Uncharted: Golden Abyss (PS Vita) Review

One of the headline games to arrive with the launch of the PS Vita was Uncharted Golden Abyss. When the Vita was originally announced, Golden Abyss was the must see demo game which showed the world what the Vita was capable of doing.  Jaw dropping visuals, touchscreen controls and dual sticks were just a few of the Vita’s main selling points.  Golden Abyss was front and center as Sony marketed their latest handheld machine.  Now that the retail version of the game has arrived and all that hoopla has settled down, I had the opportunity to get down and dirty with Drake himself on the PS Vita.

Much like Uncharted’s big brothers on the PlayStation 3, Golden Abyss includes an action packed single player game that features a solid storyline, engaging characters, varied gameplay and plenty of over the top adventure.  Despite lacking any multiplayer modes, Golden Abyss offers a rich single player experience that is deep and will take you several hours to complete.  In fact, if there was one thing that really impressed me about the game it was the sheer size of it.  This is not a game you can finish in one sitting, which comes as a somewhat of a surprise given the limitations you would think a handheld machine presents itself.  Needless to say, after everything is said and done you do get plenty of bang for your buck in Golden Abyss and many would argue you should given the price tag is a tad steep for a handheld game.

Golden Abyss takes place before the events that occur in Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune.  It follows Nathan Drake on an Indiana Jones style adventure to Central America.  Drake has been hired by an old friend, Dante, to help him find some ancient artifacts.  As with most Unchartered games, things do not go quite as planned as a nasty General has Drake and Dante in his cross hairs.  In an attempt to abscond from the General, Drake and Dante split up.  Eventually Drake runs into Chase, who plays his sexy sidekick for the majority of the game.  She, like Drake, is in search of the Golden Abyss too.  So the journey begins as Drake attempts to discover a legendary lost city.

As with most Uncharted games, there are many twists, turns, and surprising alliances that emerge throughout the game.  Golden Abyss follows pretty much the same formula that has made Uncharted a household name.  The story is told through wonderfully presented cut-scenes and of course the solid voice acting is back again.  It is a story that is easy to follow and stays true to the franchise.  This one will not win any academy awards, but I found it perfectly suited for handheld gaming so in the end the story gets high praise from me.

Overall, the single player aspect of Golden Abyss is quite long.  In fact, this is a game that will take you anywhere from 10-15 hours to complete, which is quite beefy even for a home console game.  Of course the time it takes for you to complete the game all depends on how much searching and exploration you do.  In any event, I was impressed with the size of this single player offering.

You will spend a great deal of time shooting down baddies and cascading across ledges much like we have seen in previous Uncharted games.  Additionally there are over 300 collectibles and items you can track down in the game offering an unbelievable amount of searching and exploration.  Some of the searching involves collecting artifacts seen in previous games time and time again; however, Golden Abyss does involve some clever use of the Vita technology to do this.  In one instance, I was wiping some dirt off an artifact using the touch screen.  In another instance, I was moving a virtual dial as I was attempting to open a safe.  In another I was using the rear touch pad to zoom in as I was taking pictures.  At the end of the day, the developers are given plenty of kudos for mixing up the gameplay and it makes for an experience where you never know what you are going to get from one level to the next.

As much as I appreciated the varied gameplay and size of the game, the single player experience was not all roses.  For starters, the campaign could have benefited from having a waypoint or some kind of hint system that leads you to your next objective.  I found too many instances where I would be lost in terms of where I had to go next.  I would be stuck roaming around the level trying to figure out what I had to do next.  In all instances I eventually figured it out, but I did waste valuable time looking for the next area I had to go.

There were also some instances in the game where you need a bright light in order to solve a puzzle.  This was a problem for me as I played a great deal of the game on a plane and at night.  Needless to say I did not want to startle any passengers and raise any alarm bells being the only guy on the plane holding up his Vita close to the overhead light.

One of the more remarkable features with Golden Abyss has to be the games controls.  Golden Abyss takes advantage of all the PS Vita’s features.  You can play with standard controls or you can touch, tap, steer or tilt your way through the games many levels.

The touchscreen and rear touch pad controls are incredibly responsive.  There are instances where you need to use the rear touch pad for melee combat.  The accuracy and timing of your touchscreen swipes are critical.  Not once did I ever notice the game not recognizing my actions.  It is certainly impressive, but I did feel that it could also take you away from the game.  I personally prefer button and stick controls so the instances where the game forces you to use touch the screen, thus limiting my options, seemed somewhat out of place.  Another issue I had in terms of the game’s controls was using the motion control used with having to balance on a log or plank of wood.  In these instances the direction you are supposed to tilt the PS Vita was confusing and I did not find the controls all that responsive.  Finally, my last “beef” with the game’s controls is the shooting mechanics.  The Vita triggers just do not feel as good as a controller triggers.  Aiming is also a bit finicky with no lock-on ability.  It takes some practice and certainly much more skill to become proficient with the weapons in Golden Abyss.

Despite some of the negatives with the controls, there are plenty of positives as Golden Abyss takes advantage of the slick handheld machine in so many ways.  Even simple little things like solving a jigsaw puzzle or climbing a wall is made so much more interesting with the control options you have.  For instance, you can climb a wall two ways.  You can either slide your finger along the path you want to go or you can simply use the traditional button presses and analog stick.  Either way it is a win/win situation and it will boil down to preference, but regardless it spices up the gameplay making for game that never lulls you into a sleep.

As far as the games visuals are concerned, Golden Abyss is simply stellar.  It is as good as the PS3 Uncharted visuals?  Well no; however, it is the best we have seen in a handheld gaming machine to date.  Everything from the character animations to the wonderfully presented cut-scenes, Golden Abyss is a game that shines in the graphics department.  The forests are lush and vibrant and the game’s levels are wonderfully detailed and look fantastic.  Cut-scenes are top notch and the game ran silky smooth.  All in all, I was very impressed with the game graphics.

Much like the games visuals, the sounds in the game are equally fantastic.  Those sweeping orchestral sounds set the perfect mood you may even find yourself humming the tunes well after you play.  I was playing the game with a couple of ear buds on and I was simply amazed at all the rich audio featured in the game.  I could hear every little sound including the crickets in the forest.  Likewise, I really enjoyed the game’s voice acting.  It is believable and I found myself actually caring for the characters.  Sure the dialogue is not as riveting as the PS3 Uncharted games, and perhaps it is more superficial, but for gaming on the go the voice acting is perfect.

Overall, Uncharted Golden Abyss is a must own for fans of the franchise and Vita owners alike.  In fact, if you just enjoy a good old fashion Indiana Jones style adventure, then Golden Abyss is right up your alley too.  The visuals are solid, the sound is fantastic and the varied gameplay keeps things interesting from beginning to end.  As far as Vita games are concerned, Golden Abyss is very good game and one you can purchase with confidence.

The Good


The Bad