The Uncharted series has a long history of being the game Sony counted on to move PS3s. This is proven by all of the Uncharted system bundles that came out with each game. Now as Sony introduced the Vita, its 4th generation portable, it has once again call upon Uncharted to help move the new portable.
This time, however, it's the team the brought us Syphon Filter, Bend Studio, that will be bring Nathan Drake to the Vita in Uncharted Golden Abyss. Is switch in developers and platform a golden move for the series, or will the move hurt the much loved franchise?
Action Packed Original Story - One of the defining aspects of the Uncharted series is the story. Each game had the right amount of action, romance, funny moments and a likeable cast to keep players interested. Sony’s Bend Studio, the developer chosen for Golden Abyss, continues the tradition that Naughty Dog established in previous games. Bend Studio is no strangers to action/adventure, since they were the original developers of the Syphon Filter series. So they have no problem in crafting a action pack story.
As for the story, Golden Abyss has Nate traveling across Panama to help uncover the truth about the deaths of Spanish conquistadors who explored the area centuries earlier. With the help of new love interest, Marisa Chase, we learn that they didn’t die of natural causes, but were instead executed. Before getting to the whole story, Drake and Marisa are chased off the site by rebels led by a local warlord named Guevero, who also has an interest in the ruins so that he may fund his war. Thus begins the journey through dense jungles and ancient tombs for answers as well as a potential big payday for Drake. While the story maybe a bit more linear than the previous console games, Bend Studio does a really good job in making Golden Abyss its own original story while still keeping the same feel that the previous entries in the series had.
Touch/motion Controls Feels Natural - When it was announced that Golden Abyss would have touch/motion controls exclusive for the Vita, there was a bit of skepticism. Its widely known that motion controls, for the most part, suck. It's also known that when a touch screen is added to the equation, developers will either force feed the touch controls or use it once and never make mention of it again. With Golden Abyss, the touch/motion controls are not forced upon you, nor are they intrusive. Action motions such as climbing, aiming and melee combat felt like second nature once you get used to them. Then there are the treasure hunter motions, which will be explained in detail next, that immerse you and feel like a treasure hunter.
Feel Like a Real Treasure Hunter - As I mentioned before, Golden Abyss uses the touch screen and the back touch pad in ways that make you feel like a treasure hunter. One such example is examining artifacts for clues. The rear touch pad lets you turn the object around so you can see it from all sides. Then using the touch screen you can start dusting off the debris that is on the object to reveal markings and more clues. The touch screen can also be used to uncover charcoal rubbings from objects. By having these added features add additional immersion, letting players imagine that they are the ones uncovering treasures and shows that in the right conditions motions/touch controls can be used really well.
Amazing Orchestrated Soundtrack - Uncharted games always have a bombastic soundtrack that gets players in the mood for an adventure. Golden Abyss continues that trend and sets even a higher standard for music production. Now most of the time when scoring music for a game, a composer usually uses a mix of live musicians and electronic samples to produce the music. Composer Clint Bajakian, who composed the score for Uncharted 3, returns to Golden Abyss and is not alone. For the first time in any type of video game, a full piece orchestra was used to record the music for the game, in addition to a 70 piece orchestra that was led by Alan Umstead of Nashville Music Scoring. This is almost on par with movie musical scores and give Golden Abyss that adventure movie sound.
Graphics On Par With Its Console Cousins - Golden Abyss looks amazing. From the vast jungle cliff views to ancient ruins of a one forgotten civilization, the set pieces for the game are amazing. Everything is very detailed and looks for the most part really good on the 5-inch OLED screen. There is a few hiccups that the graphics have though, which I'll mention next.
Some Pixilated Textures - Like I mentioned just above, there are a few hiccups that Golden Abyss has with the graphics. There are times when the camera zooms in for a close up of Drake, you can see the pixilation of some of the backgrounds. This is most prevalent in the areas where there is vegetation, i.e. jungle. Also the game isn’t running on the full resolution of the OLED screen, which is 960 x 544. Instead it is running on half that, which is 720 x 408. While this doesn’t detract from the game, you will notice it at different points in the game.
No Multiplayer - When multiplayer was introduced in Uncharted 2, people were not sure what to make of it. Some even thought that it was just a lame quick add-in, but that was not the case. UC2 has one of the best multiplayer modes out for the PS3 at that time and even improved on it even more when UC3 came out. While I wasn’t expecting something the size of UC3’s ten people at a time multiplayer, I was hoping for at least a smaller version like 4v4 battles. The Vita has the power to have such an infrastructure, so there is no reason as to why to not include it. Maybe Bend didn’t have enough time to put it in. Regardless it would have been nice to have some type of multiplayer.
Slight Chance of Dizziness - While the touch/motion controls for Golden Abyss do feel natural, there is one slight side effect from all that moving and twisting around: slight dizziness. While playing through the action bits in Golden Abyss, instead of using the right analog stick to aim my gun and do some of the treasure hunter actions, I’d used the motion controls. After a while of spinning around frantically trying to aim and shoot at enemies I felt a bit dizzy. It's not really a game breaker, but to those who have a tendency to get motion sickness might want to just stick to using the analog stick.
When first announced, Playstation executives touted the Vita as the system being able to bring the console experience to a portable and taking it wherever you can go. While Uncharted: Golden Abyss does have its flaws such as noticeable pixilation when zoomed in all the way, no multiplayer and a slight chance of dizziness, it shows that the executives were right.
Bend Studio proves, with Golden Abyss, that they can bring a console experience to the small screen. It has everything that the console versions of Uncharted have, action, adventure, and Drake getting the girl at the end. It also has unique features that gives players a brand new experience that the console version do not give, such as using the touch and motion controls to control Drake much easier and to feel like a treasure hunter. It may not be a part of the main storyline, but that’s ok. In fact I want to see more adventures from Drake that happen before and in between each of the console games. Have those side games on the Vita and keep the main games on the PS3. If you love Uncharted and wondering what to get for the Vita, Golden Abyss won’t steer you wrong.
*This review was based on a copy of the game available on PSN Plus.*