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Uncharted: Golden Abyss Review

by William Schwartz

For PlayStation fans the prospects of playing Nathan Drake’s latest adventure in the palm of their hands for the first time is an alluring prospect.  Ever since Sony introduced the PlayStation Vita, this is precisely the type of experience they have been marketing to fans.  Developed by Sony Bend, Drake’s most recent adventure aims to give PlayStation Vita gamers a current generation console experience in the new handheld, with a wealth of ways to play that spice up the action utilizing the Vita’s unique control set.

The amazing visuals that Naughty Dog was able to achieve with the Uncharted franchise on the PlayStation 3 are a tough act to follow, irrespective of whether or not the handheld is even capable of such feats.  But is it even possible to capture this type of experience outside of your living room, and on the small screen?  Well that answer is partially yes, and partially no, but after playing through Uncharted: Golden Abyss, I can say that Sony Bend sure as hell gave it their best effort.  This “core” experience is once again living up to the promises that Sony made with the Vita, it feels very much like other Uncharted games that came before it on the PlayStation 3.  It oozes with character, style, and above all else, it’s a blast to play on Sony’s latest handheld, but it does have its drawbacks.

As a launch title, Bend’s Uncharted offering showcases nearly all of what the PlayStation Vita is capable of.  Relying on the tried and true mechanics of the Uncharted franchise, it doesn’t break the mold when it comes down to gameplay.  What you’ll find is that all of the wall climbing, near death experiences are still there, alongside many features that force you to interact with the game that just isn’t possible on the console versions, via the touchscreen, back-based controls, and other innovations that the Vita brings.  Navigating ledges with the swipe of your finger is an interesting premise that at many times feels better than the traditional controls.  There are other times when paddling a boat feels more natural with a finger swipe than it would, by say, pressing x.

However, this latest entry into the Uncharted franchise does little to set itself apart from its predecessors, and at times really feels like it’s only trying to recapture the magic of previous games instead of innovating.  The innovation comes in the form of for all intents purposes, mini-games that showoff the touchscreen controls, awkward ways to aim and fire your weapon, and performing odd rubbing rituals when Drake finds objects of interest throughout the game.  These “innovations” are indeed neat, at least for the first time you use them.  Though halfway through the game you’ll have performed these actions countless times, and are just begging for a reprieve from their game tempo breaking properties.

Like the console version of the game, Uncharted: Golden Abyss breaks down into three core portions.  Exploration and terrain navigation, cut-scenes and story telling, and gun play. Exploration and Navigation is for the most part on par with the console version of the game.  As I said above, the climbing mechanics and the ability to use the touchscreen controls for this are remarkable, and very rarely do you get tired of Nathan’s penchant for finding away to navigate the most insurmountable of objectives.  The story behind Uncharted: Golden Abyss doesn’t have the same impact as Uncharted 2 or 3, but it’s still a nice precursor to those games, if you are looking for even more back story for the likable protagonist, albeit limited at best.  Unfortunately, a big part of this version of Uncharted is the gun play, and it’s once again, the Achilles heel of this title.  Controls feel sloppy, loose, and seemingly difficult to master because of their sheer awkwardness.  In a game where you’ll be constantly running out of ammunition after countless errant shots, some of the gunfights in Uncharted: Golden Abyss can be downright frustrating when getting on to the later stages of the game.

Above all, as neat as the features are that have been incorporated in Uncharted: Golden Abyss to show off what is possible on the PlayStation Vita, alot of them fall flat because of sheer repetition.  If Sony Bend had found a way to incorporate these elements in a way where they felt more impactful within the game, and not mindless chores, they would be much better inclusion.  Much of it feels oversimplified, from puzzle solving to charcoal rubbings, you begin to feel that this treasure hunting thing is a very mediocre venture.

It’s strange actually, without the PS Vita features which feel shoehorned into the experience of Uncharted: Golden Abyss, the game feels very much like a watered down version of other entries in the franchise.  With them, you can see the potential of the device, and at times can make the game quite endearing.  Unfortunately, they’re overused and the inability to really set itself apart from other games in the franchise otherwise, can give the game a bit of a dragging-on feeling  Many times the game feels like something that you’ve played before in a better setting.

We must remember though that these comparisons are coming between a more powerful home console, and it’s handheld counterpart. Uncharted: Golden Abyss is an unbelievable experience for a handheld, there’s not many games out there that can deliver this type of experience in the palm of your hand.  It’s a good start for the Vita from a first party perspective, but hopefully developers will find ways to differentiate these titles from the games that could be better played on your home console.

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Uncharted: Golden Abyss

  • Available On: PS Vita
  • Published By: Sony Computer Entertainment
  • Developed By: Sony Bend
  • Genre: Third Person Shooter
  • US Release Date: February 2012
  • Reviewed On: PS Vita
  • Quote: "Uncharted: Golden Abyss is an unbelievable experience for a handheld, there’s not many games out there that can deliver this type of experience in the palm of your hand."
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