Uncharted: Golden Abyss
- Street Date:
- February 14th, 2012
- Reviewed by:
- High-Def Digest staff
- Review Date:1
- February 16th, 2012
- Game Release Year:
- PS Vita
- Sony Computer Entertainment
- Bend Studio
- ESRB Rating:
- T (Teen)
Announced before the kickoff of E3 2011, Uncharted: Golden Abyss is the first game from the Uncharted series to land on a mobile platform. However, Naughty Dog didn’t develop the Vita title as that baton was passed to Oregon-based Bend Studio. Released at the launch of the PlayStation Vita, the fourth entry into the franchise once again puts the player into the shoes of risk-taker Nathan Drake. Designed to fill in the gaps between the flashbacks during Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception and the first game in the series Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune, Drake is tearing through the jungles of Central America to discover the 400-year-old secret behind a horrific massacre of a Spanish expedition.
While Sully (Victor Sullivan) doesn’t play much of a role in this tale, Drake gets a new female lead to flirt with by the name of Marisa Chase (voiced by Step by Step actress Christine Lakin) who happens to be searching for a missing archeologist (also her grandfather) that went missing in the ruins. Drake is also teaming up with Jason Dante (voiced by SOCOM voice actor Jason Spisak), a shady, fellow treasure hunter who also happens to know Sully. There’s even a retired, somewhat crazy general thrown into the mix, thus everyone is competing to reach the ruins before the other characters.
The Game Itself: Our Reviewer's Take
If you have played any of the previous Uncharted games on the PS3, you will be right at home with the general format and control system on the Vita. Nathan Drake is still running around the landscape, leaping over massive drops, clinging to walls often on breakable objects, etc. The game can be played as a third-person, cover-based shooter or simply as a stealth game. Similar to previous games, if an enemy spots Drake during the level, all hell breaks loose and Drake’s position is swarmed immediately.
Enemy artificial intelligence is fairly moronic as well. They pick poor cover positions during most firefights, stick to a small handful of the same movements and simply don’t react after spotting a fallen comrade that Drake has silently dispatched. Overall, the major set pieces of the previous games have been toned down in both scope and chaotic action on-screen. Likely due to shortened development time or lack of Vita horsepower, the amount of enemies that Drake can battle at any given time is limited compared to previous entries in the franchise.
As a way to tie in the games within the Uncharted timeline, Drake is tasked with building out his trusty notebook that’s mostly blank due to the prequel nature of the game. This is accomplished by introducing a series of mini-games that require the player to perform actions like flicking the rear touch panel to adjust zoom on a camera for potential photographs, rub the front screen to create a charcoal rubbing or put together a torn drawing, map or photograph by rotating pieces and locking them together like a puzzle. While I applaud Bend Studio for trying anything new to the Uncharted franchise, the gimmicky nature of the mini-games would be tolerable if not for the ridiculous amount of touchscreen actions that fragment the pacing of the narrative.
Mapped to a button on the PS3 controller in previous Uncharted games, the game often abruptly forces the player to perform a swipe of the front touchscreen to move forward. This can be anything from chopping vines or a blanket (yes, a cloth blanket hanging in a doorway) with a machete to prying open a doorway. Countering punches in a fist-fight is also mapped to the touchscreen in addition to flicking grenades at enemies. (Interestingly, Nathan can’t toss a grenade back at an enemy like in Uncharted 3.) These awkward movements severely break up the action and rip the player out of the immersive environment to remind them that they are using a PlayStation Vita.
Alternatively, Bend Studio did an amazing job with integrating Vita features into the shooting controls without annoying the player. Using a combination of the right analog stick and the accelerometer, the player can bring the target reticule to the enemy with the stick and fine tune the position of the reticule by tilting the Vita. I actually found the combination more efficient in picking off enemies than the Dual Shock controller on the PS3. Another great addition to the shooting controls is the inclusion of the rear-panel swipe to control the zoom distance of the sniper rifle’s scope. While a front screen option also exists, allowing the player to keep their hands on the controls during combat is excellent and allows for quick action when firing off a few rounds.
The Video: Sizing Up the Picture
This first generation Vita game looks very similar to the game that started it all on the PlayStation 3, Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune. The expansive jungle landscapes are lush with digital vegetation and the developers do a great job with water effects in the form of rushing, white waterfalls. However, as the entire game takes place in Central America, there’s nothing beyond the jungle to see as Drake’s globetrotting days hadn’t begun yet. Cutscenes definitely look great and the character animations are spot on compared to previous games in the series.
Technically speaking, the majority of the launch titles (including Golden Abyss) were developed at 720x408 resolution and up-scaled to the 960x544 resolution of the Vita screen. While this is less noticeable to Vita owners due to the high pixel density of the screen, you can still see aliasing issues (jaggies) as well as the occasional pixilated texture when playing the game. In addition, the game suffers from the occasional frame-rate issue during the latter stages of the narrative. Specifically, the game dips when the screen becomes populated with too many enemies, typically more than three to four. I’m curious if Bend Studio simply ran out of time when developing the first generation title or this is an early indication of the Vita’s limitations.
The Audio: Rating the Sound
Nolan North returns to voice the character of Nathan Drake and pulls off an admirable job, despite the weaker script from Bend Studio. His typically witty quips aren’t as effective and sound contrived due to the lackluster writing. Lakin and Spisak also do a solid job with voicing the characters of Chase and Dante respectively. It’s just a shame that Bend Studio’s writers weren’t able to hit the same level of quality writing as Naughty Dog. Alternatively, the sound effects are definitely of Naughty Dog caliber, likely reused from a jungle sequence in a previous game. In addition, the familiar Uncharted soundtrack really gets the excitement going during the larger set pieces.
Despite the popularity of Uncharted 3’s multiplayer modes, Uncharted: Golden Abyss has no multiplayer modes included with the campaign. The entire single player story can be completed in about seven to nine hours with a decent amount of exploring included, slightly less than the promised 10 hours from the developer. Similar to Uncharted 2, more time can be spent on replaying the game on a harder difficulty in order to search for more collectables and snag from more trophies.
The only added value to the campaign comes in the form of collectables and trading them through “The Black Market.” That’s what Bend Studio is calling the implementation of Vita’s Near functionality. Collected items can be traded with other Vita users in order to score all the PlayStation trophies. However, this feature is still a far cry from a dedicated multiplayer mode for new Vita owners to take advantage of Wi-Fi connectivity.
Uncharted: Golden Abyss definitely doesn’t live up to the standards of a typical Uncharted game. It feels like Sony and Bend Studio tried to stuff as many ‘proof-of-concept’ touchscreen actions into the game at the expense of pacing and narrative. It’s as if Sony’s treating all new Vita owners like a giant focus group while they try to figure out what works and what doesn’t. Unfortunately, this strange amalgamation of the franchise we love and stilted touchscreen actions / mini-games shove Golden Abyss into fourth place behind all other Uncharted games.
However, if you can look past the poor touchscreen ideas, there is an entertaining tale hidden within the launch title. Even with the weaker writing, there are key moments in the game that suck you into the narrative and really hit those scripted high notes during the crescendo of the on-screen action. Bend Studio has also nailed shooting controls with the accelerometer’s tilt-based aiming as well as using the rear panel control. Any developer currently creating a shooter for the Vita should look at this model for future games.
Sony has obviously positioned Uncharted: Golden Abyss as the system seller due to the popularity of the series. Is it the best game a new Vita owner can pick up at launch? No, but it’s probably in the top 5. Is it worth playing at some point? Yes, especially if you are an Uncharted fan. Is it worth the $50 MSRP? No, mostly due to the touchscreen silliness, lack of multiplayer, graphical issues and weaker writing. While it’s definitely too long of a game to beat in a single rental period, look to pick up Uncharted: Golden Abyss once it hits the $25 to $35 price range.
- 1/4 HD (720x408 upscaled to 960x544)
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