The Uncharted series has been used to push the boundaries, whether that’s pushing the hardware to the limits, or bringing the summer blockbuster experience to the living room and into the hands of many a gamer.
Developed by Naughty Dog, one of Sony’s most revered first party studios, the Uncharted trilogy has constantly scored highly, with Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune scoring 88, Uncharted: Among Thieves scoring 96, and Uncharted: Drakes Deception 92 on Metacritic respectively. Uncharted: Golden Abyss however is not developed by Naughty Dog, this handheld experience is developed by another one of Sony’s first party studios, the company responsible for Syphon Filter, SCE Bend. And whilst Golden Abyss doesn’t quite live up to its console brethren, it is still a ride that every PlayStation Vita owner should experience.
Uncharted: Golden Abyss, follows Nathan Drake on another adventure, and this time a friend of Nate’s, Dante, hires him to come out to the middle of a South American rainforest in order to identify some ancient relics that they’ve uncovered. And yes, I say we, as you will not embark on this adventure alone, oh no, you will be accompanied by a young girl named Chase, who’s helping Dante excavate the dig site. Drake is not the only one trying the uncover the secrets that the relics hold, a military faction, led by a man named Guerro, who dresses almost uncannily like a certain Fidel Castro, is also eager to learn the artefacts secrets. Returning faces make appearances in Golden Abyss, characters like Sully will also accompany Drake in this adventure in some capacity and their presence is welcome. The two main protagonists in Golden Abyss lack the same camaraderie that the console games have in buckets, the banter between Chase and Drake is nowhere near as funny, or touching as those shared between Drake and Sully, this is expected as their relationship has spanned over years, whereas Drake and Chase have only just met. This is a shame as it means that slower sections in the narrative seem to drag and left me wanting.
The Uncharted franchise has always boasted great stories, but it’s the series wonderfully fluid gameplay that really elevate the Uncharted games into greatness, and set them aside from the majority of other action-adventure games. Thankfully much of the series hallmark gameplay has transitioned beautifully over to Sony’s handheld, meaning that the shooting mechanics are as tight as ever and the climbing is as slick as you remember. Aiming and shooting are mapped the left bumper and right bumper respectively and after a while you will forget that you’re holding a handheld and not a controller. Unfortunately the cover system in Golden Abyss is unreliable, and on more than one occasion I found myself running up against a chest high wall instead of rolling to safety. Nathan Drake is known for his fluid movement when traversing crumbling walls, or escaping from collapsing buildings, and in Golden Abyss the climbing, like everything else in this iteration, is good but not quite up to the same standard as the console versions. Whilst Nate still moves well he feels slow and clunky, which when trying to dodge falling debris quickly becomes cumbersome and annoying, resulting in many deaths which I felt were unfair.
Golden Abyss makes use of the Vita’s unique features, for better or worse. Whilst sweeping your fingers across the screen in order to map out Nate’s climbing path is helpful, and rubbing your finger up against the screen in order create charcoal rubbings is fun, other examples of how the handhelds features can be used are annoying and wholly unwelcome. If you get up close to an enemy you can enter a melee mini game in order to subdue him silently, in order to execute these moves successfully you must trace your finger in the direction of an on-screen prompt which a lot of times I found to be unresponsive an unintuitive. In another section you are asked to hold your Vita up to a light in order to reveal a secret message, this is not only inconvenient but also a cumbersome act that would make you seem weird when trying to attempt them on say a train, or a plane.
On the whole Golden Abyss looks good, not groundbreaking and not disappointing, environments look nice as long as you don’t look too closely and character animations are solid. Fire effects are underwhelming however, as it results in a significant amount of screen tearing and frame rate dips. The voice acting is as solid as ever with series veterans, Nolan North and Richard McGonagle returning as Drake and Sully. Christine Lakin’s performance as Chase however is uninspired and comes across dull, and I fell myself not caring about anything she had to say. In terms of length Golden Abyss is incredibly satisfying, my first play through clocked in at just under 15 hours not counting the time that it takes to find all of the games hidden collectibles, meaning that you will receive a lot of bang for your buck.
Whilst certainly not perfect Uncharted: Golden Abyss is incredibly exciting, serving as not just a competent third person shooter, but a worthy handheld Uncharted experience. Where it may fall short in terms of character development and environmental fidelity, Golden Abyss makes up for in intense gameplay sections. Part of Sony’s instant game collection on Playstation Vita every PS Plus subscriber should at least give Golden Abyss a chance, as it really is an experience worth having.