Uncharted: Golden Abyss from Sony Bend Studios was supposed to be the flagship title on the Playstation Vita designed to showcase not only the graphical power but also demonstrate how the new control schemes could work in such a game. What started off as a great idea however ended with poor results due to execution and overuse when it came to the touch screen. A few tweaks on Sony Bend's part would have resulted in far more engaging gameplay had they taken a page or two from several iOS games.
The first area I noticed a missed opportunity with the touch controls came from giving the game's protagonist Nathan Drake a machete. Often Drake uses his machete to hack through bamboo and other things to reach hidden treasures which help to flesh out the back story. Sony Bend's approach to implementing this new tool was to present the player with a Quick Time Event whenever they happened upon a secret area. After recreating three gestures on the touch screen Drake would then spring into action with three quick hacks and the area would be open.
This could have been done far better.
Taking inspiration from Halfbrick Studio's Fruit Ninja would have yielded far more interesting results. In Fruit Ninja players find themselves slashing their fingers across the screen to slice fruit as it is tossed into the air. Tracking real time movements and mimicking the angle of cut is rather fun and a nice touch on such a simple touch screen based game. Using a similar approach in Uncharted would have not only been more satisfying to the player but would have kept them more engaged.
Watching Drake stand there waiting for you to complete the QTE is boring. Then when he suddenly performs his three quick strikes it just doesn't look right as the bamboo or cloth falls away not accurately representing the action being performed on screen. Letting players slash their fingers at the bamboo would have made such a dull and often tedious task some what more enjoyable. The idea of watching Drake accurately mimic my input in real time and seeing the bamboo fall away realistically would have better served the purpose of demonstrating how the touch screen can make for interesting gameplay.
A simple change would have made a world of difference for Drake's new tool. Giving players the freedom to hack away at things may have been some mindless fun but it would certainly be better than the system that was in the final product. Part of a developer's job is to keep the player engaged and simply reducing a new tool and a new input to a QTE isn't the best way to keep someone engaged.
Fist fights often suffered from the same fate that the machete did. Tossing in a mixture of button presses and touch screen gestures certainly livened up the situation a little more but certain fights were reduced to a cut scene littered with QTEs. You watch as Drake dukes it out with characters, quickly sliding your finger over the screen to make Drake duck, punch, or dodge whatever is happening. Plenty of times though your actions seem to have no baring on what is actually happening during these sequences.
Failing to accurately recreate the gesture will sometimes result in a failed section, giving you the three strikes and you're out rule. At the same time though there are points where if you fail it is an automatic death that sends you back to the beginning of the cut scene. This is only made worse by the fact that sometimes the touch screen doesn't register your input and being able to tell what will give you an instant death and what won't is nearly impossible.
During these sections Sony Bend has managed to undo all the hard work Naughty Dog has put into perfecting Drake's combat skills. Needlessly shoehorning in touch controls in such a poor manner not only removes the player from the action but ruins what could have been some great fights.
Again there is a better way and again I look to a rather popular iOS game for the solution.
Enter Infinity Blade from Chair Entertainment. This great looking iOS game combines impressive visuals with simple touch inputs and the results are rather fun. Again by swiping at the screen with your finger the player launches attacks against enemies while also having to avoid being hit. The concept is simple and could have easily been applied to Drake during his travels for his first outing on the Vita.
Instead of forcing players into a QTE laden cut scene give players some freedom. Allow them swipe across the screen to throw hooks, tap to jab, and hold their finger against the screen to block. Dodging could have easily been regulated to a simple swipe of the finger in the direction you wanted Drake to lean. Let players get involved and make the fight personal instead of focusing all their attention on getting the gesture right to keep the cut scene moving along.
The two boss battles in the game which used this QTE approach could have been made far more interesting and less frustrating than they were. Actually launching your own attacks and watching Drake mimic your actions instead of having you do pointless gestures would have been a far more rewarding experience. This would have brought players into the game instead of pulling them out with a sequence that wasn't needed.
Great graphics are only going to carry a game so far. Ignoring what works in favor of something that is less engaging, completely unrewarding, and just not fun isn't the best way to sell gamers on the Vita's potential. While Uncharted: Golden Abyss is a great game from a visual standpoint small issues with touch controls mar what could have been a great experience. Sony Bend seemed more caught up in constantly reminding the player that there was a touch screen there instead of finding fun and interesting ways to implement it into gameplay.
Many gamers may scoff at the idea that their beloved titles could be improved by taking notes from iOS games. These games are designed to make the best use of a simple input scheme and elements from these titles could easily work in games like Uncharted. Hopefully moving forward we'll see more games taking this approach and moving away from the QTE sequences we saw with Golden Abyss.