Having cheated death more times than a cat crossing a road, thrill-seeker Nathan Drake should really put his feet up for a while and enjoy the quiet life. But in Uncharted: Golden Abyss, the treasure-seeking bug has took hold of him again as he sets off on a historically-rich adventure in the footsteps of a failed Spanish expedition in which its entire crew were massacred.
With themes of love, friendship and dastardly double-crossing flowing through its veins, the storyline of Golden Abyss rarely strays from the Uncharted mold that has been carefully sculpted since day one, yet once again delivers the goods with an well-paced, engaging storyline complete with great characterisation, highly-produced cut-scenes and clever plot-building.
Sweeping camera angles and a breadth of cinematic techniques create a sense of scale and drama that wouldn’t look out of place on the big screen. As firmly predicted, but certainly not unwelcome, Drake is thrown into a sequence of exciting scenarios as he inevitably loses his footing while shimmying across a cliff’s edge or runs for his life in an exciting chase sequence. It’s predicable, yes, but it’s exactly what we expected from an Uncharted game and all the better for it.
What we didn’t expect, however, is how great Golden Abyss looks on PS Vita’s small screen. The world that Sony Bend has created feels alive and begs to be explored with stunning panoramic views, grandly designed locations, dazzling waterfalls and superb use of light and shadow techniques that help to bring it all to life. Visually, Golden Abyss is the most impressive-looking game we’ve ever played on handheld.
Using the two analogue sticks to control Drake means that the game feels more like its console counterpart and it makes the platform sections and bouts of third-person combat feel immediately comfortable and familiar. Like previous games in the series, gameplay follows a familiar pattern as you navigate the 3D environments by searching for pathways through burning buildings and ramshackled villages, while engaging in cover-based combat against some clever AI.
The touchscreen is extremely responsive to your gestures and used in a variety of ways to compliment the analogue controls. You might use your finger to draw out a pathway across ledges to navigate a treacherous mountain climb or to scale a building, and Drake will follow the path you laid out. You can toss grenades, stealth kill enemies or slice across the screen to slash a bamboo fence to shreds. Though there are times where player is forced to use the touchscreen rather than the analogue sticks, rarely does it serve to do anything other than enhance the experience.
The rear touchscreen also comes in handy for climbing ropes which feels surprising intuitive, while PS Vita’s tilt sensors are used for more than its fair share of log-balancing, probably a little too much for our liking. Nonetheless, the implementation of touchscreen and tilt control is extremely slick and brings a fresh new feel to the Uncharted series.
Drake’s slower-paced platforming exploits are punctuated with the type of fast-paced and exciting sequences that we’ve come to expect from the Uncharted series, including some frenetic shootouts and an exhilarating ride through the rapids. There are also a few QTE sequences that kick in and take advantage of the touchscreen as you fight tooth and nail in some enjoyable one-one-one battles, slashing the screen in multiple directions to dodge and take jabs at your opponent.
Though gameplay is familiar, Golden Abyss does offer something that previous games don’t. The locations throughout the 30 chapters are far more open to exploration than we’re used to and, usually, if there’s an area that looks like it’s worth exploring, you can head over there and go off on a complete tangent in search of treasure. Away from the combat and ledge jumping there are dozens of collectibles to look for, including gold, gemstones and tarot cards.
Though bagging these goodies doesn’t change the single player experience at all, completionists will have great fun trying to find some really well hidden items. And outside of the main game you can enter the Black Market and trade goods with other players using PS Vita’s NEAR feature. Disappointingly, NEAR only takes into account players who are within a certain radius of your location, so if you don’t live in an area where there are lots of people who own PS Vita, it’s a feature that will mostly be redundant.
The biggest missed opportunity in Uncharted: Golden Abyss is the lack of a multiplayer component. This was a chance to show off PS Vita’s power as a handheld that connects the PlayStation community together to deliver the kind of social experience we’ve hoped it would deliver. It’s not a make or break feature by any means, but it should really have featured in the handheld’s flagship launch title.
Consequently, Uncharted Golden Abyss is a whisker away from being the perfect launch title for Sony’s superb new portable device. Nevertheless, the top notch production values are unlike anything we’ve experienced before on handheld, while the story-telling is typical of what we’ve come to expect from a series that consistently delivers the complete videogame experience. If you buy one game for Vita on launch day, it just has to be Uncharted: Golden Abyss.
Uncharted: Golden Abyss is a great experience from start to finish with dramatic moments, slick combat and carefully-measured platform play. Even the abundance of collectibles and stunning open environments make up in some way for its lack of a multiplayer component.