Uncharted: Golden Abyss - Review


Despite a new platform and developer, Golden Abyss feels like a true Uncharted. Naughty Dog may be absent, but Bend have proven themselves a capable stand-in, careful to preserve the essence of the series while also making worthwhile additions of their own, resulting in a game that will be remembered long after its fellow launch titles have faded from memory.

Golden Abyss sees charismatic treasure hunter, history buff and lovable serial killer Nathan Drake up to his old tricks or, more accurately, new tricks as GA is set before the events of series debut, Drake's Fortune. What starts off as a routine trip to a South American excavation site quickly descends into something far more serious and Uncharted-like. Racing towards a lost city of gold, Drake must rescue new friends and battle old ones, as well as taking on the remnants of a revolutionary guard - just another day in the antiquity business then.

The faux-historical backdrop is rather confusing and at times dull, but then the quest for treasure has never been more than a secondary concern, outshone by engaging characters and believable relationships. Drake's new female side kick and semi love interest is archaeologist and firecracker Chase. Fans of Elena need not fret, as the on screen chemistry never really blossoms; Chase is no Elena, or Chloe for that matter. Dante is Drake’s untrustworthy but ever entertaining partner/employer and General Guerro the forgettable antagonist. The dialogue doesn't quite pop as in Uncharted 1-3, although the early back-and-forth between Nate and Dante has its moments. Fortunately, Sully comes to the rescue later on, bringing with him the witty dialogue of old. Few relationships are more believable and warming, nor chemistry more real, than that shared between this pair of lovable rogues and in Golden Abyss they remain as inseparable as ever.

Uncharted Golden Abyss looks stunning, making the most of the Vita's impressive OLED screen. The vibrant colours and backdrops of the early levels are striking; the Vita's screen capture function is made for this game. A certain amount of detail is lost in the move to portable, no more evident than on Drake's relatively expressionless face, but this is still a significant visual achievement, one that makes you wonder what developers will be able to achieve once they are even more familiar with the hardware.


The South American setting is a bit samey – it doesn't reach Dragon Age 2 levels of repetition, but the constant jungle-cliff face-caves-ruin cycle does grate. Unfortunately, there isn't a memorable urban level to speak of, which is a shame as town and city based stages have traditionally been amongst the finest of the series. The best Golden Abyss can muster is a dreary shanty town, all mud and darkness; a criminal waste of the OLED and Drake’s free-running talents.

Although there have been changes, the basics of combat and traversal will be instantly familiar to fans of the series. The arsenal is much the same as ever, offering balance and suitable kick, and the controls intuitive. As for the climbing, whether you are doing it the old fashioned way or utilising the touch screen, it is as simple and as satisfying as ever. Touch controls make descending cliff faces a far less tedious affair, as you need only drag your finger along the preferred route and Drake will obey.

As is to be expected from a launch title, Golden Abyss goes to great lengths to incorporate as many of the interface features as possible, some more successfully than others. In combat, the rear touch screen is put to good use for zooming in and out with your rifle, and the simple touch controls work great for silent take-downs. The two final, boss-like showdowns are entirely touch controlled and it works really well, putting you much closer to the action and better conveying the desperation of the fighters. Less impressive is Bend's insistence on making touch controls compulsory in all other regular, melee encounters, which succeeds in taking all the fun out of one of the most satisfying aspects of traditional, Uncharted combat. The decision to make grenades usable only via the touch screen was not a good one, as more often than not your finger ends up obscuring your view of the grenade's trajectory, leaving you unsure if it’s going to land at the feet of a mercenary or rebound off the ceiling and straight back into your lap. Perhaps I just have fat thumbs? You will likely adopt certain aspects of touch controls and reject others, but it is a shame that the decision to touch or keep your hands to yourself is not always yours to make.


Treasure hunting makes great use of the new input methods. Finger swipes will trace glyphs and other markings of interest, clean hundreds of years of debris from a rare artifact or slide together the pieces of a torn document. One puzzle utilises the rear camera, having you hold your Vita up to a bright light to solve a mystery. These features really add to the experience, though less said about the beam-balancing gyroscope controls the better – how is it that the otherwise sure footed Drake always seems to lose his balance three feet short of solid ground?

Treasure hunting is more of a feature than ever before, implemented in a smart and entertaining way. No longer are you simply looking for unrelated shiny objects with no link whatsoever to the narrative, but instead piecing together a range of mysteries that shed light on characters and locations. The sheer volume of treasure to be found and mysteries to be solved can overwhelm, but Bend should be commended for offering compelling reasons to search every nook, cranny and reach every ridge. Unfortunately, the Black Market treasures, random in-game drops that are traded through Near, are little more than a pain and make 100% completion needlessly time consuming and confusing

While the new additions are hit and miss, Golden Abyss succeeds in replicating the charms of its big brothers whilst being a full and engaging showcase for the power and possibilities of the Vita. This is not just Uncharted-lite with touch controls, but a thoroughly worthwhile entry in the most consistently brilliant franchise of the current generation, and an adventure that no Uncharted fan will want to miss.

Comments

  1. Good review. I agree with most of this. My least favorite additions were the touch-based melee finishers and the balancing with the gyroscope. The balancing is weird because you don't do it as you cross which would have been okay, but instead get stopped to do it. All the other new features were okay with me. Oh well, chopping up tarps with the machete was kind of silly.

    I really liked what they did with treasure collecting. Felt a lot more interesting. They hid things way better too. Less stuff just lying in the corner of the room you are in, more going off on alternate routes to find stuff. Combat felt good once I got used to the sticks. Overall a great Uncharted game. I agree a must-play for fans of the series.

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    1. I was surprised how much trouble Drake had getting through cloth. He seemed so relived to have found a machete!

      I think the expanded treasure hunting could be the one aspect that finds its way into the home console series. it makes a lot more sense than the random pieces of gold left lying around in corners of rooms.

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  2. Would you say it's closer to Uncharted 1 or 2/3? I wasn't a fan of 1, but if it has those moments that made 2 and 3 so memorable, I'll get it.

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    1. If not just in setting and use of colour, I'd say it's more like Uncharted 1, though I haven't played Drake's Fortune for almost three years. It does lack some of the spectacle and large set pieces of Uncharted 2&3 that you make reference to.

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  3. That thing where you're trying to see through your own fingers is really annoying. I go through that all the time on iPod games. I wish they'd just make the Vita's rear touchpad interchangeable with the front one. Or at least give me some options on what maps to where. I know where my fingers are, dammit.

    Haven't picked up Drake yet. I'm sort of holding this one in reserve for the long drought between now and Gravity Rush. The please-give-me-a-new-game desperation I'll feel in two months should nicely offset my less than perfect chemistry with Uncharted.

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    1. The option to swap to the rear touch pad would make sense. I wonder if it is of the same spec as the front touch? More limited?

      There is a bit of a drought between now and GR. I have yet to play Super Stardust Delta, which I know I'll enjoy and am looking forward to today's Vita announcements. I think you'll enjoy Uncharted GA, if not just for how beautiful it looks on that screen.

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  4. Daydream Drooler11 March 2012 at 03:33

    good to know, been busy with ME3 so I haven't missed this one. I do plan on buying a Vita... just not sure when that will be. I'm glad this one holds up for fans of the series, earlier reviews had me wondering with the way they spoke about it, as if they weren't sure if it was good or not compared to 1-3.
    great review, I look forward to playing it one day

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    1. Knowing how much you love the series, I'm sure you will really enjoy Golden Abyss. One negative that I didn't mention in the review is that, unlike Unch 1-3, I don't find myself really wanting to play it a second time. I'm slowly making my way through a hard run, but its not really grabbing me. Can't fault the initial playthrough though.

      I'll be on on ME3 soon. About 15 hours into ME2 at the moment.

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  5. Great review! I havent played anything since uncharted 1, but this sounds like a great Vita game. It will be interesting to see where the series goes and whether it continues on Vita what with Naughty Dog starting a new series on the ps3.

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    1. Cheers. You definitely need to catch up on the series. Uncharted 2 remains my favourite game of this generation and Uncharted 3 was a great game too.

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