Uncharted: Golden Abyss

8/10 Banzai!s

The Game:
Uncharted: Golden Abyss is an American title developed by both SCE Bend Studio and Naughty Dog, and published by Sony Computer Entertainment.  It was first released in Japan on December 17th 2011 as a launch title for the Playstation Vita, and follows the same general action-adventure gameplay as other titles in the Uncharted series – while also making use of the Vita’s touch-screen capabilities.
Taking place several years before Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune, Nathan Drake is hired help for friend and wealthy colleague, Jason Dante, to uncover the secrets behind a 400 year old massacre of a Spanish expedition in Central America.  Along the way, Nathan meets Marisa Chase, who is searching for her grandfather after he vanished while following the same trail.  But their quest is not without obstacles, for a rebel General and his own private army are also on route to locating the ancient Golden Abyss.
Some of the touch-screen features include running your finger over a marked climbing path, making “rubbings” of various markings, brushing the rear panel to climb up and down ropes, or sliding your finger in the direction of arrows during fight scenes.  Do these interactive features add to the gameplay?  Read on to find out!

What I Liked:
The graphics were stupendous in their vast brilliance of colour, really showing off the sharpness and clarity of the device’s screen – more than any other Vita game I’ve played, thus far.  Seeing the light splash down through the trees of the jungle, or the sunrise over the mountains casting a hue of violet clouds was a breathtaking, gameplaying experience.
The script was well written and well voice-acted by some really talented people.  The more I play these Uncharted games, the more I hope Nolan North will assume the role as Drake in the supposedly upcoming film (sorry, Mark Wahlberg).  The story begins with a bang, as Dante orders his men to find and kill Nathan Drake.  We then flash backwards, where Dante and Drake are working together as they set off on their quest together – leaving the player wondering how they became enemies.  While I found the story to slow down towards the middle, it does pick up again near the climax.
At first, I found the touch-screen functions a bit gimmicky – and played the game using the optional controls, just as I would the previous Uncharted games.  But by around Chapter 3 or 4, I started getting really into using my finger.  It’s much easier learning where you can and can’t climb just by swiping your finger across the screen.  I especially liked the idea of finding hidden messages by holding the Vita up against a light – very cool!  I also found aiming much easier by simply moving the Vita around rather than the analog stick, making those headshots quicker and simpler.

What I Didn’t Like:
The only real problem I had with the game, preventing it from getting a perfect 10 Banzai!, was the slight feeling of overall monotonous gameplay.  I feel the problem was with the setting; from start to finish, you’re always in the jungle – which means you’re always doing the same things: climbing, jumping, shooting bad guys, doing rubbings, jumping, finding treasures, shooting bad guys, climbing, etc.  The balance between the platform stages, shooting stages, and puzzle-solving stages, are well done.  But there was no running across a train, firing a machine gun from a moving jeep, maintaining cover from a destructive tank, or sneaking past cameras and security through a museum.  In past Uncharted games, the change in environment changed the style of gameplay.  Since the environment remains the same in Golden Abyss, well…there you go.
In a past interview, developers at Naughty Dog stated they were considering taking out the hidden treasures during the first playthrough, so that the player could simply enjoy the game for its story without distraction.  Well, it seems they did just the exact opposite in Golden Abyss.  There were treasures, photographs and rubbings all over the place!  You couldn’t walk two steps without tripping over something shimmering.  Sure, finding treasures can be fun, but the constant distractions take away from the gameplay, and get old pretty quick.

Overall:
Uncharted: Golden Abyss was a great game which not only showed-off the Vita’s graphic capabilities, but its touch-screen functions and how they could be cleverly integrated into the game to add more.  And as a launch title, I was very impressed.  Both the Playstation 3 and Playstation Portable had some pretty sucky launch games, and took almost a year till anything good came out.  But the Vita hit it off with Golden Abyss.
Compared to the previous Uncharted games, Golden Abyss was great, but lacked the epic storyline or variety in gameplay.  In some ways, it felt like a very long, well-done DLC.  It’s interesting to note, however, that Naughty Dog was not the true developer of this game, but merely “oversaw” its production.  Instead, SCE Bend Studio was responsible for this puppy, the same people who created Resistance: Retribution for the PSP.  So naturally you’re bound to find differences in a game not developed by its original team.
But all minor flaws and nitpickings aside, Uncharted: Golden Abyss was a fun game, and will probably be marked as one of the better Vita titles for a long time.

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