Uncharted: Golden Abyss Reviewed

Our Rating
out of 5.0

This game was reviewed on the PlayStation Vita.

Nathan Drake is back in action for his first portable adventure, Uncharted: Golden Abyss!  This is the inaugural game of the highly popular series to land on a console other than the PlayStation 3, as well as the only Uncharted to be crafted by a studio other than Naughty Dog.  So how does this new title from Sony’s Bend Studio compare to the rest of the series?  Let’s find out!

Uncharted: Golden Abyss is a third-person shooter/action-adventure game from Bend Studios for the PlayStation Vita.  It takes place before the events of the first game, Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune, and introduces a few new characters.  Nathan Drake teams up with his friend Jason Dante and Dante’s partner Marisa Chase to unlock the mysteries behind the massacre of a Spanish expedition deep in the jungles of Central America.  Hunted down by a murderous drug runner named Roberto Guerro, Nathan and company race for their lives as they work to unravel the secrets that the jungle holds for them.

Fans of the Uncharted series will find Golden Abyss to be familiar territory in terms of gameplay.  All of the features that have made previous installments great such as stealth kills, melee combat, and parkour elements are all here in their full glory.  However, it’s the enhancements that come from the PlayStation Vita’s robust feature set that make Golden Abyss really stand out on its own.  The first thing you’ll notice is the ability to use the front and rear touchpads in lieu of the traditional control scheme.  Instead of using the analog stick and buttons to traverse across walls and canyons, you can simply draw the path that you wish to take across the front touchpad and Drake will follow it.  Climbing up and down ropes can be accomplished by using the rear touchpad, and reaching out to leap across a chasm or balance on a log is done by using the Vita’s SixAxis controls.

Melee combat and picking up items also receive the Vita makeover using the front touchpad.  To pick up a gun or one of the many treasures scattered throughout the game, you simply walk up next to it and tap on the screen.  To melee an enemy, you only need to get within the close-quarters range and tap on the fist icon that appears on the assailant.  By doing this, stealth kills are accomplished in one shot, while face-to-face confrontations can lead to quick time events where you will have to either continue tapping on the fist icon or swipe your finger across the screen in the direction given to dodge, parry, and beat down your assailant.

While these alternative controls are a breath of fresh air for a third person shooter, the most unique use of the Vita’s features in Uncharted: Golden Abyss deals with the many puzzles scattered throughout the game.  Using the front touchpad, you can rub your fingers across a piece of paper that’s placed over a stone carving to collect a charcoal impression of it.  You’ll also find shredded documents throughout the game that you’ll piece together, such as land deeds, wanted posters, and more.  These items are added to the many collectibles that you’ll encounter throughout the game.  Most creatively, however, is how the rear facing camera is used in particular instances where you’ll need to “hold” items up to the light to see faded markings or invisible ink.  Quite impressive!

Another feature that works well is auto targeting.  Simply move your crosshairs to the general vicinity of an attacker, snap up the gun sights, and start pulling the trigger.  While the AI can be smart enough to get out of the way, a quick trigger finger will generally knock the enemy down before they get the chance.

Graphically, the game is simply gorgeous.  Like its PlayStation 3 cousins, Uncharted: Golden Abyss is full of breathtaking vistas and larger than life arenas to explore and behold.  While the game may be at a lower resolution than the PS3 versions, you simply can’t tell on a smaller screen.  The jungle environments are full of lush colors and beautiful textures.  Water effects in the game (waterfalls, rivers, etc.) are exceptional; however, the fire effects do suffer a bit and leave one wanting and give you the impression that with a bit more time, they could have been improved upon.  On the other hand, for a first time out on an ambitious project such as this, it is a small complaint.

Graphical glitches have been encountered here and there as well.  At one point in the earlier levels, a glitch was encountered where Drake broke from cover to run up a set of stairs, only to run through the obstruction and wade chest deep through stone for a brief moment before popping out and back onto firm ground.  There were also a couple of instances where Drake began to convulse unnaturally for no reason whatsoever.  However, these issues are far and few between and will hopefully be patched in the coming weeks.

As has been mentioned in numerous reports leading up to the launch, Bend Studios was granted access to Naughty Dog’s motion capture facilities for production of the game, and it certainly shows in the character animations.  The characters move about naturally during the cutscenes as well as gameplay to give Golden Abyss that same, movie-like realism and quality that we’ve come to know and love with the Uncharted series.  You can tell that maintaining the quality of the Uncharted brand was a top priority in this game’s production.

Bend Studios has really done a lot of hard work to make Golden Abyss a game worthy of the Uncharted mantle.  The proof isn’t just in how well the game plays or looks, but how it sounds too.  Nolan North reprises his role as Nathan Drake, with voice acting veteran Jason Spisak joining the cast as Drake’s long-time friend, Jason Dante, and actress Christine Lakin (Step By StepHellcats) adding her voice as Marisa Chase.  The writing and voice acting in Golden Abyss is absolutely top shelf, but it lacks the chemistry and witty dialogues between these three protagonists that previous installments enjoyed between Nathan, Elena, and Sully.

Bend also takes a note or two (quite literally) out of Naughty Dog’s playbook in terms of musical score.  The game’s soundtrack is as epic in terms of sound as previous games, instilling a feeling that you are embarking on a journey of a lifetime.  Music shifts with the moods of the game bringing tension during those fast-paced, action-packed gunfight moments, while heavy bass drums and cellos bring the awe when exploring catacombs.  If you’re a collector of the previous soundtracks, don’t be surprised if you find yourself surfing the net to purchase this one as well.

All in all, Bend Studios’ first outing in the Uncharted universe is a darn fine one.  The occasional graphics glitch and weak fire effects keep this game from receiving the top honors, but don’t let that stop you from picking up this action-packed game that’s worthy of the franchise.

Uncharted: Golden Abyss receives a 4.5/5.0

Our Rating
out of 5.0

About This Post

February 23, 2012 - 8:40 am