Review | Uncharted: Golden Abyss

Remembering the first time I played Uncharted, I remember doubting it beforehand. And then I played the first two titles, and was astounded. Just recently, Uncharted 3 proved that the series is no where near its downfall (if I could review it now, it would be a perfect score). Naughty Dog took a risk in handing over their critically acclaimed series to Sony Bend. Could they prove that Uncharted can be just as amazing on the go?

In many ways, Uncharted: Golden Abyss succeeds at proving what the Vita is being marketed as: playing a console-like experience on the go. However, the game doesn’t succeed in another important matter: it doesn’t feel like an Uncharted title. That isn’t to say the game isn’t great. Take a look at what makes this experience.

The Story

Uncharted’s staple has always been its storytelling. All three titles managed to provide a cinematic experience with lovable characters and a great plotline. It is unfortunate that Golden Abyss does not impress in this aspect. The story for Golden Abyss is all over the place. The story has Drake in search of a lost, golden city alongside a couple new faces. Dante is an arrogant, annoying con artist who can only be liked by someone of that familiar nature. Chace is the new-old love interest who is probably the most well-developed character that players can grow attached to. The problem with that is, no matter how well developed she is, knowledge of the lore will keep players from getting attached knowing she won’t remain for much longer. With that, let’s get this off of everyone’s mind – Elena (obviously) does not return this time around. Lastly is lead antagonist, Guerro. A Fidel Castro wannabe, Guerro is probably one of the worst antagonist in the series. A lack of development and wasteless motives bring this character down to said level.

The only likable new character, Marisa Chase

Aside from the weak character development, the game’s narrative also takes a major hit. Lacking a direct focus, players may be unsure as to what Drake’s motive is this time around. While the concept of searching for this treasure is a gimme, there usually is a lot more to it. However, this time around, it isn’t so. It is just a jumbled mess of backstory and core story, likely due to the mess of unlikable characters. Some choices in writing is questionable as well, namely an odd “that’s what she said” sequence that is only backed up by clearly questioned actors. Uncharted is notable for its cinematic moments in the story. Golden Abyss does have its moments, but nothing truly stands out like they do in the other entries. There are no epic train sequences, emotional desert explorations or anything of the sort. Thank goodness Victor Goddamn Sullivan steps in midway through the story. Voice acting is superb, as always, across the board. This does include the annoying characters. Looking at you, Dante.

Gameplay & Graphics

Yes...it looks THAT good

Where Golden Abyss lacks in storytelling, it makes up for in gameplay. Uncharted: Golden Abyss uses all of the Vita’s features. Touch screen, rear touch pad and even the camera. Players can use the touch screen to wipe treasures and objects clean for further inspection. Platforming is a lot simpler thanks to the touch screen as well, although I found myself sticking to the usual gameplay. Some of the features should have been left out at moments though. A prime example is the game’s quick time events. Being forced to perform combat with the touch screen can become quite jarring and a nuisance. The biggest nuisance of them all though is definitely using the Sixaxis for walking across a narrow beam in nearly every beam you walk across. If players are in a comfortable position playing, prepare to ready yourself to get across that beam. Though I never had a true problem with the game’s gunplay, it has been a common complaint in most titles. I didn’t have much trouble with it in Golden Abyss, but I definitely recommend adjusting the sensitivity of the analogs in the menu.

Other uses of the Vita’s tech shine on through. As stated, gameplay is a key focus this time around. With the events of the story taking place before the first title, we actually get to assemble Drake’s famed journal. Using the touch screen to zoom in for pictures, clean off objects and assemble puzzles is surprisingly not as gimmicky as it sounds. It actually proves to be pretty fun and interesting for the most part. There, however, were some awkward choices made by the developers. Why can’t I throw back grenades, although it was implemeneted in Uncharted 3? Why is the AI ridiculously dumb at times? These are only few of the questions that may be asked by fans of the series.

One of the many uses of the Vita's touch screen

Uncharted’s other staple was how fantastic the team uses the technology to craft some fantastic graphics. Golden Abyss does not differ. The game is easily one of the best looking games on Sony’s new handheld. The lush, green environments look fantastic on the Vita’s OLED screen and the character models, especial those we’ve grown attached to, look great. My only gripe is the fact that the game essentially takes place in the same area for the entirety of the game. Occasional changes, including jungles, caves and temples, aren’t enough to provide that usual Uncharted feel of different settings in each title. Fire seems a bit chippy, but overall, Golden Abyss looks almost as good as the original Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune.

Delivery

Golden Abyss packs a 10-hour story mode, although it may appear to be one of the longer entries in the series due to the massive amount of chapters. The standard four difficulties transfer over, aside from the fact that players must now first complete the game on Hard before unlocking Crushing. The lengthy story will keep players entertained, thanks to the variety in gameplay. Though not a fan of the multiplayer aspect of Uncharted, it definitely would give plenty of others reason to come back. Near integration is a neat feature, allowing players to trade various bonus items. On the topic of collectibles, Golden Abyss has plenty.

This time around, players will be doing a lot more than walking to a shining object and hitting ‘X’. Players must not fix puzzle pieces together, take pictures, clean off objects and rub some charcoal drawings. As noted earlier, these all use the Vita’s new features: touch screen, rear touch pad, etc. There are plenty of collectibles this time around, and they all provide interesting historical backstory. Even the Ancient Relic returns (or Precursor Orb for Jak and Daxter fans) and has an interesting lore to the Golden Abyss story. The collectibles should definitely give players reason to return to the game’s single player adventure.

Final Comments

Uncharted has easily become of my favorite series of all time. The characters are superb, the storytelling is great and the cinematics leave me with my jaw to my carpet each time. Unfortunately, Golden Abyss doesn’t live up to the console versions. However, that isn’t to say the game isn’t great. Where the story and characters are lacking, gameplay and neat little breaks make for a fun experience. The cinematic sequences aren’t all that memorable as the console titles and the same, jungle setting can become a bit of a bore, but the amazing graphics (still have a hard time getting over this is a handheld) still manage to be a sight for sore eyes. The game is a definitely worth a purchase for the Vita, especially for the Uncharted fans out there. I still hope for another Vita spin-off taking place between Uncharted 2 and Uncharted 3, possibly showcasing Elena and Drake’s marriage.

The Good

  • Console-like experience on the go? Most definitely.
  • Superb voice acting, even for the lamer characters
  • Beautiful, lush environments and fantastic overall graphics all stand out on this OLED screen
  • Lengthy story mode, and usage of the Vita’s tech for a ton of treasure collection and journal assembling is great

 The Bad

  • Lackluster story and weak character development (for the new characters); odd choices in writing at times
  • Some awkward QTE utilizing the Vita’s tech to break off the gameplay for the worst
  • Missing gameplay from the past iterations; throwing grenades back, for instance

8.5/10

A great experience