The Playstation Vita has officially launched in North America with high expectations. Acknowledging the 3DS’ weak launch-lineup, Sony knew they needed to start the Vita off with a bang. As a result, everyone’s favorite wise-cracking American is back, only this time on the small-screen. It is easy to question Uncharted: Golden Abyss. NaughtyDog’s name is not attached to the project, and It’s only been a few short months since Nathan Drake’s last adventure. Instead, Sony’s Bend Studio has taken on the presumably impossible task of following up Uncharted 3. Does Uncharted: Golden Abyss have the style and cinematic flair that the franchise is known for, or is Nathan Drake’s adventure simply too big for the Playstation Vita?
The events in Golden Abyss take place prior to Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune. Knowing this, some of the suspense is taken away. For instance, in the opening chapters, Drake is shot off his ledge by an enemy in a surprisingly awkward cutscene. The game then takes you back in time, much like the narrative in previous Uncharted games. While Uncharted 3’s narrative tricks felt natural and suspenseful, here there is no doubt that Nathan Drake lives. Throughout the game, it is easy to spot the moments inspired by NaughtyDog. Other than these brief moments, Bend Studio does a good job at reinventing the franchise and distinguishing the game from the trilogy. While Golden Abyss will always live in the shadow of its older brothers, it is a fairly unique experience at times. At other times, it is repetitive and has an over-whelming feel of ‘been-there-done-that’.
The repetition doesn’t stem from its story. In fact, the game takes a different approach at the plot, giving everything a better sense of realism. It is easy to identify the striking similarities between the plot points throughout Uncharted 2 and Uncharted 3, but Golden Abyss works hard to break the trend. Furthermore, Golden Abyss is more down-to-Earth than previous installments. While Uncharted 3 is well-known for constantly throwing huge set-pieces towards the player, Golden Abyss is more paced in that sense. It proves that an Uncharted game can completely stand without these over-the-top moments, and rely completely on solid game mechanics. With that said, this also acts as a double-edged sword.
One or two memorable moments would have been nice. Golden Abyss takes the saying ‘less is more’ a bit too seriously, and completely abandons those moments that the series is known for. The game would have benefited from a noteworthy and stand-out scene or scenario, and this would have certainly been a refreshing change of environment. The game has two or three different settings across over 30 chapters. Its easy to see how the look and feel of the game can get repetitive. Returning to the story and presentation of Golden Abyss, the supporting characters are more developed than what fans are familiar with. While Marlowe was a fascinating villain in Uncharted 3, her motives and justifications were very simplified. Talbot, her closest henchman, barely had any lines of dialogue, let alone development. Golden Abyss gives a reasonable amount of screentime to Chase, Dante, and Guerro, giving all three the proper development they deserve. This resulted in a more engaging and compelling story.
Visually, Uncharted: Golden Abyss is no slouch. While the game is not even comparable to Uncharted 3, it is fairly proportionate to Drake’s Fortune. Golden Abyss is one of the best looking handheld games to date, and surpasses almost everything not featured on Sony’s new platform. For those looking for a technical showcase for their Vita, look no further. Golden Abyss sits right at the top of the list, alongside WipEout 2048. The game’s visuals are not its only selling point. It wouldn’t be an Uncharted game without smooth and polished gameplay. Surprisingly, the Vita’s gimmicks are not always an enemy. While the two thumbsticks are great for shooting, I always found myself adjusting my shots with motion controls. While not everyone will hop on board with the idea, there is no doubt that motion controls are more accurate than the standard conventions. Most of the other gimmicks, on the other hand, can be frustrating and useless, especially when mandatory.
Uncharted: Golden Abyss is not only worth playing, but is also a worthy installment in the franchise. Since the mentioned franchise is Uncharted, that is saying a lot. Don’t let some awkward animations and gimmicks fool you, this is the type of game that platforms usually take a while to produce. The Nintendo 3DS found its footing long after its launch. Now, almost a year after its North American release, Nintendo has published a few modern masterpieces for the platform, such as Super Mario 3D Land. Judging by the quality of Uncharted: Golden Abyss, one can only imagine the system’s true potential. Regardless, Uncharted may not be a sole reason to purchase a Playstation Vita, but is definitely a must-have for all early adapters.