Uncharted: Golden Abyss Review
- Uncharted: Golden Abyss
- PlayStation Vita
- Naughty Dog
Made2Game Uncharted: Golden Abyss review score: 8/10
Format: Playstation Vita
Developer: Bend Studios
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Of all the launch titles to accompany the release of the Playstation Vita, only a handful really stood out in any meaningful way. The line-up was the standard mix of adventure, racing, sports and party games handpicked by Sony to better showcase what their new wonder-toy can do. As such, it comes as little surprise that the one to grab the most attention was the handheld iteration of one of Sony's best-loved franchises. What might be surprising is just how accomplished a job Uncharted: Golden Abyss does of demonstrating the new tech.
New chick Marisa isn't as compelling as Elena or Chloe, but she ain't exactly hard on the eyes
For this instalment, Naughty Dog have left their beloved series in the hands of SCE Bend, and the Sony-owned developer has clearly treated the IP with the respect it deserves. The prequel story sees adventurer Nathan Drake (voiced once again by the always-amicable Nolan North) head into the jungles of Panama to find a lost city of gold, aided along the way by long-time companion Frank Sullivan. But while the interplay between Nate and Sully remains at an all-time high, with the two rogues trading loving insults and comradely swipes, the narrative's prequel nature means there's no Elena Fisher or Chloe Fraser for Nate to woo / bicker with.
Instead we are introduced to Marisa Chase, an American treasure-hunter whose sassy, semi-damsel-in-distress character never feels like much more than a cipher upon which to project an amalgamation of Chloe and Elena. At times, Marisa only seems to exist to make their absence bearable. As a result, despite the high standard of writing, she feels less effective as a character and her presence only exacerbates the occasional by-the-numbers plotting. Likewise, newcomer Dante is yet another of Drake's fast-talking, peripheral allies who can't be trusted, whose motives are rarely clear and whose main motivation in the story is to antagonise our rugged hero and provide some dastardly comic relief; he's analogous to Flynn from Uncharted 2: Among Thieves (though less of an out-and-out bastard) and therefore we've already got the T-shirt. The net result is a story that never really captivates like the other entries in the series, and one that is less impacting because of its prequel status.
Still, if it weren't being judged alongside such rip-roaring yarns as the Uncharted titles, it would likely come off a lot better – and story aside, there's certainly a lot to like. Action comes thick and fast and Bend do an admirable job of maintaining the series' classic pacing and sense of grandeur, and the mix of shooting, climbing and puzzling is as compelling and engrossing as it has ever been.
You'd think he'd change his shirt just once before heading off to another jungle/desert/ancient city of gold
Old Drake, new tricks
As a technical demo for the Vita, Golden Abyss excels. Though it's occasionally heavy-handed in its execution, the integration of the touchscreen, rear touchpad and sixaxis motion sensor is largely seamless. Tracing a line across a cliff-face for Nate to follow makes climbing a doddle, and tapping an icon in the top left corner of the screen to reload feels intuitive after a year or two of performing similar actions in mobile games. Likewise, rubbing the screen to "clean" the dirt off a priceless antique or take one of Nate's famous charcoal-rubbings, or tipping the Vita to help the rogue regain his balance on a treacherous, moss-grown log feel natural and act to increase the immersion.
Which makes it all the more incongruous that using Nate's newly-acquired (or since-lost) machete to slice through obstructing bamboo is so cumbersome as to be intrusive. Instead of simply attacking the bamboo like a more-sedate version of Fruit Ninja, we're instead treated to a huge, screen-obscuring yellow arrow telling us which way to swipe. It's as ugly as it is unsubtle. Also, while the motion-sensor technology works well in conjunction with the Dragon sniper rifle (is that really the only model of long-distance rifle that exists in the Uncharted universe?), trying to take photos of the environment is fiddly and infuriating as it involves matching what you're looking at with a black and white still. It sounds easy, until you factor in Nate's position, the angle of the camera and zoom distance. Achieving the required 100% match can sometimes be a downright nightmare. That said, taking the photo is part of solving the optional mysteries scattered around each level, so you could always ignore them – but where's the fun in that?
Anyone thinking that because the Vita is a handheld console the games will be smaller should give Golden Abyss a chance to change their minds. Clocking in at an impressive 10 - 12 hours, it's no shorter in length than the PS3 titles. If anything, there's more content given the 400+ collectibles to be found, including standard treasures and the many clues to the aforementioned mysteries. If Golden Abyss lacks anything present in the other titles, it's the continuous "wow" factor – as much as we're loath to use the term "wow" factor. There's not really anything here to compete with the falling train in Among Thieves or the incredible cargo plane sequence in Drake's Deception. It's the one thing missing from Golden Abyss, but just happens to be one of the biggest draws of the franchise.
This screenshot doesn't do the environments justice, but the visuals are just as shiny and inviting as ever
Hey, I do this for a living
Actual combat remains largely unchanged since Uncharted 2, though Golden Abyss contains little of the environmental interactions that made fisticuffs so exhilarating in Drake's Deception. The familiar snap-to-cover gunplay is present and correct – and as well-implemented as it ever was.
Sadly, there is no multiplayer - a real shame considering how great Uncharted 3's versus mode is and how cool it would have been to utilise the Vista's connectivity function in a similar way. Instead, the only social aspect besides the ability to post screenshots and trophy progress to Facebook is the Black Market. This acts as a kind of trade zone, utilising the Vita’s “Near” facility to find other players with whom to swap collectibles. It's for completists only, though, and casual players are unlikely to bother.
So then, at times Nate's Vita debut feels like an advanced tech demo and lacks the pizzazz of its bigger brothers, and yet the pervading sense of adventure, remarkable narrative charm and the all-conquering poster boy that is Nathan Drake come together alongside both familiar gameplay mechanics and an intuitive new control scheme, to ensure that Bend's creation more than does justice to the illustrious franchise it has now become a part of. It's not quite the Uncharted we know and love, but as both a technical showcase and an exciting, involving adventure, Uncharted: Golden Abyss stands in a league of its own.
Words by Mick Fraser (Twitter: @Jedi_Beats_Tank)
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