When I bought my PlayStation Vita earlier this week, I was faced with the worst of first world problems: “What game will I play first?” The Vita has amassed a fantastic library, many of the games readily available to PlayStation Plus members. That said, I’m not sure what drew me to Uncharted: Golden Abyss—I’ve been inkling to sink my teeth into Persona 4: Golden while also being really intrigued with Tearaway. Even more confounding is that I’m not the biggest fan of the Uncharted series in general or SCE Bend’s previous games. Where I expected to find mild disappointment, Golden Abyss turned out to be my favorite Uncharted game to date.
Uncharted: Golden Abyss is located somewhere before Drake’s Fortune. To no surprise, Drake—before his bout with Roman and mutated Spanish decedents—is helping out an old “pal”, Dante, with a small treasure problem. Now Dante reeks of sleaze, whether it be his New Jersey accent or focus on money, but in a weird way he is just as lovable as every other character in the Uncharted universe. The scene is set within the forests of Panama which, to Drake’s surprise, is also inhabited by the evil General Guerro (who seems to be losing his sanity as quick as he is losing the resistance) and Chase (the new not-blonde interest). Where they could have defaulted with the old cast and crew of the Uncharted series, SCE Bend has put time and love into every character making them all loveable in their own way.
Golden Abyss plays through the motions like a normal Uncharted game: things fall, people get kidnapped, Sully shows up, National Treasure-esque history, and a major boss fight in a collapsing city. However, unlike some of the latest games in the series, the storyline feels more fluid. Instead of haphazardly finding yourself in a myriad of interesting environments (Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception) there is a common theme among the settings. This is undoubtedly a case of SCE Bend building the set-pieces around the story, and not vice versa like Naughty Dog. While it lacks the diversity of interesting places, it is a great tradeoff for a more immersive and logical story.
By now, Golden Abyss is nearly two years old. As a graphical showcase, I was astounded by how close this game looked to its console counterparts. While the game placed Drake back into uncanny valley, the sunsets and water were the best I have ever seen on a handheld (made infinitely better by the OLED display). The sounds and voice acting were also spot on, truly showcasing the power of the Vita and the studio behind it.
If I had to list any gripe (which I do, I’m a critic), its that the menus should have been navigatable with buttons instead of solely the touch screen. Further, SCE Bend took an interesting direction by not including a statistics function (unlike every other Uncharted game)—making the game slightly more aggravating when farming for specific weapons trophies. These are mere nuisances; if this is the only thing Naughty Dog does way better, than I can live with it.
Once again, Golden Abyss doesn’t deviate heavily from the standard Uncharted formula. There’s third person shooting, climbing, swinging, and all that jazz. While this may sound like me being down on the series, the formula is tried and true. There aren’t many things that Bend should change.
But, unfortunately, that wasn’t always the case. SCE Bend, in an attempt to showcase some of the Vita’s new features, included a variety of touch controls using both the front and the back touch pads. After the hours upon hours I poured into the game, I still couldn’t get used to some of the new mapping. Fist fighting with the screen wasn’t too bad most the time. However, the few times I did have problems it would leave to automatic insta-deaths by a boss or falling off a cliff. Instead of a nice playful challenge, it evolved into a Vita-throwing rage as I restarted the level over and over again. Unfortunately, that was the best use of the Vita gimmick—everything else was downhill from there.
Thankfully there were almost always options around using touch controls: climbing could be done regularly, most fighting was done with the square button, and zooming was generally easy. Also, I would be remiss without mentioning the gyroscopic aiming. It makes shooting all the better and I wish it was in every shooter game.
One of the best aspects about the game is the stress on collectibles never before seen in Uncharted. As a child of the 90’s, I fondly remember the collect-a-thons of old (Banjo Kazooie, Croc, Spyro, and Crash Bandicoot to name a few). While Uncharted always had secret hidden treasures, SCE Bend opened the scope to not only treasure but photos, coal rubbings, and puzzles. On top of this, each individual treasure had their own piece of history along with a small quip from Drake. This is SCE Bend’s best addition by far to the Uncharted formula and I hope it carries on into the console versions.
The Verdict: 9 out of 10
Golden Abyss, while suffering from a variety of small flaws, manages to bring a lot to Uncharted’s table. Having one of the first logical stories, gyroscopic aiming, and a stress on collectables are some of the best features in Uncharted’s already strong history. SCE Bend was able to fully live up to the high standards of the Unchartedseries, and in my opinion, fully surpasses some of them. I would have never before thought that the Unchartedseries should stay on mobile platforms, but Golden Abyss is beginning to make me a believer.