When the PlayStation Vita launched, there were the requisite ports, and stripped down versions of popular console games, and souped-up versions of simple iPhone games. And then there was one title that had been built from the ground up for the Vita, and it happened to be a new chapter in a beloved franchise.
Uncharted: Golden Abyss is the first Nathan Drake adventure developed outside of Naughty Dog Studios. For the Vita release, Sony assigned the job to its in-house Bend Studios. Normally, a move like this can spell trouble, but Bend Studios have come through with an incredible system launch game.
Golden Abyss is set before the events on the first PS3 game, Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune. Nathan Drake has a different set of friends, and has different career goals. This is a Nate Drake that has lived a life of cutthroat treasure hunting before we first met him on the boat with Elena in the first Uncharted game. While not a deep story, Golden Abyss follows Nate (and a few new friends, one old one… and some new enemies) as they seek out a city of riches deep in the South American jungle.
Unlike the console titles, which normally have Drake bouncing all over the world seeking some grand historical relic, Golden Abyss keeps the action solely in the jungle (well, and in temples found in said jungle). There are over 30 chapters in the Golden Abyss, and most can be cleared within 10 minutes or so for gaming on the go.
The variety in the game comes from the Vita’s features itself. There are still a ton of parkour-like jumps and climbing, and of course gunfights that always happen to break out in an area that has a lot of peculiar cover opportunities, but now there is a greater emphasis on treasure hunting.
I mean Nate Drake IS a treasure hunter. It makes sense. Golden Abyss is lousy with different treasures to seek out and find. There are over 300 different things to find! Some are simple as turquoise trinkets, and some involve taking specific pictures of exotic locales. The found treasures can then be traded via the Black Market, which utilizes the near social trading feature.
The Vita’s front and back touch screens are used to “wipe” off dirty treasures, and to unlock doors, and the built-in Six Axis gives motion control a whole new level. Taking pictures is a mini-game in and of itself.
And there are puzzles… like real puzzles… with misshaped pieces that have to be solved and put together. In fact, the sheer number of things to do, seek, and uncover in this game is staggering.
The touch screen is also used in-game with screen prompts for “swipes” used to cut down foliage with a machete, and melee combat can be dished out by tapping the enemy. And the built-in motion sensor is used for balance when Nate is walking on a tight rope, or a log, or whatever he finds himself on during his adventure.
The entire interface actually works seamlessly. It adds a whole new level to a game series that may be bordering on stagnation. Regardless, Bend Studios has done a great job.
The graphics of Golden Abyss are breathtaking, and really show off the power of the Vita’s OLED screen. Character models look just as good as the console versions (and Nate still has his patented half-tuck), the only difference is in some of the action scenes, the frame rate drops, and the characters look like they were rendered onto the background, and not seamlessly integrated as with a console game.
But again, this is a HANDHELD game system, so it can be forgiven. The look of the game is still leaps and bounds beyond any other handheld game system on the market. And the iPhone and iPad are NOT game systems, before you bring it up.
The sound and music are 100% Uncharted. Nolan North reprises his Nate Drake, and hearing that familiar voice helps to create the greater Uncharted experience. The game writing isn’t on the same level as Amy Hennig’s, but is very adequate and it works for this game. I find myself chuckling throughout; it’s just kissing the heart that the console games contain.
Combat still suffers from the same issues as the PS3 versions. When Nate comes into a clearing with crates strategically scattered about, you know a gunfight is about to break out. Also, the reticule never seems to be calibrated correctly, and even headshots take a few hits to bring down even the lowliest soldier. Who knew that a South American revolutionary fighter would need eight rounds fired into his head and chest to take him down? How have these supermen NOT won their war?
The game has other flaws than the spotty combat. Sometimes, the action gets repetitive, and the overall story is really kind of… bland. The draw of Uncharted: Golden Abyss is in the new Vita system itself, and once all of the new features have been discovered and utilized, the game loses a little of its luster.
The LiveArea contains a link to the PlayStation Store to purchase Uncharted DLC, like treasure map packs and there is a link to the “Black Market,” which uses the Vita’s near feature to trade treasure with other players as you pass them in the real world. There is also the game’s manual, which is standard.
Sony was wise to roll out one of their A-List franchises as a Vita launch title, and Bend Studios has done a wonderful job in really showing off the power and features of the PS Vita system. Also, the game is incredibly fun, and exciting, which is a plus. The treasure hunting aspects, which have never got much love on the console games take center stage here, and it works marvelously. In fact, I hope that this is the first of many more Nathan Drake treasure hunt-focused games, as it is a sub-genre that has not been tapped into.
Uncharted: Golden Abyss is a great game and a true must have for every Vita owner.
Shop for Uncharted: Golden Abyss on PS Vita for a discounted price at Amazon.com (February 13, 2012 release date).