Uncharted: Golden Abyss review (PS Vita)

Uncharted: Golden Abyss is arguably the best game on the PS Vita right now. That’s an easy statement to make, because the portable console is still very new – and there will be more (hopefully better) games to come.

Developed by Sony’s Bend Studios, and overseen by Naughty Dog, the game is set before the events of Drake’s Fortune, and involves Nathan Drake teaming up with an old friend to explore the mysteries of Central America.

Tall tales

The old friend in question is Jason Dante – he’s a slimy sort of fellow – and even if the opening scenes didn’t paint him as an antagonist, you’d expect him to betray you anyway.

Along the journey, Drake also shares screen time with Marissa Chase, Dante’s archaeological partner who doesn’t harbour any love for the man, as well as the “revolutionary leader”, Roberto Guerro who wants to kill things.

Without giving too much away, this time around Nathan is in the search of the Golden Abyss – the end point to uncovering the mystery behind a Spanish massacre discovered in a Panamanian jungle of all places.

The Spanish connection, some will recall, is a tie-in to Drake’s Fortune. Because those Spaniards liked gold and never really stuck to Spain much.

Cliff-hanger

Golden Abyss is surprisingly on par with the PS3 Uncharted series in many respects. When it comes to the gameplay, fans of the Nathan Drake’s misadventures will feel right at home, though there are a few PS Vita additions that sort of help, and some that sort of break the enjoyment of the game.

On the helping side, navigating up and around climbable structures has become somewhat of a breeze. Instead of finding your path and manually directing Nate to follow it – the PS Vita’s touch screen lets you simply draw the path with your finger, and you can sit back and watch Nathan do the work for you.

Some might find that detracts from the experience, but I quite liked it. What I didn’t like – and I don’t see how anyone could – were all the added touch screen mini-games.

To call them mini-games is a bit misleading, as you’re simply doing various rubbing actions to get pictures on paper, or to clean artefacts. There’s no real sense to it, and feels like you’re simply doing it because the PS Vita has these features, and Sony Bend had to implement them somehow.

Don’t even get me started on needing to use the rear-touch pad to rotate things, because that was just a nightmare. Add to the mix some tacked-on photography sections that will be embarrassing to do in public, and you’ll see Bend really were trying to milk the PS Vita for its gimmicks.

Aside from the Vita-specific gameplay features, the rest of the game plays out as you’d expect. Shooting may feel a bit unrefined, but anyone who played Uncharted 3 will be used to that anyway (ZING!).

The Vita’s analogue sticks are, once again, blissfully welcome for control.

Scenic views

The game is a visual marvel – perhaps not when compared to its bigger PS3 brothers, but watching Nathan and Marissa running around the various locations is a feast for the eyes.

From the dense Central American Jungles, to the dingy underground caves leading to the Golden Abyss, you never feel like Sony Bend were skimping somewhere.

As mentioned, you can’t exactly look at Golden Abyss and lament that Nate doesn’t have as many polygons to his dashing facial features – the PS Vita adventure has certainly set a standard for other developers to follow on the portable.

Sound stylings

The soundtrack isn’t all that different from Drake’s Fortune – in fact you’d be forgiven for not noticing any real difference.

Of course, the dialogue is all new, and with the ever-present Nolan North voicing our intrepid adventurer once more, there’s definitely that feeling of authenticity.

While the voice acting is convincing and of quality, the same cannot be said about the dialogue, which is often cheesy (more-so than usual) and half-hearted.

The problem is, this is also prevalent across the entire story. You never quite get that attachment to the new characters introduced in the game; nor is the over-all plot a masterful penning filled with mystery and intrigue and “oh em gee!” moments.

In fact, I dare say it was rather predictable.

But that’s not really such a bad thing, because even though Golden Abyss isn’t quite as polished as the PlayStation counterparts, it’s still more polished than most games out there. If you’re still better when you’re not at your best, that says something.

Content filler

Spread across 31 chapters, you’d be forgiven for thinking this is the longest game in the Uncharted series. Don’t let the number fool you, each chapter is much shorter than what we’re used to in the PS3 games.

Having said that, there is arguably a lot more to do.

Each level is littered with collectables and challenges for you to do, though these usually involve using the clumsy Vita features.

Taking specific photos, piecing together puzzle pieces and collecting specific items will keep completionists busy, squeezing a few more hours out of the game.

There’s no multiplayer, but there have been murmurings that some form of multi-play will be coming. In that case, and depending on what form it takes, there could be even more value here.

Conclusion

For all its skimping here and there, Uncharted Golden Abyss is the first PS Vita game I’ve played that’s had me sitting with the console from full charge to dead.

Like the series on the big-brother console, it’s a game you invest time in to complete – not sit with for a few minutes at a time to have a quick go.

It’s visually stunning, and reeks of quality all round – even when it does come up a bit lacking. It’s Uncharted through-and-through, and if you can try to enjoy the weird mini-games and push through the finicky touchpad input methods (you’ll have to), then Golden Abyss will be all the more sweeter for you.

It’s not perfect, and misses the Naughty Dog touch – but even so, sets the standard for PS Vita games that plan on competing in the big-leagues.

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Uncharted: Golden Abyss review (PS Vita)

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