Uncharted: Golden Abyss Review

By Brian Arnold on February 27, 2012

Naughty Dog hit a massive homerun when they released the original Uncharted. They then hit a grand slam when they came out with Uncharted 2, and even though thoughts on Uncharted 3 were mixed among gamers, it was still a great installment into the franchise. However, at that point, there was the feeling that Uncharted had done its dash admirably and that it was time to put the franchise to rest, even with Uncharted : Golden Abyss around the corner. After all, it posed a few question marks. Firstly, it was a launch title for the PlayStation Vita and secondly, it was no longer being developed by Naughty Dog - Sony Bend were at the helm. In short, it didn't end up being too bad, but Golden Abyss isn't in the same league as its bigger brothers.

Golden Abyss is a prequel to the main trilogy. Once again, we follow our long time hero, Nathan Drake and this time around he's exploring Central America to discovery a legendary lost city. Along his travels, Nathan finds himself caught in the middle of a rivalry between Jason Dante (an old friend) and Marisa Chase, a fellow treasure hunter trying to find her grandfather who recently vanished. While all this happens, the gang also has to avoid a man by the name of Roberto Guerro, an ex-general who has taken up the drug cartel with his small army.

The story can get quite convoluted with the vast amounts of historical names, places, events, etc, but if you can hang in there, it's quite entertaining. The new characters work well and despite the lack of friendly faces, it doesn't feel as though Drake is out of his depth.

While story is seen as a strong driver for the Uncharted series, the gameplay itself is equally important. Retaining the gameplay of the franchise, Golden Abyss stays true to its 3rd person shooter/platforming/adventure roots. This installment, even though it's on a handheld system, has all of the elements that made the first game great - an impressive feat. If you've played one of the earlier titles, you'll quickly fall into the groove with the Vita controls. The combat and platforming all work exceptionally well. However, Sony Bend also set out to make use of the motion controls and the touch screen, with varying degrees of success.

Throughout the opening of the game, the tutorial shows you how you use the touch screen to navigate when you are jumping or climbing walls by simply touching where you want to go. In addition, certain platforming section makes use of the motion controls. To put it simply, it works fine in the game, but using it feels a bit awkward and veterans will often find themselves using the joysticks and buttons instead. It's nice to have the option though.

In the same manner, when aiming during combat, you can make use of the motion controls to aim at your target by physically moving the Vita around rather than using the joystick. Again, it's something that works with mixed results, but there is the option to turn it off should you wish to. You will also use the touch screen for all melee attacks and grenades.

The system can be very hit and miss and takes some getting use to. In addition, you'll pickup and drop weapons using the touch screen. On the whole, it works fine, but since the "pick up this weapon" icon is so close to the edge of the screen, you can end up accidentally picking up weapons if your thumb gets too close. It's not a huge deal, but it can get annoying during a tense fire-fight.A new addition to the hunt for treasures is taking photos of different landmarks, locations, situations, etc. This system heavily utilizes the touch screens (both front and back) and the motion controls. Aiming the camera with the motion control is the same as aiming a weapon. Again, if you don't like it, you can turn it off. The front and rear touch panels are used for the zoom on the camera, but this doesn't work very well. When gripping the Vita, if your fingers brush the back touch screen, it will mess up your zoom (which has to be precisely set before snapping a picture). Unfortunately, there is no way to turn this feature off either.

In addition to the photos, you find certain collectables that need to have dirt wiped off. You'll use the front touch screen to wipe it down. However, you have to use the back touch screen to rotate the object to reach other sides. It's an incredibly painful process, and again, can't be turned off. In the same manner, you'll be find different stones and such that you'll make a charcoal rubbing of using the front touch screen. It worked just fine, but felt a little contrived as it's just another way to use the touch screen.

Motion controls are also used for things like unlocking combination locks, cutting through bamboo/cloth, piecing ripped parchment together, and other quick time events. When it comes down it, the implementation of the Vita's motion controls was very mixed. Everything was extremely responsive, but the rear touch panel wasn't implemented very well.

Presentation is, on the whole, very strong. There are some small issues though. The graphics are, without a doubt, the most stunning feature. While they aren't perfect, as they can undoubtedly get better, it easily gives some next-gen consoles a run for their money. The character models are good; the textures are clear and, for the most part, un-pixelated. The backgrounds are gorgeous; and the environments are beautiful and engaging. There were three main things that did stick out badly: the characters' eyes and teeth, as well as the pixelated fire effects. However, these small issues are really only a tiny part. The animation of the characters was also top notch.

The audio in the game is also strong. The music is sweeping and epic, but more importantly, it's appropriately used. The sound effects are also great. However, what really stood out was the voice acting. Uncharted has always had great voice acting, and Golden Abyss doesn't fall short. Given that this is a handheld title, it's even more impressive.

What some may complain about is the lack of multiplayer. The game doesn't need it, as such, but the single-player campaign clocks in at around 8-12 hours. However, if you want to take the time to get all the collectables, combat achievements, and harder difficulty settings, you'll easily be looking at a lot more.

Final Thoughts

Uncharted: Golden Abyss features a fun story, strong core gameplay, and very impressive visuals. However, the implementation of the motion controls is very hit and miss and it feels as though Sony Bend had their hand forced. There are times when it feels like a natural fit, but that's how it should have stayed. The lack of multiplayer, which featured in the past two main-series games, may also be a deterrent for some. However, it doesn't stop Golden Abyss being a Vita title that should be on everyone's launch shopping list.

New characters integrate well.
Graphics set the bar high for future titles.
Core gameplay holds up well.
Motion controls often feel forced.
No multiplayer.
Some of the spark doesn't quite feel like it's there.
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