Uncharted: Golden Abyss is the newest entry in Sony's Indiana Jones-inspired action adventure series and the first to make the leap from home console to a handheld device - the brand new PlayStation Vita. It may be developed by Bend Studio - maker of the popular PSP Syphon Filter and Resistance games - rather than series creator Naughty Dog, but it successfully manages to translate almost all of the magic from the award-winning games released on PS3 to Sony's exciting new portable.
Set several years before the original Uncharted, the game sees fortune hunting hero Nathan Drake and mentor Sully attempting to uncover the dark secret of a 400-year-old mystery behind a doomed Spanish expedition to Central America. While the banter between its two returning male leads is just as witty as ever, Golden Abyss doesn't quite deliver the great story and characterisation the series is traditionally known for, which is perhaps understandable given the restrictions its prequel billing places on it. You already know, for example, that new female companion Chase isn't going to figure prominently in Drake's future, and her character feels a bit underdeveloped.
Thankfully though, the gameplay features all of the slick acrobatic exploration and cover-based shooting Uncharted titles are known for, while introducing some impressive new tricks of its own. It also delivers on the series' trademark visuals, serving up a beautiful adventure on the PlayStation Vita's stunning OLED screen that almost feels PS3 quality. The facial animations might not be as strong, and PS Vita can handle fewer simultaneous on-screen elements, but the graphics set a new benchmark for handheld gaming.
Best of both worlds
As PS Vita's flagship launch game, there's a lot of pressure on Golden Abyss to deliver, including the burden of needing to prove the value of PS Vita's many different control inputs. Largely the touch and motion based controls are very well implemented, with both combat and puzzling sections benefitting from new ways of playing. You can physically aim with the PS Vita's tilt sensors by moving the console to track targets, zoom in and out using up or down strokes of the system's rear touch pad, and lob grenades by tap-dragging an on-screen icon into densely populated areas. Touch and motion controls also lend themselves well to the lever-pulling, panel-rotating puzzle side of the game, although, on occasion, it feels as if you're being asked to perform overly elaborate actions to achieve what could be accomplished with just a couple of button taps.
Perhaps most impressive though is the fact that the new control options work perfectly in tandem with more traditional ones, leading to a fluid, highly interactive experience. The PS Vita's responsive dual analogue sticks successfully replicate the sensation of playing with a regular controller, making Golden Abyss one of the most comfortable, natural-feeling action games we've played on a handheld yet, and it doesn't take long before you're sliding into cover using the sticks, switching weapons by tapping the screen, letting off some rounds with the shoulder buttons and throwing grenades with your fingertips.
The PlayStation Vita has a strong, varied software launch line-up, but for action fans looking for a home console quality experience, Golden Abyss is the jewel in the new handheld's crown. The best complement we can pay it is to say that it feels like an authentic Uncharted game, featuring gorgeous environments perfectly designed for platforming, extremely solid cover shooting and engaging puzzles that nicely punctuate the action. Even more impressively, it manages all this while introducing a range of new control options that spice up the traditional formula and make the game more accessible for newcomers. It's an impressive achievement indeed, and one we wholeheartedly recommend.
- Amazing graphics.
- Strong, varied gameplay.
- Largely excellent, multiple control options.
- Story feels a bit generic.
- Characterisation could be stronger.
- Uncharted isn't as cinematic on a handheld screen.