Launching a new Sony platform with an Uncharted game, one of the most renown series of the company, is nothing short of genius. It also doesn’t hurt when that game is one hell of a show off piece for the hardware and a great game to boot. Uncharted: Golden Abyss is one of the launch games for the Playstation Vita and is easily one of the strongest that the console has to offer. This time around Naughty Dog has handed the reins to Bend Studio and while it may not be the giant blockbuster that the previous two Uncharted games are, it still delivers a thrill ride that is just as fun as any other Uncharted game.
Nathan Drake and Sully return with an all new cast of characters and a great story that takes place before the first Uncharted game, Drakes Fortune. You really get the sense of Nathan Drake growing into himself and becoming the man he is in the console series that we all know and love. The story follows Drake as he is helping fellow archeologists named Jason Dante and Marisa Chase discover the reasoning behind the slaughter of a Spanish expedition team. Soon after an ex general who is hoping to restore his power with a revolution joins the mix which leads everyone on a journey for a lost city known as the Golden Abyss. While the story may not have the writing quality of a Naughty Dog produced Uncharted game you still get all of the story beats you would expect with multiple double crosses, witty banter, and high quality action. The only thing I can really fault the story for is for such a late introduction of Sully. Some of the best banter comes from Drake and Sully shooting quick remarks back at one another and it is over half way through the game before you get their chemistry.
This Uncharted title, while featuring a lot of combat, feels more like an adventure game than the previous titles. There is a lot more exploration in this game and the puzzles are actually more compelling because of the touch screen and camera. To me an adventure like feel has always been missing from the franchise. Especially with Uncharted 3, the games are just more akin to action games but Golden Abyss manages to find a well placed balance between action and adventure that manages to feel fresh in an already established franchise.
This game is so jam-packed full of sometimes unnecessary different control functions that it may seem a little intense. Golden Abyss’s one major downside is its stretch to use every function that the Vita has to offer. Through all of Uncharted you will be swiping and rubbing the screen, tilting the console, or even using the camera lenses. Most of the Vita’s special functions are used quite frequently, especially when dealing with swiping your finger across the screen. You can use finger tapping or swiping to perform the melee combat or traverse the environment. The machete is a new addition to Drakes arsenal but is only used in specific locations where you have to perform finger swipes to cut through bamboo or cloth. Walking across logs can most of the time lead you to tilting your Vita side to side to make sure you don’t fall off. This function can also be used to jump from ledges if you just tilt the Vita.
The climbing and aiming is the most interesting feature of the Vita functions. Aiming can be done by physically moving the Vita around and can actually make aiming a little more precise although this is an optional function. Climbing was fun to mess around with as you just drag your finger across the path that you want to traverse and Drake will automatically follow the path you traced with your finger. One of the biggest negatives with the Vita’s extra functions is the repetition. Most of these features are interesting the first few times you use them but they can become stale really quickly. One thing they have you do often is rub the screen to create a charcoal rubbing and while it is neat the first few times you start to think that this company is obsessed with charcoal rubbings to the point of it being the best form of art ever conceived. The studios logo at the beginning of the game even appears in the form of a charcoal rubbing. It gets to the point where even the characters are commenting on how important charcoal rubbings are and it just seems a little hokey if only mildly entertaining.
There are some other new interesting gameplay mechanics such as the a vast new collectible system where not only do you have treasures but there are also bounty cards, which you can trade with friends using the Near feature, collectible coins, and locations where you have to take and match up photographs. It really incentivizes multiple play throughs and makes the game feel more like an adventure full of discovery. Other than the new features, most of which are optional, this game just plays like any other Uncharted game and still feels great. Ducking behind cover and climbing are as snappy as ever and the shooting is very satisfying. Everything from reloading and picking up weapons has been added to the touch screen but if you want you can also just use the D-pad for most of that stuff as well. The grenades are added to the touch screen where you just touch the icon and drag to where you want to throw them and it is actually very effective and allows you to be more accurate. The only complaint I could have made is that the aiming can feel a little stiff but you get used to it quickly and you can also adjust the sensitivity. There are just so many control options in this game that can be both appealing and seem kind of pointless, however the game does benefit from letting you choose the way you want to play.
Uncharted shows just how powerful of a handheld the Vita is. Golden Abyss retains the look of Uncharted 2 or 3 with some slightly downplayed graphics that still look amazing. It isn’t hard to imagine that this game could have released on the PS3 before Drakes Fortune and still looked great on a powerful home console. Right from the start of the game all of the environments are gorgeous. I often found myself just looking at the landscapes in this game and taking screenshots just so I could keep looking at them.
The level design and character models are great and even facial animations manage to look good even though the Vita doesn’t have the power that the PS3 does. The motion capture is still there in full force and it’s always comforting to see Nathan Drakes familiar strut and charming cocky smile. This game could have been released as an early PS3 game and it still would have blown me away with the graphics quality. Uncharted really shows off the power of the Vita and is sure to be one of the best looking games on the console. I mean come on, his clothes get wet man!
Golden Abyss is filled with everything that makes any Uncharted game a blast to play. You still get great action and hilarious writing accompanied by top notch voice acting sprinkled with an amazing adventure. The story of Golden Abyss easily fits in the believable past adventures of Nathan Drake and Sully and all of the new characters are fantastic. One thing that bothered me about Uncharted 3 was how Drake went through so much punishment that by the time he was flying out of a play he felt almost super human. Golden Abyss keeps everything believable and you get the sense that Drake is a little reluctant to take on the type of obstacles that he does in the later games but you do see him kind of progress more into the man that is willing to take on those challenges.
This game plays just as well as any other Uncharted game and remains strong from beginning to end. The biggest downside playing against Golden Abyss is all of the extra control options that the Vita brings to the table but most of them are optional and some of them are even fun to use. However if you were to just pick up this game and just play it like a normal Uncharted game and only use the extra functions that you are required to use you should still have a blast playing this game.
If you are a Vita owner and you have loved the Uncharted games in the past, or if you just love third person action games, then there is no reason why you shouldn’t enjoy this title. This was a strong launch game for a console and the Vita is graced with a great first party game in its library. I can never get enough of this series and Uncharted: Golden Abyss helps move the franchise in a solid direction for a handheld market and I hope to see more of these games appear on the console in the future.