Uncharted: Golden Abyss Review
Without a doubt, Uncharted: Golden Abyss has some rather big shoes to fill. It is being touted not only as the must-buy release title for the PlayStation Vita, but also as a true portable adventure on the same scale as its PS3 big brothers.
It all begins in typical Uncharted fashion, with Nathan Drake mid-adventure and in dire straits, before flashing back to the beginning of the tale. From there, the main story finds our hero in Central America, helping Dante – a mischieveous treasure hunter from Drake’s past – investigate mysterious Kuna ruins under the nose of a failed generalissimo and his rebel army.
But when the bullets start to fly, Drake finds himself working alongside Chase, a plucky local with a far more personal stake in the mystery surrounding these ancient ruins.
On the surface, all the necessary plot elements are there: a lost civilization, an army of bad guys, a pretty-yet-independent female lead, and, of course, a Nolan North-voiced Nathan Drake. Although what comes out of it is distinctly Uncharted, it ends up feeling much more like the original Drake’s Fortune than the more recent Drake’s Deception.
This is largely due to how each game’s developers approach the story. Uncharted 3 was designed as a series of set-pieces with a plot then written to tie them all together. Golden Abyss instead presents a more traditional pulp adventure plot that relies on clues and the overall mystery to drive the game forward. Thus, Golden Abyss’ few set-pieces occur at only the most climatic moments, creating a strong mix of story and in-game action.
Uncharted’s penchant for awe inspiring vistas hasn’t been lost.
However, just because the set-piece moments are largely gone from this iteration of Uncharted doesn’t mean that the visuals aren’t still astounding. Although not quite up to the standards of the PS3, Vita visuals look far better than anything else to ever appear on a handheld system.
The environments are lush, detailed and picturesque, with dynamic lighting accentuating the beauty of each moment. Unfortunately, the quality of the visuals is something that the screenshots do not do justice. In stills, jagged edges are noticeable; in motion, however, these outright disappear.
The soundtrack, stunning in its quality, deserves a mention as well. Clint Bajakian – the composer of more than a few Indiana Jones games – turns in a soundtrack where every theme is perfectly tailored to each location in Drake’s journey.
When surrounded by the ruins of an ancient Kuna city, a tribal beat permeates the music. Later during an escape from an ancient monastery, Gregorian-esque chants accentuate the frantic orchestral flurry as Drake fights his way out.
The gameplay pattern is exactly the same as previous Uncharted games: alternating sections of platforming and cover-based shooting. And while in story and pacing Golden Abyss has more in common with the first Uncharted, much of the gameplay is taken from the latter two games.
The stealth system from Uncharted 2 returns in force with many of the area battles being fully avoidable to anyone able to quickly and quietly rack up the stealth kills, and Uncharted 3’s vertical gunfights also make an occasional welcome appearance. Golden Abyss’ addition to gameplay comes in the form of protection events.
At various points, Drake must protect his partner from a distance using a sniper rifle, a gun turret, or, as in one heart-pounding sequence, nothing but his pistol as he leaps from broken column to broken column across a vaulted ceiling.
When it gets down to the basic platforming and gunning, the controls are an exact replica of the PS3’s – minus the non-existent L2 and R2 buttons. Nonetheless, there are enough changes and additions courtesy of the Vita system to make this Uncharted occasionally feel like a different beast all together.
One of the features that sets Vita apart from PSP is its dual touch panels, one back and one front. In Golden Abyss, the back panel is used sparingly to examine objects or, optionally, to climb ropes. The front screen, however, is used extensively for cleaning objects, making charcoal rubbings, piecing together torn-up papers, or just looking through the journal and in-game menus.
Drake and Sully are – once again – superb characters.
Grenade throwing is a now as simple as dragging and dropping, and Uncharted 3’s quick time button presses have been replaced with tracing an arrow across the screen, both in and out of melee combat. Also, though it’s completely optional, platforms can be traversed by simply touching the next ledge you want Drake to move to, or tracing the path you want him to take.
The other new Vita feature is a tilt sensor. This has welcome applications – such as controlling Drake’s wild ride down a mudslide – and weaker ones, like using it to aim. However, after a bit of fiddling in the options menu, most of these questionable features can be individually turned off to make it run almost identically to any other Uncharted title.
All in all, Uncharted: Golden Abyss is a solid addition to the Uncharted series, and one that any gamer, fan of the series or no, should be eager to get their hands on. It has a tight, well-written and well-acted script, excellent graphics, and gameplay on par with its PS3 brothers.
Its only real downside is that, because it is a launch title, it seems Golden Abyss seems overeager to incorporate every feature of the Vita whether it adds to the experience or not. That aside, if this game is indicative of portable games in the future, it looks like we may be entering an age where the only difference between portable and console gaming is the size of the screen