I went into Uncharted: Golden Abyss expecting a downsized version of my favorite PlayStation franchise. Instead, I unexpectedly found a console game packed into a handheld cartridge. Little has been sacrificed to make Uncharted: Golden Abyss work well on the Vita. It is without a doubt the most impressive launch title on the system.
Uncharted: Golden Abyss takes place before the events of the first game. Series hero Nathan Drake is on another treasure hunt in South America where he works alongside a newcomer named Dante, a shady character that you can tell early on is going to backstab him. Caught in the mix are the requisite female beauty and a stereotypically corrupt general looking to cash in on his nation’s historic treasures.
While the storytelling took a predominate role in the first three console games on PS3, Uncharted: Golden Abyss has a far more straightforward plot with the focus clearly on gameplay. You could easily mistake Uncharted 3 for an Indiana Jones movie. The same, however, cannot be said for Golden Abyss, which retains high production value, but it is limited to practically the same location the entire game.
That is not to say that the game gets dull. The third-person shooting is unquestionably solid on the PlayStation Vita. I was, in fact, quite surprised by how well the controls translated from console to handheld. You can essentially move from Uncharted 3 to Golden Abyss without much difficulty. The addition of a second analog stick on the Vita allows you to navigate with one stick while controlling the camera with another. The only real differences between console and handheld are the touch controls.
The touch controls are in abundance. Icons appear on the right hand of the screen when you can do things like take pictures, collect treasure, or punch guards. You can also tap directly on a guard to attack them. Dragging your finger across the screen will show Ethan where to climb without needing to use the analog stick. Thankfully, the developers give you the choice of whether to use the more traditional analog stick controls or the touchscreen controls.
The game requires you to dust objects by rubbing your finger on the touchscreen and swipe your finger across the screen to do things like lifting allies, pushing objects, and hacking bamboo with a machete. The gyroscope is used when you take pictures and to balance Ethan when walking across a platform. Most of these can be pretty neat, including the numerous puzzles that make use of the touchscreen. Others are more annoying: constantly saving Ethan from falling off of a ledge by swiping up on the screen, opening doors with swipes, and other repeated exercises.
The graphics in Uncharted: Golden Abyss make up for any minor faults in the forced touchscreen controls. It is not an exaggeration to say that this game is visually on par with the original Uncharted on PS3. The developers at Sony Bend managed to fit the expansive world of Uncharted into a portable game without cutting corners. The locations are stunning, the character models look great, the cutscenes are console quality and, importantly, the action is smooth without a noticeable loss in frame rate. Likewise, the memorable Uncharted soundtrack is in full force here with realistic gunfire and the same voice actors as in the previous PS3 games.
Uncharted: Golden Abyss is a technical achievement in nearly every category. If you don’t go in expecting it to do the impossible – surpass the greatness of Uncharted 2 and 3 on a handheld device – then you will get plenty of enjoyment out of it. And now that it’s only a fraction of the $50 launch price, it is well worth adding to your Vita collection.