Back in 2007 ‘Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune’ was seen as an extremely important title for the PS3, which seemed to be suffering from a number of sub-par ports and precious little else. The combination of great story and fantastic graphics, coupled with hugely likeable characters, won many people over and proved that the PS3 did indeed have the right stuff.
Now it’s time for Nate to step forward once again and show the world that the PlayStation Vita will be coming out fighting on February 22nd.[drop2] Developed by Bend Studio, Golden Abyss starts off with Nate being led through the South American rainforest by his pal Dante, who seems very keen to show him some old ruins. Suspicions are raised early on as instead of taking you through the gates of the dig site, Dante insists the pair take the scenic route, trekking through mountains. One gets the feeling that perhaps they are trespassing.
Without wanting to ruin the story, things soon descend into the usual Uncharted chaos with back-stabbing, a strong female character, an evil villain and of course, some treasure to locate. It’s a really enjoyable story, and I found myself continuously looking forward to the next cut-scene.
Of course, one can’t mention Golden Abyss without passing comment on the graphics. To put it simply, the game has some absolutely stunning vistas, to the point where I just had to stop what I was doing and pan around for a while. Games like this are what the screen-capture option has been made for, as you feel almost compelled to show people the little shafts of light bursting through the trees, or the waterfall that seems to drop forever.
A lot of love has also been put into making the character models look as good as possible, and this can be chalked up as another success. The cut-scenes are just as good as we have come to expect from the console Uncharted games, with the motion-capture being put to good use. The sound is also extremely good, and the voice work is of the highest calibre.
The only negatives I can think of are that, rarely, the framerate does drop when things get very busy and, as you’ll have heard, the game doesn’t run at the Vita’s full native resolution.
What surprised me the most though is the fact that, in terms of both audio and visuals, all the wit and humour we have come to know and love have made a successful transition to the tiny Vita memory card. From Nate’s sarcastic comebacks and cheeky grin, to a running “that’s what she said” gag, it’s all there. This isn’t some cut-down Uncharted-lite, this is the real deal, only this time it can be played on the train.
Everyone interested in the Vita knows about the multitude of control methods on offer, and it seems they have all found their way into Golden Abyss, albeit with varying results. Using the rear touchpad to climb ropes didn’t feel particularly intuitive or necessary, and I mainly stuck to the good old fashioned buttons and sticks for that. However, tracing a path on the screen to climb up/down a cliff face was both quick and useful, and something I found myself using frequently.
Melee combat has also made the jump to the touch screen. When you get close enough to an enemy a fist icon will appear, and if you have managed to remain unseen you’ll get the chance to perform a stealth kill, which has some of the most wince-inducing neck snapping sounds I’ve ever heard. In fact I’d recommend using the stealth option wherever possible.
If you do get spotted you’ll have to take part in a quick time event, tapping and swiping at the screen when the relevant icons appear. This was never something I felt particularly comfortable with, as there doesn’t appear to be a way to cancel the QTE, meaning another enemy can simply stroll up and shoot you to death whilst you’re unable to do anything to defend yourself. There were also a couple of fairly lengthy QTE boss fights that I felt didn’t work particularly well at all.[drop] The control I used most, though, is the aiming adjustment. When I first started the game I was shocked at how loose aiming a weapon felt, even with the very generous auto-aim on. I asked around and got a “use the motion control!” response, and it made a massive difference.
What this entails is using the thumb-stick to point Nate in the general direction of the enemy, at which point the auto-aim will kick in when you bring up the iron-sight. Then all you have to do is gently move the Vita up, down, left or right, which moves the aiming reticule ever-so-slightly, allowing you to adjust for a nice clean headshot. It sounds fussy, but after a couple of levels it becomes instinctive and I ended up with a couple of hundred headshots throughout the game.
It’s worth noting that you can turn off most elements of motion control.
Whilst Uncharted 2 and 3 upped the ante with bigger and more impressive set-pieces, Golden Abyss takes a leaf out of the original Uncharted’s book. This game is more about exploration and puzzles, with a wealth of collectibles to sniff out. There are also special locations where charcoal rubbings can be done, and photographs can be taken. These all go towards solving additional mysterious.
Whilst it does become a bit of a grind towards the end, with waves of enemies to take out, it never hits that difficulty spike found in the other Uncharted games. It’s not a walk in the park, but you never really feel like you’ve been screwed over by invincible enemies.
- Looks and sounds sublime
- It’s a full-fat Uncharted game, but portable
- Some clever use of touch-screen/motion controls
- A great focus on exploration
- So much to treasure collect!
- Frame rate occasionally stutters
- The melee combat isn’t particularly strong
- Some of the QTEs go on for far too long
- Parts of the end section can be a grind
I’ll admit, I was nervous about the idea of Uncharted on Vita. This isn’t because I lack faith in Bend Studio’s ability, rather we have come to expect such a high level of polish from the franchise that I wasn’t sure the Vita could pull it off. I’m currently not only eating my hat, but a huge slice of humble pie.
As I said earlier, Uncharted: Golden Abyss really is a proper, 10 hour+ Uncharted adventure with very little in the way of compromise. The Vita’s launch line-up is strong, but Golden Abyss is certainly one of the titles at the top of the pile.
This was reviewed from a Japanese import version of the game.