Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Uncharted: Golden Abyss (Vita) Review

They say that "all that glitters is not gold." True, but does "all that is Uncharted that is not made by Naughty Dog bad?" While you ponder that question and while we wonder a smoother way to word that, check out SuperPhillip Central's review of Uncharted: Golden Abyss, a launch title for the PlayStation Vita.

The Uncharted series goes into uncharted territory-- on the go.


The PlayStation Vita showed immense promise when it launched. It not only had powerful hardware with a plethora of features already from the get-go, but it also had the games to back up that the system was ready and raring to go. It's my belief that the Vita's launch lineup was one of the industry's best. What amazed me with the Vita was how full console experiences from the PlayStation 3 could be brought over to the Vita with minimal compromise needed. One such excellent example is Uncharted: Golden Abyss. While the series's creator Naughty Dog may not have had a direct hand in developing the game, the always capable Sony Bend once again shows that they're more than a match for any property that is thrown their way.

Beginning in the middle of things, Uncharted: Golden Abyss tells a tale of treasure hunting, betrayal, and the bonds between protagonist Nathan Drake and the many characters he comes across. Taking place before Drake's Fortune, the first in the Uncharted series, Golden Abyss follows Drake as he is hot on the trail of a rival hunter Jason Dante. What occurs next is a rewind of sorts where the game delves into the events leading up to this moment and how the former allies in Drake and Dante had their friendship turn very sour. While narrative in video games is hardly a strong suit for the medium, the Uncharted series usually does a serviceable job on this end. In that regard, Golden Abyss shines, but nowhere near as brightly as its console brethren.

"Excuse me, pretty boy, but we've
got some work to do!"
For those wanting an action-packed Hollywood blockbuster thrill ride on a portable, Uncharted: Golden Abyss is this. All in all it's a successful attempt at bringing Uncharted to a handheld with a big budget presentation like its console brothers. The gameplay is relatively the same too, with little touches added to work with the Vita's various tech and some scaled down aspects to better fit a handheld.

When you're not hunting for treasure,
it's always nice to find time to enjoy the view.
Like its big brothers on the PS3, you're constantly moving from set piece to set piece, albeit these don't have anywhere near the gravitas of said console versions. As Nathan Drake, you're engaged in shootouts with a myriad of enemy grunts firing right back at you while you hide behind cover, occasionally coming out for the opportunity to potshot someone. This is all the while being aware of your surroundings, escaping cover when a foe launches a grenade near you to flush you out, and participating in the rare "cover your AI pal or he or she will die" engagement.

Aiming does take some practice,
and even then, it doesn't  feel 100% right.
The Vita's built-in gyroscope can be used exclusively or in tandem with the right analog stick to aim down the sights of Drake's numerous repertoire of weapons (Drake can only hold two at a time, one handgun and one heavier weapon like an AK47 or RPG, for instance.) Overall, I found using both to be an adequate combination, as the analog stick by itself can feel a little clunky, while the gyroscope can be used to fine-tune and adjust your aim ever so slightly.

One shot left. Better make it count.
Platforming, climbing, and light exploration have always been a part of Uncharted, and Golden Abyss doesn't stray too far from the formula here either, for better or worse. Platforming still feels as rigid as ever, not allowing a feeling of tightness. Instead, this is rather a feeling of leaping in the general direction of what you're supposed to grab, such as a ledge or rope, and being attracted to the object as if it and Drake were magnets. Precision-based jumping is not fully there, sometimes offering more moments of aggravation than satisfaction.

Climbing cliff faces and other walls is made easier due to touch screen controls. These are totally optional, but tapping on the front screen where you want Drake to head towards mid-climb allows a greater sense of accuracy. When I found myself not knowing where to climb or drop to next, I could simply touch different sectors of the screen until I discovered a path for Drake to shimmy up like a monkey on a coconut tree.

Don't mind me. Go ahead and admire the sunset.
I'm just hanging around.
Touch controls are used for other means as well, and it comes across that for every action that touch controls use that works well, there's one that doesn't-- dare I say, one that even hurts the overall experience. Engaging with enemies is enjoyable, as when you're ready to brawl with them with Drake's bare fists, you touch the enemy when you're near them and start a quick mini-game of sorts. If the foe blocks your attack, they'll counter with a punch of their own.

It's these moments as well as many other quick-time event-esque occasions, where you'll need to swipe your finger across the screen in the direction of the arrow. Doing this correctly results in success, such as knocking out the enemy with a bare-knuckle sandwich. Failing it can result in taking damage, or in the case of missing a finger swipe while climbing, can result in death. The timing is open enough so you usually have plenty of time to react. However, on harder difficulties (I'm looking at you, Crushing), the timing is very strict and quite frankly, very frustrating.

There's no gentlemen's agreement
when it comes to treasure.
Many times in Uncharted: Golden Abyss you'll come across an ancient marketing that needs to have a charcoal rubbing done. All this does is force you to mindlessly rub the screen until the rubbing has been completed. This happens so much that it just detracted from the experience. Once was cool. Ten times? Not so much. Then there's puzzles that involve engaging the touch screen, turning dials, moving statue pieces onto what is essentially a grid, and arranging torn-up pieces of a document into a completed jigsaw puzzle of sorts. Again, some of this is fun, while others either overstay their welcome or actually make you loathe Sony Bend's attempts at control and gameplay innovation.

The campaign of Uncharted: Golden Abyss will take players an initial 8-10 hours to complete. There's multiple difficulties, an abundance of hidden treasures strewn about the 34 chapters of the game, points where you can take photos of specific in-game areas to satisfy optional conditions, and even bounties on enemies that can be offed, the latter gameplay element uses the Vita's Near functionality. It's important to note that Golden Abyss is much like Drake's Fortune as there is no multiplayer component to speak of, which will definitely bring down the longevity of Golden Abyss regardless of its admirable campaign content.

The interactions between characters is
top-tier stuff as always.
Uncharted: Golden Abyss is a remarkably stunning game. It amazes a guy like me who grew up on black and white handhelds that I'm able to play a full home console-like experience on the go and in the palm of my hands. Golden Abyss manages to pull off looking just like it was a game for the PlayStation 3, and it does so while running at a buttery smooth frame-rate. This is Uncharted on a handheld, and it is glorious.

I'm here to shoot thugs and style my hair.
...And I'm all out of styling gel.
For some, Uncharted: Golden Abyss could just be denounced as a tech demo for the PlayStation Vita hardware. While it does serve that purpose, it's also just a well done game in general. It won't thrill fans as much as the console entries, due to the scarcity of large scale set pieces, possessing a somewhat subdued story in comparison to what the series has delivered in the past, and having a small amount of locales represented; but Uncharted: Golden Abyss is one treasure that Vita owners should not go without hunting for. It might not be a priceless treasure like what can be found in the fabled "Golden Abyss", but Uncharted's debut on a handheld is a mighty fine one.

[SPC Says: 8.25/10]

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