Feb 25, 2012

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Uncharted: Golden Abyss Review

Uncharted: Golden Abyss Review

Unlike the first three in the franchise, Golden Abyss was crafted by developer Sony Bend.  Crafted is the only word that is successfully able to describe what the development team has done and the details of the team’s hard work is seen in every frame of Golden Abyss.  After playing through the game, it is clear why Sony would want this game as a launch title for its new portable, the Vita.  Quite simply, this game kicks ass.

Uncharted: Golden Abyss is exactly what gamers would expect from anything with Uncharted in the title.  The game’s story is one of its strong points, as is generally the case with the Uncharted series, and acts as a prequel to the first game, Drake’s Fortune.  Nathan was hired by his acquaintance, Dante, to help solve a few problems at an excavation site in Argentina.  What Nathan did not know was that the excavation site was ran by a former Argentinian General.  Of course it would not be an Uncharted game if everything went according to plan.  The mayhem spans across 34 chapters and keeps the player not only busy, but interested.

With 34 chapters, Golden Abyss is far from short.  While it is feasible to beat the story within a day, the game was made for a portable device and should still provide seven hours for one normal play-through.  It feels exactly like its console cousins in terms of length and that should act as a testament to Sony Bend’s ability to continue, as well as build on, Naughty Dog’s successful franchise.  Although there is no multiplayer in Golden Abyss, there are some new elements within the single-player that will provide more time with the game.

A couple of the major additions are Nathan’s clear fondness for charcoal rubbings and his love for amateur photography.  Scattered across the game are spots Nathan can copy using charcoal.  Players will use their finger to trace the image and once all of the images from an area are collected, players solve the puzzle.  Players are also given a large amount of still-images that they must recreate when they come upon the necessary area within the story.  These activities bear no real significance to the story, but do provide the avid trophy hunter the opportunity to feel like he or she has accomplished something extra, and of course there is your standard booty and other treasures to find as well.  There are reasons to go back and play through the game again, even if it is just to see the story again.  Since the game is a prequel to the first, one wonders why Drake decided to quit his dream of amateur photography.

In terms of visuals, the game is an absolute gem.  The colors are vibrant, obviously aided by the Vita’s 5 inch OLED screen, and there is enough variety within the levels themselves to prevent the feeling of playing through the same level twice.  It would be harder to find points within the game where it did not absolutely shine.

The game handles much better than expected, and generally, the Vita’s motion and touch controls have been implemented well enough to aid the gameplay, not hinder it.  The Vita’s touchscreen allows someone to “draw” the path he or she wants Nathan to follow as he climbs.  The back touch-pad on the Vita can be used for rowing and climbing ropes, in levels where such as tasks are necessary, and acts as a method to zoom in and out on Nathan’s camera.  The fight system has been improved in Uncharted by utilizing the touchscreen.  At certain moments during hand-to-hand combat, an arrow with appear across the screen.  A player, by dragging their finger across the screen in the same pattern will enable Drake to successfully continue to merc fools.  The slow-motion that occurs within the fights brought to mind the fights found in the Sherlock Holmes movies.  It is a fantastic use of the Vita’s touch-control capabilities.

What is not fantastic however is the game’s aiming mechanics.  While not impossible to master, the aiming just feels a little off and will require quite a bit of practice to get use to. However, given the high number of shootouts in Golden Abyss, players will be given ample opportunities to practice.  It is important to note that at no point within the game does this issue take away from the overall fun of the gameplay.

Sony Bend accomplished a lot of things with Uncharted: Golden Abyss.  Working with completely new hardware, the company was able to create smooth gameplay, an exciting adventure and the Egg-McMuffin of portable graphics.  In fact, it puts a lot of full console releases to shame.  It successfully utilizes the Vita’s portable controls and creates a scheme within the gameplay so it feels like nothing is being forced.

Golden Abyss is completely worthy of its Uncharted heritage.  To be even clearer, it is one of the best games in the series and is the Vita’s killer app.  Owning this game is a must for all who possess the Vita.

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Uncharted: Golden Abyss
Platform: PS Vita
Genre: Action Adventure
Release Date: 02/12/12
Developer: Sony Bend
Publisher: Sony
ESRB Rating: T
MSRP: $49.99