Vita Review: Uncharted: Golden Abyss
Uncharted: Golden Abyss takes everything that you love about Uncharted and puts it in your hands.
- Worth The Time?Absolutely. How could controlling Nathan Drake ever get old?
- Things LovedThe same Uncharted experience as on consoles, fantastic touch integration, gorgeous back drop and outstanding visuals, fantastic characters and voice acting, great story, well implemented new features, enough unique elements to make it feel different, explosive gameplay and action, climbing and platforming is as enjoyable as ever, long campaign
- Things HatedOccasional framerate issues, some touch elements can get old, not as cinematic as console entries, fire animation isn't nice at all.
- RecommendationIf you had a PS Vita and could only chose one game, then this would certainly be one of the few you'd consider. Hell, Uncharted: Golden Abyss should be the reason you actually buy a PS Vita in the first place. If you want a console experience in your hands, and you're sick of cheap spin offs, then Uncharted: Golden Abyss is for you. If you're a series fan, then you shouldn't even be considering not picking this up.
- Name: Uncharted: Golden Abyss
- Genre: Third-Person Shooter
- Players: 1
- Multiplayer: No
- Platforms: PS Vita
- Developer: SCE Bend Studio
- Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
- Price: R399.95 (Kalahari)
- Reviewed On: PS Vita
If there is one thing I absolutely cannot stand it’s when a studio takes a name from a popular and revered franchise, and butchers it with a cheap, uninspired spin-off title. A lot of this was seen on Sony’s previous handheld, the PSP, but so were some truly outstanding titles that made their console counterparts proud. Titles such as God of War: Chains of Olympus and Ghost of Sparta, Final Fantasy: Crisis Core and Metal Gear Solid: Peace Walker are some examples of portable games that delivered the same, if not better, experiences than the console games that made them famous. So when Sony announced Uncharted: Golden Abyss for the PS Vita, a burning question was asked. Could the PS Vita launch title match the cinematic, explosive and incredible experiences had on a PS3. In short, absolutely. But not only has Bend Studio provided a faithful Uncharted portable experience, they have also introduced features that Naughty Dog should seriously considered putting into their titles as well.
Before anything else though, let’s talk about story. The story has always been an outstanding feature in the Uncharted series, and Golden Abyss is no exception. Golden Abyss acts as a prequel to the entire Uncharted series, introducing us to Drake before his adventures during Drake’s Fortune. Drake has been brought in as a historical advisor by an old friend, namely Jason Dante. Drake and Dante are in search of none other than a forgotten treasure (this is Uncharted after all), which involves uncovering the dark secret behind a 400 year old Spanish massacre and picking up the murderous trail of their attackers. Not long into the game, Drake is introduced to Marisa Chase, the daughter of an archeologist who went missing a few months before, attempting to uncover the exact same secrets. On top of all this, a retired General is hot on the trail of the treasure too, in search of the forgotten riches in order to fuel is rebellion in Central America. It reeks of classic Uncharted lore, and is absolutely spot on with the rest of the series.
Since this game acts as a prequel, some might be worried that part of the incredible chemistry between characters may have been lost. While it’s true that every character is new, save for Drake and a certain someone that fans will immediately recognise, each new face brings tons of personality to the table. Marisa acts as this entry’s love interest, and while that may make her sound immediately generic and boring, her interactions with Drake are far from it. She has some particularly stand out moments, especially when it comes to the more emotional and tear jerking parts of the story. The General is as vicious as you’d expect, and there is certainly no shortage of wise cracks coming from Drake’s mouth and every turn. Uncharted is known for its memorable and developed characters, and Bend Studio did not take any shortcuts here. The script is as strong as always, and it’s fantastic to see so much of it in a portable game. Nolan North does yet another excellent job with Drake, and the new actors on the block really keep up with the pace.
At first, I was a bit worried about the story though. A few hours in, I could already see most of the twists unraveling before they actually did, and without the same scale of cinematic moments, it was becoming increasingly difficult to stay interested beyond the fantastic gameplay. However, as is with every other Uncharted, the story fails to disappoint in the end. Even before I had reached about halfway through this roughly 10 hour campaign (yes, 10 hours on a portable), I was fully engrossed in the story. There were many moments where I actually thought I was reaching the climax of the tale, only to be slapped with another twist and even more game time. Having an entirely new developing cast also helped keep my interest intact, as learning of Chase’s past and the General’s failed revolution added to the already explosive story that was unfolding.
And this is where Bend’s first real innovation really shone. In order to fully detail every character and event happening around you, Bend came up with something that I only realised was missing now. In previous Uncharted title, you hunted treasures in each Chapter for Trophies. Now, you hunt them for back story. Throughout the game, there are various different treasures that you’ll come across, from simple gems to pick up to photographs you have to replicate. Each treasure and discovery has a place within the narrative, making it really worth your while to stop and look for these items. While the journal does tell you which chapter they are located in, this does not make them easier to find. Locating charcoal rubbings and items to investigate can be difficult, and even the regular glinting treasures are more of a challenge to see against Golden Abyss’s extraordinary backdrop.
Uncharted: Golden Abyss is absolutely jaw dropping for a portable title. In fact, it’s probably better than a few console games. With stunning jungle scenery that breaks into a gorgeous sunset into the background, to dark underground caverns with a soft lighting, the visuals are truly top notch. The is probably why I became so engrossed in this title immediately. Gone is the massive visual gap between portable and console gaming. Uncharted: Golden Abyss truly shows that console level gaming is indeed possible on the move. While Drake may not have the same amount of unique animations that he did in Uncharted 3, there is no doubt they you’ll as quickly forget about it as soon as you see how smooth the entire game is. Taking slow trips down rivers in the jungles are truly standout moments, however there are some small issues that did catch my attention.
Most noticeable is the occasional drop in framerate during intense fire fights. I say occasional because while they may have only cropped up three or four time during the campaign, they were noticeable enough to bother me. Thankfully the rest of the game runs smoothly, and with more emphasis on climbing and exploration, you’ll probably forgive the 10 second slowdown after an hour of seamless navigation. Another thing is fire. Yes, fire. For some reason, the fire effects in Golden Abyss seem somewhat out of place. While everything around it screams with artistic delight and eye-popping detail, fires look pixelated and old for this day and age. It’s not really that serious, but it just seems a bit odd that Bend could pull off crystal clear running water and a beautiful sunset in real time, and then fail on the occasional fire here and there. Other than that, prepare yourself to be as lost as Drake becomes in the jungles of Central America, and marvel at what a launch title can already squeeze out of the PS Vita.
But what would an Uncharted game be with outstanding gameplay? Thankfully, Golden Abyss retains the same level of quality gameplay you’d expect, and Bend Studios have adapted many things to suit the Vita’s expansive control elements. As you would expect, you’re going to do a lot of climbing, a lot of shooting, and even more running. If you’ve played Uncharted before, then you’ll feel right at home straight away, as Golden Abyss plays and handles just as you’d expect it too. Drake retains the same style of running and climbing, and still knows how to wield a weapon effectively. Weapons come in all shapes and sizes, and most of the series signature weapons make an appearance. With dual thumbsticks, shooting from cover is a breeze, and it honestly feels like you’re playing with a controller from the get go. What is really amazing are the things that you can’t do with a normal controller.
Obviously, I’m referring to the Vita’s various other control elements, namely touch and accelerometer controls. Melee combat is where touch controls probably shine the brightest. Just as in previous title, you’re often going to get up and close with most enemies, meaning that a few swift punches are more effective than blind shooting. Just as on a console, one button is dedicated to these offensive moves, but you could also just touch the swing to take the next swing. In each encounter though, you’ll be forced to use the touch screen near the end in order to bring down the final blow, making each brawl exciting and dynamic. Touch also becomes an option with climb, and serves to make it even easier than it already is at some points. If you don’t feel like hitting X every time you want to jump for a ledge, then why not just touch it with your finger? Better yet, why don’t you draw a climbing path for Drake and watch him tackle it in the exact way you wanted? All of this is possible, and extremely responsive. I never once found Drake jumping for a ledge that I didn’t select, even when it looked like my finger had hit three different ledges simultaneously.
Close calls also require more interaction this time around, with you having to quickly swipe your fingers across the screen every time Drake gets brave and nearly falls to his death. This makes his daredevil (yet impressive) climbing sections all the more interactive, and even more enthralling than on consoles. Gunplay has also been given its fair share of touch screen love. Picking up weapons now takes place on the touch screen, with a gun icon popping up every time you walk over a weapon. Throwing grenades is the best it has ever been in the series, allowing you to get pinpoint accuracy with your finger tips. If you’re not up for throwing with your fingers however, you can still blindly throw grenades with the hit of a button. Probably the best adaption is the ability to fine tune your targeting using the Vita’s accelerometer. While using the thumbsticks is still as responsive as you’d expect, making small adjustments to your aiming by tilting your device is so responsive, that you’ll probably wonder how you ever lived without it. This is probably most noticeable when using snipers, where running your fingers down the rear touch pad allows you to fine tune your zoom level while lining up your shot to perfection.
With such an emphasis on exploration, Bend also made sure that exploring new items was as entertaining as it possibly could be. You’ll come across various charcoal rubbings, that require you to rub the rear touch pad as if you were rubbing down the item itself, and you’ll often have to clean artifacts found in order to study them further. While it is a great way to show off just how well the Vita’s more “gimmicky” features can be used, they offer no real challenge, and after a while the novelty wears thin. Most of the puzzle you under take involve touch, but they too are often also far too easy. Solving combination locks and statue based puzzles are as fun as they sound, but having Chase tell you every time if you’re right or wrong leads to it becoming a hit or miss chore. Thankfully, later on in the game, the puzzles start increasing in difficulty and enjoyment, and feel more familiar to what the series is famous for.
Drake also has a camera this time around, and it really is puzzling why this feature wasn’t thought of before. In your journal, you’re given various photography challenges that require you to take a photo of a certain piece of scenery, from a certain distance, with a certain amount of zoom. The camera’s zoom is also controlled with the rear touch pad, while titling the Vita makes fine adjustments to where you’re looking while zoomed. Completing these challenges require a 100% replica to what you’re given, and while this is not always that difficult, it is entertaining and rewarding. Whipping out your camera and taking a photo of literally anything at any moment is also possible, storing each image on your memory card. The Vita’s camera is also utilised at one point, in an extremely inventive way, but I feel that explaining it would destroy the effect it had on me. Needless to say, I grinned when I figured out what to do, and it truly showed Bend really thought of every way to use the Vita they possibly could. Most importantly, most of the features are completely optional and not forced, meaning that you can play Uncharted the way you’re used to, if you wish.
When you consider Uncharted: Golden Abyss as a launch title, then the real work that Bend put in starts to show. As one of the first games on the system, Golden Abyss could prove to be one of the best the device will ever receive, as topping this near flawless experience will be a feat. I like to compare Golden Abyss to the first Uncharted, purely because I think Bend can take this game to all new heights. If you consider Uncharted: Drakes Fortune, it still stands as one of the best PS3 out there, and it’s sequels only improved on the formula. If Bend can keep that pattern up with their portable series, and keep it from feeling like spin-offs, then buying a Vita may become a requirement for Uncharted fans.
Uncharted: Golden Abyss is easily the best launch title Sony could’ve hoped for. Firstly, it shows off excellently that experiences on a console can be replicated, and even beaten, on a portable scale. Secondly, it is a real show of how impressive the Vita really is, and sets the bar for developers currently making games for it. It shows how to utilise all of the Vita’s elements perfectly, as well as add to a tried and tested formula. While there are some issues that exist, most of them are minor, and I have no doubt that Bend will easily improve them if they plan to make a sequel for the Vita. I remember buying a PSP just to play Final Fantasy: Crisis Core. I could easily say the same with the Vita and Uncharted: Golden Abyss. If you’re an Uncharted fan, and you’re not planning on buying a PS Vita for this game, then you’re absolutely insane.