I was present at the time when we were told that the PSOne could play your photo collection and deliver life-like figures. I was present when Sony promised all that the Emotion Engine and PlayStation 2 would bring gameplay. When PSP was baptised as a PS2 in your pocket. The advent of PlayStation 3 and talk about NASA and super-computing. I saw PSP Go flop and die.
So when promised that PS Vita delivers a PS3 in your pocket, I was already immune. For we're well aware that it surely couldn't.
The cynical first thought softens when I find out who's behind this Naughty Dog-less Nathan Drake adventure. The skilled and highly competent people from Bend Studio have previously delivered a great gaming experience with Logan's Shadow and Resistance: Retribution for PSP, so the handheld version of the series are in very competent hands. With Naughty Dog loaning assets and aiding in the development, there is not much that can go wrong.
And Uncharted: Golden Abyss does a lot of things right - even if the tale's first twenty minutes lacks the flair for storytelling that Naughty Dog is so good at delivering.
Drake is in South America this time around. He has teamed up with a former partner, a gentleman in his forties, who doesn't shy away from stabbing his friends in the back, as long as the pay is good enough. Naturally, something goes wrong this time as well, and Drake finds himself in the middle of a power struggle between a former military leader, a bunch of unscrupulous crooks, and a new female acquaintance.
I'm sure most of you who are reading this review are curious to find out whether the Drake magic is there, if the technical side of things hold up, whether there is multiplayer, and if any faults or defects have found their way into the Golden Abyss. So let's get the worst of it out of the way first.
There is no multiplayer. Uncharted: Golden Abyss is purely a single player experience. The textures come across as a bit flat at times. The resolution isn't the best, but in turn this is masked by an anti aliasing filter. The shadows flicker a bit, and there are other small details that aren't perfect. But overall Uncharted maintains a steady diet of exploration, jumping and shooting.
Take a good look at the previous paragraphs as those are the only flaws we've come across in this chapter of the Uncharted series. Not much to fuss about.
The rest of the experience is of the highest quality. The animations seem taken straight from the PS3 games, the voice acting is top notch, the dynamic music score is brilliant, and the locations are beautiful, varied and a joy to explore.
Uncharted: Golden Abyss took me about 16 hours to complete (the developers speak of 10-12 hours, so perhaps I'm a bit slow). One of the reasons I spent a bit longer on completing the game is that it is not as linear as previous chapters. Sure, you still follow a pre-determined course, but there is a wealth of items to collect. In fact, there are so many that it's hard to keep track of them all. If you're a completionist then you've got lots of extra hours here.
First of all enemies drop both gold and silver coins you can collect. There are also valuable gems hidden throughout the game. There are works of art to put in your virtual backpack. Then there are cards to collect. You can also get extra credits by taking pictures with a new camera feature that let's you use the back touchpad to zoom in and out. Then there are prints you can rub to reveal their text by holding the Vita up to the light. There are five difficulty levels, and lots of trophies to collect. And each of the 34 chapters offers a wealth of hidden secrets. Even the cutscenes are spiced up with mini games that let you collect stuff.
These items can be traded online with other players thanks to Vita's Near function. It's a black market of sorts where player can look for and trade missing coins, cards or works of art.
Exhausted? So am I, but pleased at the same time. Everything is well thought out, and while most of these things have a tendency to feel tagged on and gimmicky, nothing comes across as unnecessary here. And it works as it adds lots of extra gaming to the single player game.
The story is very well told, and often reaches the same heights as Drake's previous adventures. The climbing's better now. Either you can jump and hoist yourself with analogues and buttons like we're all used to, or you can mark you way on the touch screen, something that is incredibly helpful at times.
The option to aim using the touch pad on the back helps a lot and makes the shooting far less frustrating that what has previously been the case in the series. With an enormous repertoire of weapons, this is the Uncharted we know and love. Perhaps even better.
There are key sequence and balance acts that make full use of the hardware, and they rarely feel gimmicky. The automatic save points are well placed, and there are lots of them. It's obvious that Bend Studios understands what's required from a handheld game, and this experience has been tuned to fit portable needs.
And while the game is full of PS Vita gimmicks, and many of the flaws we are used to from previous games, it is still everything we had hoped for. If you jump on board you're treated to an exciting action adventure that fits neatly in to the Uncharted series and never comes across as a pale spin off pushed out in time for the PS Vita launch. Well done, Bend.
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