Uncharted: Golden Abyss Review

Uncharted: Golden Abyss (Available exclusively on PlayStation Vita)
ESRB Rating: T
Players: 1
Genre: Action
Publisher: SCEA
Developer: Sony Bend
Release Date: February 15, 2012

Parent Talk: Like the other Uncharted games, the ESRB has rated Golden Abyss T for teen because of violence, blood, and strong language.  There are gunfights, explosions and mild suggestive themes that teenagers should have little problem with, but young kids should be kept away.

Plays Like: The other Uncharted games.

Review Basis: Completed the game on Hard; found every treasure; plan to return to finish the game on Crushing. Did all that in three sittings, too.

Here’s some news: Uncharted is my favorite new IP this generation.  I love Indiana Jones and think this is the perfect evolution of that classic movie franchise.  Something about Nathan Drake’s universe is universally appealing.  Great humor, tight writing and incredible gameplay make Uncharted one of the best franchise’s that Sony can call its own. Now that the PlayStation Vita is upon us, we can enjoy Sony Bend’s (Syphon Filter (PSP)/Resistance Retribution) effort to take over the series and bring it as a launch title. But can anyone but Naughty Dog create an Uncharted as memorable as the original trilogy?

The Great:

The look, feel, sound, and adventure of the console games translates perfectly to the Vita.  Despite shortcomings, this is a full-fledged Uncharted experience. Golden Abyss raises the bar for what it means to be a portable game with its wonderful writing, excellent humor and the same great action you’ve come to expect.

The Good:

+ A simple story blossoms into something more interesting. It never reaches the level of the original trilogy, but the dialogue is as tongue-in-check as ever, and the same wonderful cast of actors reprise their award-winning roles.

+ Marissa Chase, and Jason Dante don’t replace Elena and Chloe, but develop as important characters voiced by talented and passionate actors.

+ Familiar gameplay.  From the cover system to gunfights, everything plays identical to the console games.  The Vita’s dual analogs allow for precision aiming, perfect camera control and easy platforming.

+ Touch screen climbing. While you can use the analog stick and X button to painlessly navigate from one platform to the next, tracing the desired path for Nathan with your finger is neat. Rope climbing is equally easy; just move your index fingers from top to bottom along the back trackpad.

+ Each gun handles differently. A rocket launcher feels powerful, while the different handguns have unique recoil.  It’s also great to not press triangle to pick up ammo; you now just walk over it. Using the back trackpad to zoom in and out with the sniper rifle is another brilliant addition.

+ Location variety. One moment you’re inside a deep, dark cavern asking to be explored, and the next area is exploding around you.  One second you’re slowly canoeing across a river, only to then jump around a jungle looking for a secret entrance shown in a previous cutscene. No matter where you go or what you’re doing, it’s never old.

+ Vita-specific functions not forced.  You must use the different inputs for hand-to-hand combat, rubbings and rope-climbing, but the other gameplay features let you stick with sticks and buttons.

+ Portable-friendly.  A big concern was whether GA would be portable-friendly. Thankfully it is.  Chapters are brief; some last no longer than five minutes, and progress is saved on a checkpoint basis. You can play for five minutes or all day.  There’s some lengthy loading when you boot up, but the rest of it is cleverly masked by cinematics.

+ Nicest-looking and sounding portable game. I can only imagine the budget Golden Abyss had, but it was worth it. A crystal-clear, orchestrated OST, high polygon count and breath-taking visual…Sony Bend created the Vita’s present showpiece that won’t soon be dethroned. One can only imagine what they’ll do once they’ve had another year or two of experience with the hardware.

The So-So:

+/- Downgraded puzzles. Instead of twisting your brain for a switch to active, or navigating huge platforms to cup a rope, etc, you now simply find a special object and rub the screen to remove dirt, or make a rubbing of a seal. Others are more interesting like putting the Vita’s back toward a light source to illuminate writing on an ancient document. However, for every neat puzzle, there are countless boring ones.

+/- Problematic checkpoints. This isn’t obvious on the easier difficulties, but on the tougher settings you’ll encounter a huge battle only to fall off an edge at the end and be required to restart the entire thing. After chapter 12 this fixes itself.

+/- Tricky enemy AI. If you’re in an open area and make too much noise, you’ll be flanked. The flipside is using stealth. Two enemies side-by-side means nothing, as you can easily snap one guy’s neck while the other just stands there looking the other way.

The Bad:

U3’s awesome melee system is replaced with swipe gestures. It takes almost all the fun away. These swipes also must be timed perfectly or you fail. Doing so on the higher difficulties means instant death.

– Cutting objects with the touch screen isn’t intuitive. Nathan stands still while you input the swipes. It would’ve been great if this happened in real time.

– Overreliance on treasures to extend play. It’s fun to treasure hunt, but it’s too much of a good thing. Some levels hide around a dozen treasures. They’re shiny objects in hard-to-find places, but some require you to stand in the right spot to snap a picture. They’re usually creative, but the large number seems overkill and removes you from the experience.

The Ugly:

Rolling to cover, but having been on the wrong side of a platform. You fall to your death after a heated ten-minute battle, and everyone around you hears some nice words.

The Lowdown:

Uncharted: Golden Abyss is an excellent Vita launch title. It doesn’t quite match Naughty Dog’s brilliance, but proves Sony Bend is an incredible developer that knows how to pimp Sony’s portable hardware. Any Uncharted fan must experience this latest chapter. If you’re looking for Vita’s killer app, here it is.

Average Score Scale: 8.0 (+/- 0.5) out of 10

Personal Final Score: 8.5/10 (Inflated)

Reason for +0.5 Inflation: You enjoy Uncharted and want to play another.

Reason for -0.5 Deflation: The different input systems sounds unappealing.

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