paying a console-game premium for this.

Pros:
+ Absolutely stunning graphics
+ Once you ‘pop’ you can’t stop
+ It’s Uncharted on a handheld!

Cons:
- Feels like Uncharted: Lite
- Charcoal rubbing and artifact cleaning mini-games too gimmicky
- No ad-hoc co-op?

SPOnG Score: 8 / 10

Comments

tyrion 13 Feb 2012 14:19
1/2
I didn't like charcoal rubbing in Tomb Raider: Anniversary on the Wii so I doubt I'll enjoy it here either.

Still, the rest of it seems pretty good.
Pedro 25 Feb 2012 07:11
2/2
Winterstorms47 / @henxr678 I know, but Uncharted sucks awnyays and I don't need blue Ray Player, You're so proud that uncharted is on ps3 and nobody cares
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