Sony Bend enjoys a challenge; they were tasked with making a portable version of one of the most critically acclaimed series in recent memory. If that wasn’t hard enough–Uncharted Golden Abyss is the PS Vita’s flagship title, so they also have to showcase the newly released handheld’s features. Most studios would umm… bend, under the same circumstances. Well, that’s not the case here, UGA has a few blatantly gimmicky segments, but somehow it still manages to live up to the Uncharted pedigree.
This game takes place before Drake’s Fortune—but don’t call it a prequel. Like the other Uncharted games there really isn’t a connection between any of them, they’re just different events in Drake’s life. The story is typical Uncharted fare, treasure, betrayal, ancient secrets, etc. Marissa Chase is the only new character worth caring about, but that’s not unexpected since the story centers on Chase and her grandfather.
I really enjoyed the plot—but I felt like it was a missed opportunity. Now would have been a perfect time to explain what happened between Uncharted 1 & 2. An adventure with Drake and Elena would have been so much better. The Uncharted series has a lot of holes between games; Naughty Dog should have allowed Sony Bend to fill in some of the gaps.
If you’re a veteran to the series then you know what to expect when it comes to gameplay. It’s all here; you climb, brawl, hide behind cover, shoot, jump, and solve puzzles. The core experience feels the same. Although, shooting felt off at first. It’s one of those things you have to get use to. The Vita’s sticks aren’t as large as the PS3’s, but after a couple of hours you’ll be pulling off headshots with ease.
The only thing that feels terribly wrong about the controls is all the gimmicky touch segments. You’ll be doing a ton of charcoal rubbings, swipes, and a few other things that you’ll learn to hate during your 10 plus hour journey.
There’s nothing worse than having an adrenaline boosting gunfight, and then being forced to slow down and put together a ripped up map. It’s like a jigsaw puzzle, normally you have to grab and rotate 20 pieces of paper and put them in the right order. This isn’t fun, but that’s not the only example of gimmicky touch controls. Other times you have to pick something up, rotate it with the back touchpad, and dust it off with the front. There should be an option to skip these parts because they mess up the games pacing.
I wrote an article stating Golden Abyss isn’t the best-looking PS Vita game. It looks great, but the resolution seems off and there’s no anti-aliasing. The graphics get better as the game goes on–the jaggies become less noticeable. Also, I think Sony Bend is still trying to come to grips with the hardware, there’s some slowdown during some of the bigger gunfights. Hopefully they’ll release a patch.
Sometimes I truly forgot that I was playing a portable game, Golden Abyss’ production values are slightly below its console brothers, but they’re better than anything I’ve ever seen on a handheld. Every cutscene feels meaningful because the acting is sublime. Nolan North voices Drake once again, and the supporting cast of actors manages to hold their own.
Elsewhere, all of the little Uncharted touches are on display, Naughty Dog would be proud. When Drake jumps to his death your companion yells out in horror, Drake moves just like he does on the PS3, the theme song is still catchy, the chapter number still pops up, the cover system is still one of the best around, and there’s many more things that let you know you’re playing Uncharted. If you had concerns about a game made by a studio besides ND you have nothing to worry about. I’ll take it one step further–if ND ever decides to give up the series Sony Bend has my vote to continue where they left off.
If you’re a fan of Uncharted’s multiplayer than look elsewhere—this is a single player only affair. There’s no doubt that this will stop some from paying $49.99 for this game. Sony Bend will probably add it to UGA’s inevitable sequel.
Don’t let all my moaning in the middle of this review fool you–I thoroughly enjoyed Drake’s latest outing. It doesn’t have the bigger set-pieces of the PS3 titles, but some of the levels where you’re climbing tall structures while shooting will leave you in awe. There’s also some gorgeous sunsets in your adventure. Each chapter is short and they’re perfect for quick pick up and play sessions while you’re commuting–especially the shooting sections. Also the banter between Drake and his companions will make you laugh on more than one occasion. He still likes women with nice backsides, this is evident by one of the comments he makes about Chase’s jeans.
You couldn’t ask for a better launch title, sure UGA isn’t perfect—but as far as launch games go this is one of the best ever. And who knows, since this is the Japanese version, Sony Bend could polish up some of the rougher areas before its February 15th worldwide release date.
All screenshots were taken directly from my PS Vita. Uncharted Golden Abyss is out now in Japan and will be out everywhere this February.