Saturday, 3 March 2012

Uncharted: Golden Abyss - Review

Set sometime before the events of the first Uncharted game, Golden Abyss sees Drake taking on Army Generals and double crossing partners in his first outing on the PS Vita.  Utilising almost all of the new console's functionality Abyss is an enjoyable romp which loses none of the Uncharted's charm in its transfer to a handheld.

Development duties have been handed to Sony Bend but you won't notice any real differences, this feels like an Uncharted game from start to finish.

Being a launch title for the new device Sony were obviously keen to see every ounce of the hardware being pushed to the forefront: sometimes it works brilliantly, occasionally you'll ignore it and once, just the once mind, it feels game changing.

The touch screen can be used to guide Drake through the platforming sections, you can trace a path for him up the side of a temple and he'll follow the directions you've mapped out for him.  Some reviews have suggested this feels like the game running on rails, but on the contrary, it actually makes the game feel incredibly vibrant.  You'll switch between using the stick and tracing the screen, depending on the environment, but you'll never leave the new option at the door.  So far so good.

Another cool addition is the use of the touchscreen during brawling.  It turns every fist fight into a Quick Time Event but it also brings that rather tired method, of breaking up a cut scene, to life.  Swiping and tapping the screen to make Drake punch, duck or kick, feels right.  Another tick in the touch screen box.

The rear touch pad is used sparingly and arguably it'll be the one bit you'll be the most likely to ignore.  It can be used to climb ropes, using two fingers swiping the panel, but it just feels more comfortable to push the stick.  However it can also be used during the brief rowing sequences and here it works great.  You can continue to enjoy the sumptuous visuals while the characters paddle away thanks to your swiping.  Nice.  The rear panel acts as your zoom control for sniper rifles and for the in game camera and once you realise that features there, it feels pretty natural.

The Vita's gyroscope is used occasionally too.  You can adjust your aim, although this can be tricky, and Nate can be made to lean out for a precarious jump.  The only time it really comes to fore is when you're using Nate's camera.

The Vita's actual camera is used just once.  But it's the point where you pause the game for a second and stroke your Vita, safe in the knowledge this is a pretty special bit of kit.

Visually Abyss is not quite up there with its big brothers but for a handheld it's staggering.  Drake moves as well as he does on the PS3 and all the environments are beautifully realised.  You'll get used to how great it all looks after a while but as the game reaches its final third it reaches new heights.

The story is strong and although, for the most part, it's just Drake (voiced as ever by Nolan North) who you'll be familiar with, it feels a lot like the first Uncharted game in terms of pacing and style.  If anything it's a little more grounded in the real world than the earlier titles.

There are moments where Sony's desire to push the abilities of the new kit get in the way of the game.  Some of the puzzles, including piecing together ripped up paper and doing charcoal rubbings, feel tacked on.  Once or twice the charcoal rubbing would have worked to demo the touch screen but it feels like you can't turn a corner sometimes without bumping into another rubbing opportunity.

As with previous games there's treasures to collect, although there's an abundance of them here, and PSN Network trophies to earn.  The replay value is huge, there's no way your collecting everything on your first play through.

Overall Uncharted: Golden Abyss is a superb launch title.  Glorious to look at, with as solid a story as we've had in the series with all the action you've come to expect.  There are less of the amazing set pieces but it feels more like a game you've earned the closing scenes of rather than one you were given on a plate.

If you've got a Vita, you need this game.
★★★★☆