Uncharted: Golden Abyss Review – A Handheld Treasure

Nathan Drake gets squashed, shrunk, and folded up into a pint sized version of his usual grand self. Without the full force of the PS3 to bring eye-watering adventures to us gamers, how does he fair in the miniature version?

If you don’t know what the Uncharted series is all about by now, it really is time to crawl out from under that rock. I’ll keep it brief: Drake is your Indiana Jones type, jetting off around the world in search of treasure and adventure. This of course doesn’t do the game justice. What Naughty Dog’s series is famous for are the eye-massaging graphics, amazing character interactions, top-notch acting and epic set pieces that put Hollywood films to shame.

But for this first hand-held outing, Naughty Dog who are currently beavering away at The Last of Us, so they decided to hand control of the Uncharted series to developer Bend Studios.

So, how have these new kids on the adventuring block done? Well to put it simply: flipping amazing, that’s what. I want to get this out of the way first and foremost: the game simply looks incredible. When you first power up the Vita and the famous title music kicks in, you just know you’re in for something special. And then it begins; lush jungles are back, deep caverns and dusty crypts. Never before in the history of hand-helds has a game looked this good. It’s not up to Uncharted 3 standards, but compare it to the first Uncharted game and you will be hard pushed to spot much difference. The character interactions and voice acting that have made the series famous are all present and correct, with new characters holding their own against the common stalwarts like Sully. It’s truly amazing to see this level of acting on a hand-held machine.

It’s not just the graphics that are a selling point. The game makes smart use of the PlayStation Vita’s tilt, touch screen and track pad goodies. Bend Studios have made the most of these new functions to enhance the gameplay – for the most part. Use of the touch screen is pretty good; taking charcoal rubbings by rubbing your finger over the screen or cleaning off old artifacts by using the rear track pad to rotate and the touch screen to clean of the dirt. They really make you feel like you’re an adventurer. Puzzles, fights and treasure hunting all make use of the touch screen adding a new level of interaction. The highlight for me was holding the Vita’s camera up to a light source to reveal some hidden text on an other wise blank canvas. The rear track pad can also be used to zoom your sniper scope or camera, with each slide accurately registered. They all add up to enhancing the gameplay elements for what is otherwise becoming a rather stale game series.

Where the touch screen is wasted is in the climbing sections. Rather than looking for that next handhold, you can simply draw a path up the side of a cliff and Drake will then climb up with out any interaction from the player. Considering the climbing sections have never been that challenging anyway, it seems like a bit of a waste to me.

One of the stars (or two as it were) are the two analogue sticks. Both work perfectly for moving Drake and looking about the levels. I really can’t emphasise enough just how good it is to have two sticks for a handheld system, especially in a game like this. It’s not all roses – like every other Uncharted game before – the aiming is still a bit off, but after a few levels practice you will be pulling off head shots with relative ease.

Speaking of shooting, another reoccurring problem that has run through all Uncharted games are the near invincible enemies. I mean, they can take 10 bullets sometimes and still keep coming at you. I’m not sure why this hasn’t been fixed in any game so far. It’s a real shame as you sometimes end up just shooting as fast and often as you can in frustration knowing that trying to aim that perfect shot simply wont stop the oncoming foe.

But I’m nitpicking here; this is an incredible game, that serves all the platforming and shooting action the PS3 offers but on a machine that is in the palm of your hand. Sure there aren’t as many ‘hanging out of a cargo plane’ set pieces and the locations lack some variety, but what you do get is simply awesome. The main gripe I have with this game isn’t down to anything Bend Studios have done, it’s more to do with that the game is another Uncharted. You know just what to expect: platform a bit, shoot for a bit, platform for a bit and then shoot for a bit. After 3 games on the PS3 and now this, the series is becoming clichéd and needs a bit of a refresh. Thankfully, Bend have added some new features thanks to the touch screen, track pad and gyroscopic controls the Vita offers making the game feel a bit fresher.

If you have a PS Vita, this is the killer launch game you need to have in your collection. It couldn’t be more of a treasure if it was hidden in the depths of a Mayan jungle in a crypt surrounded by death-dealing traps. Essential.

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