With three critically acclaimed blockbusters under its belt, the Uncharted series took a step into the unknown last year. Announced during the PlayStation Vita’s big reveal, Golden Abyss marked the first handheld outing for Nathan Drake and co. Not only that, it was the first game in the series not developed by creators, Naughty Dog.
Instead it was passed onto SCE Bend Studio. Having only worked on a smattering of secondary PS2/PSP titles, there was a slight worry that anything produced by the Oregon-based dev would discredit Naughty Dog’s hard work to build such an amazing franchise.
This was not the case, however. Not by a long shot. When Golden Abyss finally launched it emulated just about everything that makes Uncharted great, albeit without the online multiplayer portion.
Bend took the exact button layout from previous entries in the series, stripping out the L2/R2 functionality and adding a number of Vita-specific tweaks. Grenade-tossing and reloading, for instance, became non-intrusive touch-screen icons. This feature was also used in puzzle-solving, whether it was picking up pieces of a map and rotating them or dusting off an ancient relic. Even platforming which, let’s be honest, is mostly on auto-pilot, was streamlined thanks to a simplified gesture system.
Tweaks aside, the core experience was exactly what fans had come to expect. For what seemed like an era players had been pining for a handheld system with dual analog sticks in order to handle movement and camera orientation seamlessly. Due to this the first few minutes of Golden Abyss, to me, felt like a mini-revolution; Sony had finally crafted a portable device apt to run fleshy, console-style games.
Though it’s not something everyone will have explored, the treasure system in Golden Abyss also had its merits. Instead of shaking down each level to find hidden, glowing relics, other treasures would be awarded for completing sets of secondary puzzles as well as felling enemies. Not only did these make subsequent playthroughs more interesting, they also fed into Bend’s Uncharted card game, Fight for Fortune, which was actually pretty fun.
The only stand-out flaw with Golden Abyss was its unambitious story. Set across parts of Panama and colonised America, it depicted a slightly younger Nathan Drake who, as always, is on the lookout for ancient treasure. Along with new companions Dante and Marisa, he starts to uncover a trail, only to cross paths with militia general, Roberto Guerro. What ensues is a cat and mouse affair as both parties go in search of the Quivirans, a lost civilization perched upon a sea of gold.
It’s a sound enough adventure yet one that never as captivating or dramatic as those in Drake’s Deception, Among Thieves, or even Drake’s Fortune. Characters, though fairly fleshed out, also did little to fill the void, despite a lengthy stint from series favourite, Victor Sullivan.
For many this didn’t come as a surprise, however. Even Naughty Dog itself would struggle to top its previous work, let alone a fairly untested first-party developer.
It may not be the perfect transition from home console to handheld but Golden Abyss is still a stalwart title and essential for anyone with a PlayStation Vita.
It handles fluidly, looks the part, and even has a decent amount of replay value. Unless you’re absolutely hung up about the sub-par story, it’s a no-brainer really.