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Uncharted is one of most, if not favorite game series this console generation. From the witty dialogue, beloved characters, and the many engrossing adventures I’ve gotten to go on with Nathan Drake, few other video game franchises could quite match the experience I have always gotten out of an Uncharted game.
So I was confident based on what I’ve seen that the Vita could do that the little portable console could deliver a full-fledged Uncharted adventure that I could take with me and play on the go. And in most ways, Sony Bend was able to live up to my relatively high expectations and then some. But every game has its flaws and Golden Abyss’s main element weighing itself down was the Vita itself.
Forced Vita mechanics hurt the game more than they may have helped
But it’s not power weighing Golden Abyss down. Oh no, the Vita has plenty of that. The game is a visual masterpiece for a handheld game. Sony Bend has clearly figured out how far the Vita can be pushed without falling on its face. Environments are crisp and a wonder to behold, and characters looked just as they were in the PlayStation 3 counterparts.
It was quite clear right from the start that Sony Bend intended to make the game a showcase of what the Vita can do and its unique functionality. In solving puzzles, the use of the touchscreen will help you move objects around and acquire artifacts, as well letting you take part in charcoal rubbings, symbols on various totems throughout the game.
You’ll also be using the touchscreen for more basic gameplay options such as using it to draw your path along a rock-face to climb it instead of having to manually do it yourself, or using the back touchscreen to row your canoe as you traverse down a river. I did give the new mechanics all a try at the beginning, but I found myself quickly reverting back to the old mechanics I had grown attached to in the games.
So at least in some cases, the game lets you choose how you want to play the game versus forcing you to use silly, forced functionality like tilting the Vita to aim your sniper scope. But there are a few instances in where the game forces you into using a specific way to carry the action out, and that’s where we start to run into some trouble.
Hand-to-hand combat for instance took a heavy blow to the face and quickly became the most hated feature of the game for me simply because every fight would turn into a quick-time event and force you to “swipe” the screen in a specific direction to block an incoming punch or kick, to parry, or even to retaliate.
I thought this was a huge step backwards for the game series since I thought that the fighting mechanics had been the best in the series to date in the last game, Uncharted 3. The “swiping” feature is also used in other instances in parts of the game where you may be climbing for an example. On many occasions I ended up plummeting to my death because I wasn’t ready for the split-second swiping quick-time event to pop up onto my screen and I ended up missing it or would swipe in the wrong direction by accident.
But the worst mechanic is the one that thankfully only showed up once in the game that forced me into holding my vita up to a bright light, aka the light-bulb in my ceiling, to find a clue hidden on a map… But for the most part, it is very easy to ignore these forced mechanics Sony Bend thrust at us because in most instances, we can ignore them and default to the controls we are already most familiarized with.
Golden Abyss also felt like a fun, laid back adventure for me as well. The game didn’t have any of those over the top, jaw-dropping moments where you’ll be falling out of a train in Uncharted 2 or dangling by a thread off the edge of an airplane thousands of feet in the air in Uncharted 3. The game was treasure hunting at its best.
A solid treasure hunt from beginning to end
Golden Abyss is a prequel to the Uncharted series you’ve come to know on the PlayStation 3, so most of the characters you’re already familiar with are not there. Besides Nathan’s intrepid partner, Sully, everyone you’ll meet in the game and befriend is a new a face, something I actually enjoyed more than I thought I would. It felt like a fresh start in a series that I was beginning to grow tired of.
But the game did feel robbed of its globetrotting feel that I enjoyed so much in Uncharted 2 and 3, taking place entirely in Panama. The game follows Drake and his “partner” Marisa Chase as they search for the mythical city of Quivira. But as usual, none of Drake’s adventures are ever as easy as one might hope them to be.
Two other men are after the same treasure found inside the soon to be found city, and both have their own personal armies at their disposal. There is Dante, a friend who betrayed you for his greed of the wealth rumored to be within Quivira, and then there is General Guerro, who is looking for money to fund his next revolution in Panama.
The one thing I found to be sort of lacking however in the game was the superbly written dialogue iconic to the Uncharted series. It wasn’t bad, I still had my fair share of smiles and laughs throughout the game, but the absence of the series typical lead writer, Amy Hennig, was definitely noticeable.
Uncharted: Golden Abyss is the best handheld experience I’ve ever had. Though it does have its flaws, most notably the forced Vita mechanics, the ability to choose to avoid the majority of the those methods helped balance out the negatives. I enjoyed every second I had with the game and it was a thrill to once again get to step into Drake’s shoes and go off on another, mind-boggling treasure hunt that I know I won’t soon forget. This game is a must have for any Vita owner!
Replay Value: Moderate