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Gamer Roulette- Uncharted: Golden Abyss Review

Zaid Ziauddin |
March 5, 2012 | 12:17 p.m. PST

Staff Reporter

The Playstation VITA has finally launched in North America, bringing with it one of the biggest launch line-ups in video game history. Among the first batch of games, is Uncharted: Golden Abyss, the latest in the critically acclaimed Uncharted series, taking place a few years before the original game, Drake’s Fortune. Naughty Dog, having recently finished work on Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception, passed this project to Bend Studios, known for the Syphon Filter games as well as the recent PSP Game, Resistance: Retribution. Does this latest Nathan Drake adventure have enough strength to stand beside its console predecessors, or does it fall into its own abyss?

 Golden Abyss (Bend Studios)
Golden Abyss (Bend Studios)
 Story

 Players once again find themselves in the role of Nathan Drake, a cocky yet lovable treasure hunter, set some time before Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune. This time, Drake finds himself in Spain, at the request of an old friend named Dante, in search of clues to explain a 400-year-old massacre. Along the way, Nate meets a girl named Chase, a substitute for Elena Fisher from the previous games, and is caught in the middle of a rivalry between her and Dante. Along the way, Nate discovers that a former Spanish military General, Guerro, is also after the mystery. Along the way, Drake will run into many twists and turns, and he must decide who he can really trust.

The problem with this game, as well as Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception, is that it becomes increasingly derivative. Fans have noted that the plot of Drake’s Deception was a rehash of Uncharted 2: Among Thieves, just in a new location. Golden Abyss does nothing to solve the issue. It follows almost the exact same plot structure. It opens with an intense action-packed scene, a flashback leading up to the opening scene, Drake discovering that he is racing a psychotic villain for the treasure, meeting up with a character from the previous game, and then discovering the treasure in located in an underground world that has been hidden from society for centuries. For a game that emphasizes its action-movie based plot, the derivative story is discouraging and is lacking in any true excitement.

The new characters themselves are not appealing either. Of course Nathan Drake is as entertaining as ever, and the game’s story becomes instantly more likable when Drake’s wisecracking mentor Victor Sullivan (a character who has appeared in every Uncharted game) appears. The other characters are not as well-developed. Dante is made to be unlikeable due to his role in the plot that brings Drake into this wild adventure against his will. Chase, however, is set to be the female lead that players are meant to sympathize with. Initially, Chase is simply an archaeologist who is driven by her need to finish her lost grandfather’s research. As the game progresses, she becomes more sensitive towards every action committed by Drake, feeling that Drake believes that she cannot hold her own ground. This becomes annoying to Drake as well as the player. General Guerro does not have a clear motive and turns out to be a relatively weak villain. Guerro states that he wants to lead a revolution, but players are left unsure as to how this mystery will help him lead a revolution against an unknown entity.

 

The new characters aren't particularly appealing (Bend Studios)
The new characters aren't particularly appealing (Bend Studios)
Also hurting this plot is its location in the series canon. Being a prequel, there is no real danger, since players know Nathan Drake and Victor Sullivan will not be harmed. Accurate guesses can also be made as to what happens to the other characters. While this prequel has a lot of fun putting its characters into wild situations, it ultimately adds nothing important to the series and ends up feeling like a forgettable summer blockbuster. 

Presentation

The Uncharted franchise has always pushed the boundaries of what the Playstation 3 has to offer in terms of graphics, and Golden Abyss is no different. Easily one of the best looking games on the PS VITA, this game is on par with Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune. The environment looks beautiful and are incredibly detailed. This is only helped with the PS VITA’s OLED screen, which provides bright and lively colors and makes players feel as if they are playing a full HD game. The only problem in terms of visuals is that character’s eyes don’t look quite right, and there are certain series where there is a few distorted pixels near characters’ heads. It was a bit distracting, but it did not occur too often. Loading times are also kept to a minimum, just like the PS3 games. There’s one initial loading screen that is rather long, but once the game starts, they are hard to come by.

The actors do a fantastic job. Nolan North, as always, provides a wonderful voice to Nathan Drake, delivering his lines, both scripted and unscripted, with the perfect amount of sarcasm or seriousness. Sully is just as funny as ever. And while not likable as characters, the voices behind Dante, Chase, and Guerro also do a great job. The soundtrack of Golden Abyss is perhaps the best score in the series. Using a Spanish influence and a large amount of opera-styled pieces, the music not only stands out, but also adds to the cinematic experience one gets from playing an Uncharted game. 

Even on a smaller screen, Uncharted is beautiful (Bend Studios)
Even on a smaller screen, Uncharted is beautiful (Bend Studios)

Gameplay

For the most part, Golden Abyss plays out like the other Uncharted games. It’s a third person shooter where you are constantly switching between running, shooting and taking cover behind walls and other objects as you control Nathan Drake to cause a one-man holocaust. There is also a lot of climbing of objects and swinging on vines as Drake travels to his next destination. The series translates shockingly well to the VITA. The controls feel just as they did on the PS3. Golden Abyss takes advantage of the PS Vita touch and motion sensing capabilities. You can switch guns, reload, and use melee attacks with either the standard face buttons or by using the touch screen. You can also draw a path for Drake to climb on the touch screen instead of rapidly pressing the X button. The rear touch pad is used for zooming in on cameras and sniper rifles, as well as climbing and swinging on ropes. The SIXAXIS functionality allows you to aim using the motion sensing capabilities of the VITA. While either control scheme can be used at any time for these actions, using the face buttons seems more natural. There are moments where you must use the touch screen to avoid falling to your death or to counter an enemy attack, which feels more of a gimmick than it does fun. The menus are entirely controlled through the touch screen. However, some puzzles are easier to control thanks to the touch screen, and others require you to use the VITA’s features in very interesting ways.

Finding Treasures and Solving Puzzles are the core gameplay aspect of Golden Abyss (Bend Studios)
Finding Treasures and Solving Puzzles are the core gameplay aspect of Golden Abyss (Bend Studios)
In previous Uncharted games, various treasures would be scattered around the different chapters for players to collect. These treasures served no purpose other than to be collected. In Golden Abyss, collecting treasures is a core aspect of gameplay. Instead of random pieces of gold, different clues and artifacts are laid out that are relevant to the game’s mysteries. Players will be able to collect shiny objects on the field (similar to the previous entries), but this time they will also be able to take pictures of clues and put a torn up document back together. It’s a fun and rewarding experience, for each treasure you collect fills up a bit of Drake’s journal, which in previous entries, had always been filled with answers to puzzles that players come across. The only problem is that there is no true sense of “exploration.” The game practically tells you how each puzzle is solved, even if you are just moving around different pieces. It can essentially boil down to running around until you see the treasure icon pop up.

 

Gameplay is not too difficult. There are four levels of difficulty, with veterans of the series being able to blaze through Crushing mode. The game is fairly long with 34 chapters to complete and hundreds of treasures to collect. However, there’s not much to come back for once these quests are completed.

 Overall

Uncharted: Golden Abyss is a good game. It’s not on the level of its PS3 predecessors, but as one of the VITA’s launch titles, it gets the job done. The story is weak compared to other Uncharted titles and is also unexcitingly predictable at this point, and the touch screen controls feel forced and unnatural, but it’s a fun game. The basic Uncharted gameplay made it to the VITA completely intact, and the emphasis on treasure collecting is a welcomed addition to the series. The soundtrack is fantastic. It may be a forgettable adventure, but players will have a blast as they go on another adventure with Nathan Drake.

You'll believe a man can fly (Bend Studios)
You'll believe a man can fly (Bend Studios)
 

8/10

Zaid Ziauddin is an Interactive Entertainment Major at USC. As such, he knows a thing or two about video games. You can contact him here. You can also follow him on Twitter, though he may be too busy saving the world.



 

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