There’s a moment in the first half an hour of Uncharted: Golden Abyss were I had to put the Vita down and take a moment to try and get my head around what I was actually looking at. I’m becoming more and more numb to innovation in games. The paradigm seemingly evolves weekly and as such, it’s very rare nowadays that I take a moment and genuinely think to myself “just how on earth did they do that?”. There’s a moment in the first 30 minutes of Nathan Drake’s debut on Vita where the camera pans over a cliff that you are negotiating and gives you a wide angled view of the extended jungle hinterland that lies ahead of our loveable stubbled treasure hunting hero. Just how it actually looks this good, is simply mind-boggling. I never signed up for this. I knew it would look good but not this good. If this is what Vita can churn out from day one, then the handheld has a very bright future ahead of it. Don’t let Golden Abyss’ handheld status throw you, this is a “real” Uncharted in very possible way.
With Sony Bend at the helm of Golden Abyss, they have crafted one of the first true PS3 quality games for Vita. PS3 quality, both in terms of aesthetic fidelity and size, is possible on Vita and Golden Abyss proves this emphatically.
The game opens up on something on a subtle note. It lacks the high octane, blood pumping first footsteps of the precarious ramshackle train carriage climb of Uncharted 2 or the smart suited bare knuckle pub brawl that starts off Uncharted 3. In saying that, it isn’t long before you’ll be introduced to new friends and new enemies, all of whom suitably compliment the kind of quality characterisations we’ve come to expect of the Uncharted franchise. On the story front, it works. It’s not as well rounded as the console versions but it’s not exactly lacking either. The voice acting, the assorted seemingly sporadic and off the cuff dialogue and the humorous quips all return and are integrated very well. It certainly feels like Uncharted and this is important. This doesn’t feel like a diluted handheld incarnation of the franchise just for the sake of it.
On the gameplay side of things, it’s a case of as you were from the PS3. If it aint broke don’t fix it. Drake will climb walls, grip to bars, propel from platforms, precariously cling to ledges and to exposed wall fronts as per usual. It’s satisfyingly familiar especially if you’re only interested in climbing using the traditional established control scheme. However Vita allows you to climb using the touch-screen. Literally pressing the screen at the place you want to jump to will command Drake to jump that way. It’s hardly original but the mechanic works. I’m just not sure if there’s enough here to pry controller purists away from the traditional face buttons. Another example of Vita’s unique controls at work can be observed in crossing a horizontal beam. You tilt the Vita to make sure Drake keeps his balance. Naughty Dog tried this with the original Uncharted game in Drake’s Fortune with SIXAXIS and subsequently dropped it in the two sequels that followed. It’s just fine here on Vita, but again, it’s hardly innovative and certainly doesn’t heighten how potentially immersive the experience is. Climbing aside, brandishing your weapon and taking out the enemy feels fine, it might not be as balanced as it is on the PS3 but it’s still quite tight. The same can’t be said for melee combat however but it’s still works quite well.
The only real drawback to using Vita’s controls to play a game that you’ve played three times before without, is that you have to commit to Vita controls for certain sequences. You can play the game with the traditional control set up for as long as you wish, but then the game will ask you to use the touch screen to simply, for example, use a machete to cut a piece of cloth, or to punch an enemy during a quick close quarters brawl. The most annoying of all is when you are walking along a fallen tree trunk or tip toeing across a thin bar and the game literally stops you to force you to tilt the Vita left or right to keep your balance. It’s annoying and actually takes away from the immersion of the experience herein. These are only minor gripes but they do really eat at you. You will use the touch screen and the track pad to make charcoal drawings, solve puzzle and clean artefacts and these all work well because they don’t stop you in your immediate tracks.
Visually, as I’ve already mentioned, Golden Abyss is overwhelmingly beautiful. It’s stunning and a real triumph for the portable. The presentation is near flawless, that goes for the audio too. If you’re into collectibles then there’s plenty to see and find. With 30 chapters to make your way through, Golden Abyss will keep you busy for a while. There’s no multiplayer or co-op but that’s ok. Given that it’s the first run out for Drake on Vita, Golden Abyss can be forgiven for its inherit lack of extras past the single player story.
If you have a Vita, you simply must play Uncharted: Golden Abyss. If you can tolerate the Vita control gimmicks, you’ll enjoy every moment of an adventure that would feel just as good on PS3 as it does on a handheld. Congratulations Sony Bend. You nailed it.
TGL SCORE: 9/10
Developer: Sony Bend
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Release Date: Out Now