Uncharted: Golden Abyss
The Uncharted series has made its debut portable effort on Sony’s newest handheld, and despite the fact that a different team is handling the release there is little difference to the standard affair expected from a Nathan Drake adventure. Large, immaculate environments shift from panoramic vistas to crumbling ruins with ease, all spliced together amongst the usual assortment of cover-based shooting. At the same time there’s also this tremendous interest in the new technology and how the player can interact with the world better using it, though most of the time this interaction takes a turn for worse.
Golden Abyss is a stand-alone title for the series that takes place before the events of Drake’s Fortune, and for that reason doesn’t necessitate having played the console iterations first. Aside from Nathan Drake himself, there are only four characters he interacts with over the course of the whole game, and only one that’s familiar to the series. Newcomer Chase fills the obligatory female adventurer role, Dante takes over the obviously corrupt ally of sorts, and Guerro is a caricature of a former General, providing the least interesting villain in all of the Uncharted games combined.
Like the console versions, there’s a strong emphasis on storytelling, and though this has the relatively weakest story for the series, that doesn’t mean it’s bad. While Uncharted 3 was busy employing tricks such as flashbacks and mind trickery, Golden Abyss is happy to send Nathan on a straightforward romp on the search for another fabled city.
Along the way there are collectible artifacts, not necessarily to expand the plot but to provide a little more “history” to the world that he explores. It’s a more detailed version of the previous treasure system, and includes much more to do this time around. Some artifacts are torn notes that need to be pieced together again and made whole. He can even play travel journalist of a sort, taking photographs of key locations and structures.
There’s an equally strong pull towards the new technology of the Vita. It comes with two touch screens and motion sensing, and Golden Abyss is the kind of game that wants to use it all, as much as possible. It wants to be a game and it wants to be a technical demonstration of what the Vita can do at the same time.
And it does manage to pull out a few neat tricks. While climbing through the environment, the touch screen can be used to create a path for Drake to follow. When jumping from one ledge to the next, leaning the Vita slightly will get him to lean towards the other ledge, ready to jump. During photography, or while sniping, the touch screen provides a slider for its zoom function.
Then there’s also the tricks it tries to pull, but are thankfully ignorable due to secondary methods of control. The motion sensing can be used to aim your weapon, just move the Vita around to aim, but it doesn’t function better than the analog stick and can be turned off. You can climb up or down ropes using the rear touch screen, but it’s not like that’s any better than using the left analog stick. There’s an icon on the screen that can be tapped to reload, but it’s farther away from the d-pad and can be ignored.
But not all of its new features turn out well or can be turned off. Some of these features are so integrated into the gameplay that they depreciate the events around them. Nearly every time Nathan approaches a thin, beam like structure to walk across he will most likely lose his balance, something that can only be corrected by tilting the Vita appropriately until he feels the need to continue again. Objects in the world that need closer inspection are rotated by using the rear touch screen, which is highly unintuitive.
The worst of all of the new “tricks” that are brought into Golden Abyss is its quick time events. And they’re not just any QTE’s, they’re slightly worse: they’re touch screen based QTE’s. An arrow appears in the direction in which it wants you to drag your finger across in order for Nathan to succeed at punching. Scattered use of touch screen based QTE’s is bad enough on its own. The true horror comes later on the game when there are not one, but two boss fights that are entirely done with QTE’s, and the boss fights aren’t quick. These are lengthy, two to three minute affairs of only QTE’s.
Despite its flaws the platforming and cover-based shooting are on par with its console peers. There is fun to be had with Uncharted: Golden Abyss, regardless of how badly it fumbles with its new technology.
Seven out of ten