Review: Uncharted: Golden Abyss (PlayStation Vita)

Uncharted: Golden Abyss: Official GBAtemp Review

PlayStation Vita 4,067 views 0 likes 19 comments
Reviewed by Guild McCommunist, posted Apr 2, 2012
I have never played a game in the Uncharted series. The best description I heard was "It's Dude Raider". However, seeing as this is my first Vita game, I was pretty excited to see if it could deliver everything it promised. I have confidence in Sony Bend as well, as they have delived some pretty fun PSP titles.
Apr 2, 2012
  • Release Date (NA): February 22, 2012
  • Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
  • Genres: Action Adventure
  • Single player
    Local Multiplayer
    Online Multiplayer
    Co-operative
Uncharted: Golden Abyss, has been the "landmark" title since the Vita's debut. Uncharted offers many promises -- from non-traditional controls to a console-level game in both scope and traditional control scheme on a handheld. Fortunately it keeps practically all of them, but in some respects still suffers from normal gameplay issues.
Guild McCommunist

Into the Abyss

Unfortunately, not being an Uncharted player, I can't really give much on the characters or story. From what I understood, the game invovles the ever-popular and quick-witted Nathan Drake, going to South America with the less-than-reliable Dante in search of treasure. However, his adventure soon goes south (well, south in a vibe sense, not in a geographical sense) after he meets a girl named Chase, a fellow treasure hunter. He learns of an ex-general named Guerro, who is seeking the same fortune. There's a whole mystery aspect to it as you investigate what happened to the ancient civilization and the Spanish conquistadors that went down there, but a lot of it was lost on me. Maybe I just didn't follow it well but it wasn't particularly engaging to me.

The dialogue, regardless of player experience, is still pretty well written. Nathan and his buddies have quick wit and the usual back-and-forth banter, with jokes coming up and brought back throughout the game. While it may not have the intention of deep character or plot development, it's still a well written game with some funny moments and conversations between characters.

Touch Me, Squeeze Me, Take Me Home

As I mentioned before, Uncharted: Golden Abyss has been tailored to show off every aspect of the system. For many people, this may involve an eye roll, thinking this means forced controls for those who don't want them. However, do not fear. The game has made the new controls optional, which is a really great way of integrating "new age" controls with our standard control schemes.

A lot of actions in the game can be performed via the motion sensor, front touchscreen, or back touchpad. All these actions can also be performed with the buttons. For example, when climbing ledges, I can take the traditional approach of just angling my analog stick at the ledge I want to jump to, or I can use the touchscreen and "paint" my path, dragging my finger along the ledges I want to jump to while wise-cracking Nathan Drake follows it. Personally, I ended up sticking with the traditional stick-and-buttons controls, but I did dabble with the touchscreen controls a bit. As for the other controls, such as climbing ropes with the back touchpad or balancing on beams with the gyro, I wasn't too fond of them. I never used the rope climbing "new" controls and and I was basically forced into using the "new" balancing controls since the system picks up your gyro sensor even if you want to use traditional controls.

There are exceptions to this "have it your way" though, mainly in the form of quick time events. When you lunge for a ledge, your character may barely grasp onto it and require a swipe on the touchscreen to regain himself. If you don't, you fall to your death. This isn't exactly a huge issue but it is annoying when the touchscreen doesn't sense your swipes correctly. Hand-to-hand combat also works a bit like this, although you simply tap your opponent to initiate punches. You can also do this with the Square button, but in the end it's better to do it with the touchscreen since it ends with a necessary touchscreen-swiping quick time event which, if you fail, usually results in death. These annoyances are highlighted near the end of the game, where there are two long quick time event sequences that involve a ton of swipes. You'll get three "strikes" before you fail the event, but if you do, you have to start from the beginning. It's almost as annoying as being forced to rewatch a cutscene over and over again -- most of the time I failed the events due to the controls.

A touchscreen mini-game One of the necessary motion controlled actions

Forward Motion

It is important to highlight one of the best aspects of the "new" controls though, and that's aiming. It's absolutely precise once you get the hang of it. Aiming with the dual analogs is admittedly a bit stiff, but it's complimented with gyro-based aiming. This makes your aiming very fluid and incredibly dead-on when you get the hang of it, rivaling any console shooter. It's one of the most promising aspects of the game and something I surely hope becomes standard in future shooters for the system.

The system also maps some "buttons" to the touchscreen, which helps avoid what I like to term "controller clutter". It's something a lot of PSP games suffered from. A lot of your controls become cluttered due to a lack of buttons. For example, the PSP would have camera controls mapped to the face buttons in some games, and without a second set of bumpers or a second analog stick there weren't many options left. The Vita, while having a second analog stick, still lacks bumpers. However you can now just use the touchscreen to reload, throw grenades, and pick up items.

I'd say the controls as a whole are still great. There is no control clutter, and the "new age" controls are still largely optional. There's still some spots, like the occasionally annoying quick time event which forces new controls on you, but everything else works great.

The game itself is decently varied. Some parts will focus on stealth, others will focus on platforming, and some will focus on shooting. They mix them up enough to make the pacing appropriate, often giving you the platforming aspects during the graphical highpoints of the game for example. However, I do have a gripe about the "openess" of the game. The game is almost baby-proofed. In similar "action platformers" such as Tomb Raider or Prince of Persia, the climbing feels very free. You can jump off into the wild green yonder at any time, even if it means falling to your doom. That's not the case here. You can only reach the "dedicated jumping zones" (my cute little term) to jump to the next platform, making the platforming a lot less platforming and more like a vertical walk in the park. There are also invisible walls in some areas, (which is expected) to prevent you from trying to climb every wall. You can't, but they'll just take them away on certain ledges to make an accidental slip to your death a lot more annoying and clumsy feeling than it is other games. I could forgive the "baby-proofing" if it was at least consistent throughout the game, making the platforming more like a cinematic walk in the park. Instead you will be unable to die by your own mistakes (part of what makes difficulty) and instead die by no fault of your own.

A Land Down Under

Uncharted also sports some incredible graphics, potentially the best seen on a handheld. Just take a look at some screenshots from me below:


 
The game, looks even better when in motion, as is the case with most handheld games. The "jaggies" are a lot less noticeable and the colors are much more vibrant on the Vita's OLED screen. The game could easily pass a PS3 game either way. Textures are the best for a handheld, animations are fluid and varied, lighting effects are incredible, and the enviroments present some very scenic locales. My only complaint here would be that the environments aren't terribly varied. The South American jungle is stunning the first few times you see it, but after quite a few hours of going through it and its temples, you've seen it all before. That's not to undermine the achievement here, creating truly "console-level" graphics in the palm of your hand.

Continuing with this whole "console-level" point, it also gets some pretty high production values in the sound department. Voice acting is professional and top notch, with Nathan Drake himself, Nolan North, reprising his role as the treasure hunting protagonist. There is also some great voice work from the rest of the cast -- such as slimebag Dante, token relatively attractive lady Chase, token old guy Sully, and Just Cause 2's rejected gang leader Guerro. The music is also rip-roaring and fits the action, although I would've appreciated something on the level of Metal Gear Solid 3 in terms of ambient jungle noises.

Final Thoughts

Despite some bumps here and there, Uncharted: Golden Abyss is still a great experience and a strong launch title for the Playstation Vita. It's a great example of the potential of the system. Aside from the high production values, from HD console-quality graphics to excellent voice acting, it delivers a pretty solid action game with some varied gameplay segments and nice controls to go with it. The game isn't without faults, with some of the controls getting in the way, but it's still an excellent look at the future. It shows that the Vita can really handle a console-level game, something that would feel right at home on its big brother Playstation 3, but still being accessible to handhelds. If you're looking for a game that really shows you all of what the Vita can do, Uncharted: Golden Abyss is second to none.

 
Verdict
Pros
+ High production values, from breathtaking graphics to top-notch voice acting.
+ Some great controls, with a high point being precision aiming with gyro controls.
+ Good pacing between stealth, combat, and platforming sequences.
+ Great showcase of the Vita's capabilities, from controls to game quality.
Cons
- Story falls flat on any Uncharted newcomer.
- Some annoying necessary "new age" controls, like touchscreen quick time events.
- Environments aren't varied enough.
- Inconsistent "baby-proofed" platforming.
10 Presentation
The best graphics for a handheld game, paired with a good musical score and top-notch voice acting. Menus are well laid out and easy to access. Environments could use a bit of variety and the story is a bit on the lame side, but these are very minor in the grand scheme of things.
8 Gameplay
Gameplay is decently varied between stealth, shooting, and platforming. The unconventional controls are largely optional, allowing you to "have it your way". Gyro-controlled aiming is a huge highpoint. Platforming feels very restricted though and the "invisible walls" are inconsistent, often leading to a silly fall to your death through no fault of your own.
7 Lasting Appeal
The game itself is rather long, with 34 chapters to go through. While there's no multiplayer (something that recently made the Uncharted series stand out), there's still plenty of appeal for completionists and trophy hunters, with plenty of trophies to collect and collectibles to find.
8.5
out of 10
Overall (not an average)
It's a great maiden voyage for the Vita, showcasing all facets of the system and really showing how it can bridge the gap between a new era of touchscreen and motion controls with the ever-popular standard control schemes. It's not without some flaws, but it's a positive experience that almost anyone will enjoy.
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