Uncharted: Golden Abyss [Review]

PlayStation's poster boy, Nathan Drake, makes his move to the brand new PlayStation Vita bringing all of the big guns with him. How does the blockbuster franchise stack up on a handheld device? Read on to find out!
  • Platform: PlayStation Vita
  • Published by: Sony Computer Entertainment
  • Developed by: Sony Bend Studios
  • Genre: Third Person Action
  • ESRB Rating: T for Teen
  • Number of Players: 1
  • Release Date: February 15, 2012

When PlayStation announced that Uncharted was coming to the PlayStation Vita, I was sold on the game before I even saw it. The hit PlayStation franchise has to be one of my favorite from this generation. No one can doubt that the high-flying action, compelling stories, and engaging dialogue seen in the Uncharted universe is some of the best we have seen in recent years in games. So needless to say, I had high hopes for Uncharted: Golden Abyss. Still, while I had high hopes, I tried not to expect too much – after all, this was going to be a handheld game. Well, I finally got my chance to play the game all the way through recently but was it all that I hoped for?

Uncharted: Golden Abyss is a prequel of sorts to the PS3 games. However, it lacks any real relevant or significant background to the Uncharted universe as a whole. Golden Abyss felt more like a side-story than anything else. The game begins rather abruptly and you are thrown into the regular situation you might find yourself in as Drake, exploring ruins and fighting some baddies. I just somehow felt the story’s introduction was not as well crafted as you might expect from the franchise. Without giving any spoilers, you find yourself with an old associate on a mysterious hunt for a legendary lost city. You will run into some new and old faces, suffer betrayal, and exaggerated action sequences that only the likes of Nathan Drake could survive. Sounds like a story we have already heard? Well, essentially it is. While the story was good at best, it didn’t seem to live up to the higher standards of that set by Naughty Dog. The dialogue between characters was a bit dry, repetitive, and many times overbearing. The back and forth banter between characters did not flow as smoothly with the gameplay sequences and other times it just felt like it would go on and on needlessly. At the same time, the game did lack those really big action sequences like those in Uncharted 2 – escaping a crumbling city and Uncharted 3 – fighting your way out of a sinking ship with water coming in from every direction, it contained a lot of smaller moments like jumping out of the way from explosions or falling columns that didn’t really satisfy my need to see Nathan Drake do the overly impossible once again.  Now, this may sound negative but those few irksome things doesn’t take away from the fact that the story was still overall fun. Nothing amazing or on the edge of your seat immersion, but fun.

Gameplay wise, Uncharted plays great on the Vita. Golden Abyss brings an experience we have never seen on a handheld before. The dynamic action sequences, platforming, melee, and shootouts akin to the series are all intact on this mobile version. Dual analog sticks are great for camera and character movement just like that on the PS3 . Controls are similar to that of the console versions of the game but also have the exclusive Vita functions added in as well such as touch screen and motion controls. I thought the game would have worked out much better if some of these features weren’t forced on. Every now and then you will have to cross a beam and stop midway where the game will make you use the motion sensors to balance yourself and then continue on the rest of the way. In addition, there were some extended fight scenes that required the action button, in this case, the action touch screen gestures. Some motion and touch controls are optional and that’s fine for those who would like to use them. Many times, they are actually preferable such as when picking up collectibles around the environment; But when they are forced on, it kind of takes away from the experience. But fortunately on the whole, these forced sequences are spaced out far enough to not make you want to throw your Vita at the wall.

Golden Abyss’ graphics were good, real good for a handheld, but not the best on the Vita. The frame rate was pretty smooth all the way through the game, even during heavy action sequences and the environments were lush and bright. Still, so far games like Virtua Tennis 4, Ultimate Marvel vs Capcom 3, and FIFA Soccer have taken the cake when it comes to graphics. At the same time, those games do not have all of the dynamic movement in the environment and gameplay like that of Uncharted, so it was still impressive, almost on par with that of Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune. What’s more, cut scenes and in-game movie sequences were very good and quite beautiful on the Vita’s large OLED screen. On the other hand, there were moments in-game that were just a bit out-of-place. There is a sequence where you have to navigate your way down a mudslide and the environment looks awesome – but Drake’s character just seems to be a complete misfit like it was an unpolished animation thrown in at the last-minute. Once again, those little graphical mishaps are few and far between, but they did kind of catch me off guard.

The game has quite a bit of content – Over 30 chapters and loads of collectible items. While I do not think that the story is good enough to make you want to play the game more than once and there is no multiplayer, for those of you who are avid treasure hunters like I am, be assured, there is a whole lot to pick up throughout the game. Unlike the previous installments of Uncharted, not only do you have hidden treasures to collect, now there are photos you must take,charcoal rubbings to create, and many mysteries to solve. These mysteries are comprised of several objects hidden all around the game. If that wasn’t enough, defeating enemies in the game will sometimes cause you to pick up rare items that they drop. There are a lot of these items to find so if you want to collect them all, expect to play through the game quite a few times. Bend Studios also introduced the “Black Market” where you can trade some of these items with friends on your buddy list or people in your area by means of the Vita’s “Near” app. It’s a neat idea that does add a bit to the replay value of the game. You probably will not go back for the story, but at least play for the collectibles.

Overall, I have to admit, I was impressed with Uncharted: Golden Abyss on the Vita. The days of 16-bit sprites are over and now an experience like that of a home console can be had in your hands wherever you are. While the story wasn’t the best in the series it was still fun and the gameplay was right up there with its PS3 counterparts. Maybe I have been spoiled by the PS3 Uncharted games and as a result I might be a little critical. As a launch title on the system, I do think that this is a good game to try out on the system though. It’s impressive and considering this is a launch title, I’m excited to see the potential that can be pulled out from the system as the years go on, possibly with another [improved] portable Uncharted game. Uncharted: Golden Abyss is not the best game you will every play and it’s not the best Uncharted game either, but as a launch title on the new PlayStation Vita, it’s good enough to be called a must have at this point.

FINAL SCORE: 8/10