Uncharted: Golden Abyss is two firsts for the Uncharted series. First off it is the first Uncharted game for a portable system, the PS Vita, and secondly it is the first Uncharted game not made by Naughty Dog but by Bend Studios. Does this combination of firsts doom the game or make for something special? Overall it’s mixed really.
Surprisingly Uncharted: Golden Abyss has incredibly similar controls to the PS3 versions in the series. The Vita, with its shoulder buttons and dual analog sticks, makes for a game that is easy to pick up and play by previous players of any Uncharted game. Due to having no second set of shoulder buttons and this being the a launch title for the Vita there are may changes and controls that incorporate functionality unique to the Vita. For instance in order to throw a grenade you need to either be aiming and tap the front screen or you can drag your finger from the bottom of the screen to the location you wish to throw the grenade. This is very nice for accuracy while playing and one of the better changes for controls. Another nice change is with the sniper rifle. Since there are no R3 or L3 buttons on the Vita to click to zoom in you instead slide your finger along the edge of the screen while aiming to adjust how far you wish to zoom in or out. I found this to actually be better than on the PS3 since it allowed for such fine grain aiming. Another change I like is how quick time events were implemented on the Vita using the touch screen. For several boss fights you will enter into QTEs but instead of pressing the standard Playstation buttons you will make gestures on the screen. I found it much more satisfying to swipe up on the screen for Drake to perform an upper cut during the event rather than just hitting the O button.
One of the new Vita specific functions that was showcased during development was the ability to “paint” a route to climb. This is rather simple. Once you are hanging from a ledge; you use your finger to trace the route you wish Drake to climb. As you trace the route it will light up as you move over the edges, which is where the painting name comes in. This is nice for when you fall and repeat an area but otherwise it makes the climbing portions almost too easy.
Many of the puzzles are also centered on using Vita functionality. There are two puzzles that are basically combination locks where you use your finger to turn the dials to the proper locations. These work well and are very responsive. There are also several puzzles that are basically jig saw puzzles. With these you will find a ripped up document and put the pieces back together. You are given a board with the outline of the pieces on it with all the pieces pushed off to the sides of the screen. You then slide them in, turn them to the proper orientation and move them into place where they snap into place until you complete the puzzle. I found these actually quite enjoyable.
Not so much puzzles, but there are instances where you do charcoal rubbings and clean off objects you find. The rubbings are simple in that you just rub back and forth over the front screen to make the image appear. I did have several rubbings however where they just did not seem to want to complete and I had to rub over what looked liked completed sections to get the rubbing to go to 100% complete. Cleaning the objects is also a little frustrating since you move your finger on the back touch screen to twist and turn the object as you rub on the front screen to remove the dirt on it. I found the back screen to be much too sensitive which often made it hard to turn the object to the side you wanted to wipe clean.
Like other Uncharted games, Golden Abyss has many collectibles to be found. By saying many I literally mean over three hundred. These collectibles include simply finding dropped treasures that sparkle on the screen like those found in console Uncharted games. In addition to those however there are photographs, rubbings, and bounties to be collected. I already talked about how to collect a rubbing but you first have to spot it. These you have to find and watch for an icon to pop up on the edge of the screen to show you where you need to do the rubbing. The photographs you can see in your inventory as black and white versions to help you find the locations you need to get to in order to take the photo. Once you get to the proper location a camera icon pops up on the edge of the screen and you touch it to go into picture taking mode. You zoom in here just like you do with the sniper rifle and keep taking pictures until you get the angle and zoom right. The bounties are drops from killing enemies. They are random so they are very difficult to get all of. The game does have a Black Market mode where you can trade these bounties with other players via Near to get whole sets but this seems very cumbersome and just tacked on to me.
For being a handheld game Uncharted: Golden Abyss looks good. All the characters are easily recognizable and some of the scenery is beautiful. That being said though, the game does not live up to the hype of being PS3 level graphics on a portable. The graphics are just missing on the crisp detail that would truly make the game shine.
Finally the story in the Uncharted: Golden Abyss is probably one of the weakest stories for all the Uncharted games. The story just doesn’t draw you in like other games in the franchise. The foundation of the story is the search for an ancient culture that speaks of the Golden Abyss. It is a pretty standard treasure hunt like most Uncharted games, but unlike the other games, Golden Abyss just does not have the right feel of the characters or story development of the console versions. It is not the worst story ever told but it would be a B movie or Saturday Night SyFy movie at best.
The actual game starts with a prologue to act as a tutorial for the basic controls but oddly it also shows you that the character Jason Dante betrays you later in the game. This is just strange since as soon as the prologue ends and you begin the first chapter, Dante is friendly with Drake and leading Drake to a dig location for his expertise. Now you can tell right away Dante is no saint but why ruin the fact that he betrays Nathan before the game even starts? Continuing with the story, shortly after Dante leads Drake to the dig site you meet the other hero of the game, Marisa Chase. She is there because the culture you are investigating was her grandfather’s life’s work. She is an enjoyable character and holds her own with banter back and forth with Nathan. Now there is a second villain, a General Guerro. He is the dictator of the country where the story takes place. He makes a much better villain than Dante does. Dante is just sleazy whereas Guerro is a truly vile man you want to hate. Now don’t worry all you Sully fans (like myself) thinking that he is left out because he does eventually come into the story. Towards the latter half of the game once Dante has betrayed you, you call in Sully to help you save Chase from Guerro’s clutches. The story does do a good job of wrapping up lose ends and having a satisfying close. For those who do not know it, this story actually takes place before the first Uncharted game. In the game there are few clues to this other than how old Sully looks, the fact that Nathan has his necklace still and that Nathan flirts with Chase since he has not met Elena yet.
Uncharted: Golden Abyss is by no means a bad game but it really is not up to the standards of the rest in the series. Being a portable single player experience the only replay value it has is to try harder difficulties and to complete gathering the numerous collectibles. The game does show off the functionality of the Vita but this sometimes comes off as being gimmicky rather than complimenting the story or controls. Golden Abyss does have decent graphics and is enjoyable while it lasts but will really only be a footnote when compared to the other Uncharted games. Even though I enjoyed the game, I do feel it is overpriced at the moment and a bit too much of a tech demo for the Vita rather than a true Uncharted experience.
Final Rating: 7/10
CBR Break Down:
Console Played On: PS Vita
Time to completion: ~7 hours
Trophies Earned: 7/55
Price Bought at: $49.99
Current Price: $49.96 (Amazon)
Recommend Purchase Price: $25 or less
Why you should buy it: You liked the other Uncharted games
Why you shouldn’t buy it: You are sick of Nathan Drake’s ungodly ability to survive no matter how many hand holds break off while he climbs