Review: Uncharted: Golden Abyss

It’s genuinely exciting the first time you hold the Vita in hand, load up Uncharted: Golden Abyss, and realise just how damn good everything looks. This is the centerpiece of the PlayStation Vita’s launch lineup and justifies that label handsomely, comparing very favorably to its older, home console, franchise siblings. So is it the definitive Vita launch title?

The very first time the camera is rotated with the right analog stick and a beautiful sunset vista, with a distant waterfall and flocks of birds comes into view, it can’t help but raise a smile and a feeling of genuine awe. It’s continually maintaining that feeling of awe that the Uncharted series manages so well. Every locale and set piece make you feel like this really is a PS3-quality game.

Make no mistake, this is the same kind of Nathan Drake adventure we’ve experienced three times before on the Playstation 3, exploring, climbing and combat all melding into one action movie adventure. This handheld edition is no different, there isn’t any compromise on visuals, game mechanics or scale.

The story is the usual fare of fortune hunting, double-cross and a private militia just waiting to be despatched by the player. That’s not too big a criticism though, as the gameplay, and the player’s control over it, is the real star of the show.

Golden Abyss is the perfect launch title to show off the Vita’s multitude of control methods. Every facet of the console: from touch screen, rear touch panel, motion control, even the system’s camera, is used at some point. Combat can use the screen, ropes are climbed with the rear touch panel and swung from using the motion sensor, it all hits that sweet spot of intuitiveness that these controls must have. I felt genuine pleasure when using these new controls. Puzzles that use the touch screen and touch panel feel slick and never feel shoehorned in. The controls certainly enhance the experience rather than detract from it.

Making these new control methods interchangeable with the traditional dual analog and buttons leaves it up to the player to pick what elements they wish to use. This decision is a masterstroke. On more than one occasion I found myself lazily drawing a path along a cliff’s edge for Drake to climb along, or tapping on an enemy to perform a stealth takedown. Climbing up a rope by dragging your fingers down the rear touch panel feels natural and is another reminder of the possibilities that reside within this device. Just moving Drake around the locations is a pleasure in itself.

The new controls for combat really due induce a little giddiness the first time they’re used. Simply tapping on the back of an enemy head and seeing Drake perform a brutal, silent takedown is immensely satisfying. As is swiping a finger across the touch screen when prompted to counter an enemy attack. It doesn’t feel forced and these extra controls also allow less dexterous players to enjoy the game, something other Vita game developers should certainly take into account.

If you simply don’t enjoy the Uncharted titles, there’s not a lot here that will sway your opinion. It’s still the same linear Indiana Jones-style adventure, lots of henchmen die, and it can feel a bit like Nathan Drake’s Greatest Hits: Vita Edition. There aren’t the same difficulty spikes that have tripped up players of previous Uncharted titles, on normal difficulty it all ticks along nicely without any sections that will cause much worry for players. The aiming also feels comfortable, but the motion sensor aiming is a little gimmicky. It’s advisable to switch it off while in a car or train. As predictably, it tends to jolt about a little bit. I found myself using the motion aiming for the first hour or so before switching it off. Of all the new control methods, this was the only one I feel didn’t enhance anything.

For a handheld title, there is a decent amount of replay in the form of the usual collectible treasures, bounties and mysteries to be solved in Drake’s journal. All these add up to extra trophies, so anyone with a compulsion for collecting should find this caters to their need. Bounties are extra bonuses that are applied for killing a certain enemy, it can take multiple plays of a section to yield more bounties. Given the flexible nature of Uncharted’s combat, playing back through the set-pieces is in no way a chore.

Mysteries are the most intriguing new addition however, and one that took me by surprise. Throughout the game there will be certain points at which Drake can bring out a camera and photograph a certain point of interest. Line up these shots correctly and another part of the mystery will be solved, offering further back story to the game’s narrative. It’s a lovely piece of fan-service and further reason to go back through the game again. With these mysteries and bounties, I can see myself playing back through this game another couple of times until everything would be collected.

Uncharted: Golden Abyss is a glimpse at the possibilities the Playstation Vita opens up to developers. It has all the action and bombast of a PS3 title, and the unique interactivity of the Vita’s controls. The experiences the Vita can provide cannot be matched by any other handheld at the moment. Whether that is enough to fight its competitors remains to be seen, but it’s now up to Sony and other developers to make the Vita experience essential for gamers. Golden Abyss is a spectacular step in the right direction. A must-buy for Vita owners.

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