The Playstation Vita was launched with one of the most impressive launch line-ups for any system…ever. There really was something for every gamer, from racing games with Wipeout: 2048, to fantastic puzzlers like Lumines: Electronic Symphony and even platformers like Rayman Origins. The one game that could justifiably be called a ‘killer app’ though was Uncharted: Golden Abyss, a title that would impress on any console, let alone a handheld machine.
The Uncharted series is one of Sony’s great success stories. The first game, Drake’s Fortune, released on the PS3 back in 2007, with sequels following every two years. All of the previous games were developed by Naughty Dog and were released to both critical and commercial acclaim, this is the first time another studio has been let anywhere near Nathan Drake. Bend Studios got the nod for this high-profile handheld launch title, a team previously known for the Syphon Filter games. So how did they manage with a brand new and well protected franchise? Read on treasure seekers to find out.
Story is very important in any Uncharted game. This isn’t really God of War, where you just need to know that Kratos is mightily pissed off with some deities and is off to kicky butt with his shiny noggin. Previous games in the series have mixed Tomb Raider with Indiana Jones and a little bit of X-Files with its usually supernatural twists. It isn’t too much of a spoiler to say that, as a prequel, Golden Abyss doesn’t really head too much in this direction. It’s more a straightforward adventure story, with treachery, camaraderie and a bit of romance thrown in for good measure. Oh, and a slimy Latin American General. Although certainly not a disappointment, the plot is certainly not as big a selling point as before, and the new characters are a little one-dimensional.
The other thing that may disappoint long-term fans is the game’s reluctance to spread its wings, geographically speaking. The whole thing is pretty much set in the same region of Central America and lacks a lot of the set pieces that previous games have shown off. In a way though this does provide more focus and lends Golden Abyss a look and feel very similar to the first game on PS3 which is no bad thing. Oh, and it looks gorgeous throughout. No really, just check out some these lovely screenshots if you don’t believe me.
The level of detail on Drake in particular is incredible, in places extremely similar to the Drake’s Deception. Locations are slightly more of a mixed bag, with some looking absolutely amazing, with other areas look a little dull. One thing that does really impress on the Vita’s lovely high contrast screen are fire effects, something that Bend Studios seemed to have learned pretty quickly as they find plenty of uses for the hot stuff throughout the game. All in all though, considering this is a first generation game for the Vita, the look of the game will certainly impress you.
Gameplay wise, the same formula holds true; platforming, gunplay and the odd instance of fisticuffs, broken up with a puzzle here and there. The puzzles are probably slightly easier and less frequent than you may be used to, but a lot of them use the touchscreen in interesting ways which kind of makes up for their lack of challenge. Platform jumping is first-rate, and the shooting sections are pretty good, even if it does take a while (and a few adjustments to the control setup) to adapt to the slightly over-responsive right analogue stick.
I just mentioned the touchscreen, and as a launch title for a handheld that has a lot of focus on new ways to control the action, you may expect to see other examples of this, and you would certainly be right. If you genuinely hate touchscreen and gyro controls though worry not, the majority of the options are exactly that. You aren’t forced to use the touchscreen to climb walls, the rear touch pad to shimmy ropes, or the gyro sensor to aim your weapon. Personally, I liked the chance to use whatever controls you as the payer prefer. For example I used the ‘alternative’ controls for aiming my sniper rifle and used the traditional controls for pretty much everything else. You are forced to use the gyro to balance yourself on beams, and the touchscreen for various tasks like hand to hand fighting and getting a lift onto a high ledge etc. I didn’t really object to these limited scenarios, but depending on your opinion of ‘iPhone’ like controls your opinion may vary.
Another way that Golden Abyss differs from the earlier games is in its use of secrets. Drake’s notebook has always been an integral part of the Uncharted experience, but this is the first time you actually help to create it. Hidden in each chapter are various items that you need to locate to fill in various pages in Drake’s scrapbook, the collection of each leads to a trophy. Some are simple pick-ups of items or taking pictures which combine to add to the story, others require you to take a charcoal rubbing of an inscription or clean off a dirty item to read something written on it. Both of these use the front or rear touchscreen and add a nice exploration aspect to the game that wouldn’t be there otherwise. It adds longevity to an otherwise fairly easy game and if you are a trophy hunter then expect to spend many more than the core games 8 or so hours in tracking down every last clue.
All in all then, Bend Studios has done a sterling job. Uncharted: Golden Abyss may be slightly lacking in the challenge and globe-trotting excitement shown in the PS3 titles, and its story element may not be the best, but this is countered with the very good journal system which adds a great deal of replay factor and also the interesting (if at times overdone) use of the Vita’s feature set. It certainly isn’t the best Uncharted game on the market, but at the moment it is certainly the best game on the Vita. Frankly if you plan on getting Sony’s new wonder machine WITHOUT this game, you need a swift touchscreen controlled slap to the face. 9/10 then, with a great deal of enthusiasm for the next handheld Uncharted game, whether it is Naughty Dog or Bend working to bring it to us.