Uncharted: Golden Abyss
Gameplay - 8
Story/Creativity - 9
Presentation - 9
Lifespan - 5
Despite its flaws, Uncharted: Golden Abyss delivers a console quality adventure game that takes advantage of the unique features of the PS Vita system. It can be unimaginative at times but always follows up with moments of pure, epic adventure. While it does not completely justify the purchase of a Vita, it certainly adds a great reason to do so.
Uncharted: Golden Abyss makes innovative use of Vita features
Although it has been out for a few years now, Uncharted: Golden Abyss is only now getting serious attention from players as PS Vita sales pick up. Because it is part of Playstation Plus‘s Instant Game Collection, new purchasers of a Vita system will likely have access to it from the time they buy the system (assuming they have also bought at least an 8 GB memory card). Uncharted: Golden Abyss is anything but a throwaway freebie, however. It delivers the Uncharted series’ high level of polish to a mobile format in a fun, exciting adventure that uses all the new features offered by the Vita system.
Golden Abyss is a prequel to the original Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune and follows one of Nathan Drake’s adventures before the PS3-exclusive hit. Drake finds himself in Panama investigating an ancient ruin. As the action continues, he finds himself caught up in an epic conflict between several different treasure hunters all vying for access to the legendary golden city of Quivira.
In true Uncharted form, the story involves a healthy dose of finding historical artifacts and having Drake and his companions translate ancient runes. This style of storytelling makes the game feel like a modern Indiana Jones, and Drake’s extensive knowledge and understated sense of humor portray him as a likable protagonist. The other characters are also remarkably fleshed out, especially for a mobile game, and have unique, fun personalities. One of the highlights of the story mode, though, is the use of the Vita features to immerse the user in what is going. For example, players have to use the rear touch screen to examine an artifact or brush one off just like Drake would do if he were holding it. My favorite example was when Drake has to hold an object up to a light and the game actually uses the Vita’s camera to sense if the player is holding the Vita up to a bright light. These mechanics are unique and innovative. They show why developers should consider making use of these Vita-specific features.
Uncharted: Golden Abyss makes good use of the Vita’s touchscreen to make story progression a bit more interactive.
The gameplay for Uncharted: Golden Abyss mostly matches the excellence of the story. It has a fairly well-paced rhythm between combat and exploration phases, but much more importantly the game actually utilizes the unique features offered by the PS Vita offers. These features allow for remarkably varied gameplay, and there are usually more than one way to have Drake do different actions depending on a player’s preferences.
Exploration is mostly well done. As in any treasure-hunter themed game, collectibles abound. They are just about everywhere and are indicated by both a visual cue of a blinking light and a popup menu on the touchscreen. For the most part, collectibles are either unavoidable or along clear side trails leading from the main path of the game. One of the more interesting ways to find collectibles is where it is covered by bamboo trees that Drake can cut with his machete. In order to do so, though, you need to trace the shape which Drake will use to cut the bamboo on the touchscreen. I found this an enjoyable and interesting feature. Other Vita specific features include the use of the Vita’s remarkable good motion sensing to keep Drake steady on a log bridge and the possibility of tracing Drake’s path on the touchscreen to automatically have him climb a section of handholds.
This last feature is essential because one of the main flaws with the game’s exploration gameplay is the overuse of rock climbing mechanics. You spend a lot of game time having Drake climb up various handholds, shimmying along a narrow outcrop, or jumping from one ledge to another. This mechanic seemed very tedious to me after a while.
The other major aspect of gameplay is combat, and here is where Uncharted: Golden Abyss simultaneously shines and is a bit disappointing. The unarmed combat is interesting because it requires good timing and use of the Vita’s touchscreen to indicate how Drake should move to avoid getting hit. However, gun use is only okay. It feels a bit sluggish and imprecise at times and enemies seem to take too many hits to go down. A redeeming feature to the gunplay is the use of the Vita’s motion sensitivity to aid in aiming. I found it very intuitive, only kicking in when I purposely moved the Vita to aim and being quite precise. The ability to use both the right stick and motion sensing to aim aided the somewhat unsatisfying gun combat.
The presentation of Uncharted: Golden Abyss is absolutely unprecedented for a mobile title. It has a fully orchestrated soundtrack that is beautiful and epic, exceedingly good graphics for the Vita, and a well integrated menu that makes appropriate use of the Vita’s touchscreen. It brings a console quality experience to the Vita and proves just how powerful the hardware is.
It is not a huge game, though, probably about 10 hours of play. I also do not think many people will want to play it more than twice–once for the story and again to get the collectibles missed the first time through. Also, since the majority of players will probably be playing the digital version, they likely will not keep it on their memory card long after beating it, as it is a large file.