Friday, March 22, 2013

Review: Uncharted: Golden Abyss

uncharted golden abyss vita 

Before I start talking about this Vita launch title, I have to contextualize this review. I don't think Uncharted 3 is as good as many people think it it is. When compared to Drake's second outing, Among Thieves, it is a lesser game. Drake's Deception sacrificed gameplay for the sake of telling a cinematic story. There is no denying it is a tremendous achievement, but I felt that Naughty Dog was forcing unnecessary semi-interactive sections down my throat in order to make me "feel" something. I found it less fun to play than the prequel which felt like a real roller-coaster of story, gameplay, set-pieces, incidental detail and exploration. In fact, Uncharted 2 reminded me of Resident Evil 4, one of my top 10! Uncharted 3 felt more linear and claustrophobic, even the big shout-outs had less options. I don't think that the exploration and fighting was combined as well either.

I purchased a PS Vita at midnight on the 22nd of February. My birthday is on the 25th so I knew I would get at least some of the money back. I got Uncharted: Golden Abyss with it because I wanted to buy something that would really show off the system. And it did, the game looked quite amazing. However, after a few hours I gave up thinking "God, why is this game so badly designed? There are so many boring mini-games and why am I having to partake in these rather dull shout-outs?" I traded it in and never played it again...

Until a month ago when I subscribed to PS Plus. I now realise that I still had a bitter taste in my mouth from Uncharted 3, because this is a really good game! A year on from release and it is still arguably the best looking game on the system. The developers seem to know this because they have integrated a game-mechanic whereby you take photos of certain objects or landscapes. For example, near the beginning of the game you will come to a beautifully composed shot of a rope bridge in front of a waterfall. It is a marvel to see it in real-time on a 5-inch screen, the OLED technology giving a new vibrancy to the familiar jungle setting.

uncharted golden abyss vita screenshotLooking good, let's take a picture!
Anyone who has played a previous game in the series will know what to expect. The experience consists of a mixture between cover-based shooting, platforming and puzzle solving. It is certainly fun. Drake controls effortlessly and animates almost as well as his PS3 counterpart. The shooting is well serviced by the analogue sticks and gyroscopic controls for precision aiming. It certainly feels like a smaller production; there aren't any crazy set-pieces such as the train or the ship. However, the scope makes sense considering the hardware and is still quite surprising for a launch game.

The one major addition to the game makes sense and actually adds quite a lot to the experience. Being a fortune hunter, Nate picks up objects and treasures throughout the levels. in the previous games they would simply be added to a list and eventually lead to trophies. However, Golden Abyss puts each piece of treasure or photo onto a specific research page. It makes you feel like the things you are gathering have more purpose and shows how they are connected. It actually gave me an incentive to look away from the beaten track and try to find as many collectibles as possible. Drake also has a backpack which helps ground the character in reality. How else is he going to carry all that treasure Naughty Dog!?
It's not all good though, Sony Bend has made a few mistakes along the way that hold the game back. Overenthusiastic use of the hardware's feature-set is the biggest problem with the game. Tracing where you want to climb is cool, and there is a great moment at the beginning of the game where you can grab an enemy while hanging under him by touching him with your finger. However, both of these actions are optional. It seems the ones that require using touch in order to work don't function properly!? The two worst culprits are the machete-slicing and hand-to-hand combat segments. The slicing has a real problem registering a zig-zag. I had to repeat the motion about 15 times at one particular point, it was not fun. The hand to hand combat would have probably worked better if the motions were done using the analogue sticks, like the Fight Night series. While the charcoal rubbing is a cool idea, the amount of times it is used beggars belief. After your 10th rubbing you'll start to find it contrived. After your 20th, it just becomes a self-referential joke.

uncharted golden abyss vita screenshot
Not so good...
The story is well told and the game does a good job at making you feel like a part of the investigation. All the actors are very good and add some charm and charisma to the proceedings. There are issues though, namely the characters. Aside from Jason Dante, the new characters are not as entertaining as those in the previous games. The villain, Roberto Guerro could have been taken from a straight-to-DVD Steven Seagal movie (I love those movies by the way, but for all the wrong reasons!). When Sully turns up the whole game improves though and it manages to keep you fully motivated to the end.

Speaking of the ending, I thought that the lead up to the final fight with Guerro was a great use of the traversal and combat mechanics put together. It is one of the best moments in the game and I was completely engrossed despite being on a crowded train on the underground. Sony Bend have done a great job with this game. It has its faults, but its a very promising start. I really can't wait to see what Sony Bend can do with a sequel because if the team can make launch game of this quality, their next will be unmissable. In the meantime, hit this up!

Find Uncharted: Golden Abyss on ebay | Amazon

Released: 2012-02-14
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Developer: Sony Bend

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