Releasing a new Uncharted title just three months after Uncharted 3 sounds like an extremely intimidating task, especially if you’re working with a brand new piece of hardware. But against all odds not only did Bend Studio craft a gem worthy of Uncharted’s stature; they’ve also proven that the Playstation Vita is in a league of its own when it comes to quality handheld experiences.
Set a few years before the events of Drake’s Fortune, Uncharted: Golden Abyss sees Drake trying to unravel a 400-year-old mystery which involves the sacrifice of several Spanish soldiers in a secret and deadly ritual. The game features an all-new cast of characters including Drake’s former friend Jason Dante and fellow-explorer/potential love interest Marisa Chase.
Character development has always been a huge part of Uncharted’s appeal and (for the most part) Bend has done an exceptional job bringing their characters to life. Super villain General Guerro is as generic as they come but both Chase and Dante are great inclusions who I would genuinely love to see more of.
Thematically Golden Abyss shares a lot of similarities with Drake’s Fortune, mainly because environments are shrouded in greenery and most of the game takes place in a single location. While Naughty Dog has spent the last four years moulding Drake into a thrill-seeker who is capable of taking down planes, trains and submarines, Bend has brought the young adventurer back to his innocently inquisitive roots. The game also shy’s away from clichéd plot twists by revealing Dante’s inevitable betrayal right from the start. I’ll let you readers discover more about the story for yourselves but I will say that I thoroughly enjoyed it.
As far as gameplay goes, Golden Abyss is exactly what you’d expect an Uncharted game to be. Drake still scales huge environments, shoots his way through waves of enemies and solves relatively simple puzzles which have somehow stumped explorers for centuries. The unique features of the Vita have allowed Bend to include a slew of alternative control methods, most of which will probably go unused by those who have Charted before. The most useful new feature is the ability to automatically plot a path for Drake to climb by painting your finger across a series of climbable objects. On the flip side, rubbing the Vita’s rear touch panel to climb ropes or tilting the device to aim just both gimmicky although they are completely optional.
The Uncharted games have been known to push hardware to its limits and Golden Abyss appears to do the same. The game is absolutely gorgeous and is by far the best looking portable game I’ve ever seen. I’m not sure how great it would look on my 50” TV but on the Vita’s 5” display Golden Abyss looks comparable to most PS3 titles. The game’s music and voice acting are also fantastic with Jason Spisak giving a noteworthy performance as Dante. I also enjoyed the chemistry between Drake and Chase which is something that Uncharted 3 sorely lacked.
As much as I love Golden Abyss (and believe me, I do love it!) there were a few problems with the game that I’d like to see ironed out if Bend ever make a sequel. For starters, several portions of the game seemed contrived solely to force Vita functionality upon the user. I quickly grew tired of rubbing the screen to create charcoal sketches and tilting the Vita to stop Drake from falling off narrow platforms. I also felt that many of the puzzles were either too easy, poorly designed or both which tainted the sense of accomplishment found in previous Uncharted titles. Finally, enemy AI can be really atrocious at times especially during stealth sections. It’s almost as if bad guys have an MGS style ‘cone of vision’ and are unaware of everything that isn’t happening directly in front of them.
This review was based on a retail download copy of the game for the PlayStation Vita provided by Sony.