Uncharted: Golden Abyss Review
Developer: SCE Bend Studios
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
North American Release Date: February 12, 2012
European Release Date: February 22, 2012
Trophies: Yes, 48 | 5 | 2 | 1
The Uncharted franchise is arguably the most popular and successful Playstation exclusive. Boasting amazing graphics, sound design, musical score, gameplay, character development, and more, Uncharted is certainly a whole package. With the release of the Vita, Golden Abyss is easily the most hyped game coming out for the device. But can Golden Abyss live up to the standards set by its console brethren, on a portable outing?
Despite not being developed by Naughty Dog themselves, it's obvious that Golden Abyss is unmistakably an Uncharted game. If you've played any of the other three games on the PS3, then you'll feel right at home here. Gameplay is once again split up into different types. You have your average third-person shooter that's based around taking cover, some climbing and traversal segments, puzzle solving, and some very basic exploration elements. All of these things come together to create one flowing piece of gameplay. Climbing segments transition perfectly into shooting, and so on to create a game that feels natural while you're playing it.
As far as the shooting aspects of the game go, the Uncharted franchise is known for being solid in every which way. Unfortunately, thanks to some wonky controls Golden Abyss fails to reach those standards. Aiming is done by both moving the right analog stick towards your target, as well as a new feature that utilizes the Vita's motion controls to further fine-tune the aiming by tilting the device. While a decent, innovative idea, I found it exceedingly frustrating to try to aim by both balancing the device in a perfect manner, as well as use the analog stick to get the reticle in a good position.
Climbing and traversal are actually one of the Golden Abyss' highlights.
Further hindering this is the enemy AI. In true Uncharted fashion, enemies are rather jumpy, popping in and out of cover randomly, and also moving all over the place as you shoot to try to dodge your bullets Matrix-style. On the consoles, this was more of a slight annoyance than an actual problem, but on the Vita where it's already difficult enough to just shoot where you want to, this becomes a serious frustration. I eventually just found myself spraying and praying - holding down R1 and running around hoping for some bullets to land.
On the contrary, climbing sections are nice breaks from the frustration of the gunplay, and while they are neither difficult nor exciting, they do offer up a decent bit of fun. These portions of the gameplay fully utilize the hardware of the Vita. Instead of just mashing the X button in order to climb, you also have the option of using the back panel to climb ropes, and the touch screen to 'draw' your path of traversal. These unique touches add depth to what was previously a very lame climbing system.
Puzzles are back once again, and while they aren't as prominent as in the PS3 titles, the lack of puzzles keeps the tension high and the adrenaline rushing. Most consist of the same sort of stuff you'll find in the console versions, although for some reason you'll be doing a lot of charcoal rubbings, which consists of wiping the touchscreen repeatedly until you've created an image. Additionally, smaller puzzles are found littered around the levels for you to pick them up and solve them on your own. Nearly all puzzles utilize the Vita's touch screen functionality, which is definitely nifty at the beginning, but these actions become all the more tedious after you've rubbed charcoal on paper for the 20th time. Treasures can also be found scattered throughout the world. This encourages you to explore despite the fact that it is difficult to stray away from the central path.
The Uncharted franchise has always been tagged as, "Indiana Jones with guns," and the story and feel to the game really represent this. Once again we step into the shoes of treasure hunter and hero Nathan Drake in a prequel to the current PS3 trilogy. While the story is barely connected to any of the others on the series, certain tones and parts of the plot are reminiscent of past experiences with Uncharted, despite the fact that Amy Hennig did not write the story this time around.
In Golden Abyss, Drake finds himself teaming up with wise-cracking New Yorker James Dante, as well as love interest Marisa Chase as the trio race against antagonist Roberto Guerro in order to find (yet another) lost city. Is the actual story lame? Yes. To be honest, I've taken up the role of Drake to find a lost city four times now, and it's just getting old. However, character development is where the Uncharted franchise has always found its success. Does Golden Abyss do the same? Well, yes and no.
Drake is accompanied by two new characters, Dante and Chase, this time around.
I really love how Drake is portrayed in this game, as we see a whole different and altogether darker side to him. If I had a nickel for every time a gun was pulled on Nate in a cutscene, I'd be rich. So it was to my greatest excitement to see this situation flipped more than once. Drake is still our great, every-man hero, but that doesn't mean he can't flirt with getting his hands dirty here.
However, the supporting cast just doesn't live up to my expectations of how Uncharted characters are developed. Marisa Chase is an interesting character, but she feels shallow. For instance, she makes it clear that she doesn't want to even touch a gun, but it's never explained why. Heck, even Nate is frustrated with the lack of information about her in the beginning! Unlike Elena, who I really felt I got to know as a character, Chase ultimately feels like your average damsel in distress. Dante, on the other hand, feels like a thoroughly fleshed out character, despite us not spending nearly as much time with him. In addition, we do find ourselves with a familiar face for the second half of the game, which is a really nice and comforting aspect that I really enjoyed.
One area where Golden Abyss truly shows off one of its largest downfalls is in excitement. The story never gets me riled up, the main antagonist never feels more than some fat Hispanic dude with a gun, and the extreme lack of over the top action makes for a much more boring experience than what we've come to expect from an Uncharted game. While there are some moments where the action picks up and things get exciting, we don't see anything even close to the level of the train sequence in Uncharted 2, or the plane sequence in Uncharted 3. When all else fails, the over the top action has always saved Uncharted from being a dull experience, and seeing how that element isn't present here, the subpar parts of the game really stick out.
Golden Abyss could be considered a technical achievement on many levels. Despite being on a handheld, the graphics are absolutely gorgeous. Better than PS2 graphics while not touching PS3 graphics, Golden Abyss is a prime example of just what the Vita is capable of. Characters look great, environments are lush with color, and even effects like water look amazing.
The flabbergasting sense of scope is retained, despite being shrunk down to fit the Vita.
Nolan North reprises his role as Nathan Drake, and the new cast members are equally as good, matching Nolan's performance. In addition, Uncharted's famous musical score is back, and it once again awakens the treasure hunter in all of us. The score quickly comes once a battle starts to brew, setting a perfect tone for shootouts and high-adrenaline moments. There are also a few times when heated music starts to play randomly in the background, even as you're doing simple things such as climbing when no enemies are around. I found this to be very jarring, but too big of a deal since it doesn't happen often.
A major gripe I had with the presentation is that there simply aren't many locals that you'll find yourself going to. Since the entire game takes place in Panama, there isn't a lot of room for creativity. Expect to see a lot things similar to that of the jungles from Drake's Fortune. That's said, what's here is done to perfection, and asking for much more on a handheld is just being nitpicky.
It seems the guys over at SCE aren't very creative with their trophies, because they're literally exactly the same as the ones for the three console Uncharted games. Expect having to find all treasures and solve all 'mysteries,' as well as getting a certain amount of kills with each type of gun and beating the game on crushing. Don't expect it to be a fun plat to get, the trophies are very uninspired.
At the end of the day, Golden Abyss is an impressive game that's just simply lacking the wow factor we've grown to expect from the Uncharted franchise. If you can look past the wonky aiming, subpar story, and lack of excitement, you'll find that Golden Abyss has some wonder and enjoyment in it. Golden Abyss is rough around the edges, but it still manages to thoroughly impress.
Wonky aiming controls extremely hinder the shooting experience, and puzzles feel very repetitive. However, the overall experience can still be enjoyed.
The story itself is lacking, and character development isn't as good as it's been, but we see a new and much more interesting side to Drake here.
A true technical achievement, I never knew a portable device could be capable of such stellar graphics, and the musical score and voice acting further add to this. Want a game to fully show off your new Vita? Look no further.
Overall: 7.5/10 Good