Right from the off, as soon as Sony Computer Entertainment revealed that it was crafting a PS Vita version of Uncharted we were intrigued. The adventures of Nathan Drake have rapidly combined to become one of the firm’s most valuable and loved franchises, and it made complete sense to have a new chapter help launch the company’s new handheld console. Little did we know that it would do it with such aplomb.
It comes as a mild, but not unwelcome surprise that the quality of Uncharted: Golden Abyss is so high, because the game was not produced or developed by the PS3 trilogy’s master crafter Naughty Dog. Instead, coding duties fell to the in-house Bend Studio, but, for all intents and purposes, you’d never know. This is an Uncharted game through and through, from the fascinating storyline involving retired revolutionaries and missing relatives to the same cunning blend of platform and fire fight action.
Actually, it’s a prequel to all the games that have gone before and, as such, manages to introduce an (almost) completely new supporting cast. This helps to keep things fresh for diehard fans and cleverly negates the need for newcomers to swot up on a now complex back story. It’d be interesting to know how long the screenplay took to write in comparison to its PS3 forebears, as characterisations are, perhaps, a little shallower than usual, but they’re good enough for you genuinely to care for the plot and people within it.
There’s certainly plenty of cut scenes and banter while you’re swinging around the gorgeous landscapes to help bring you further into the story, and it is perhaps here that you realise that Uncharted: Golden Abyss is no mere casual gaming experience. You would never find such depth in an iPhone game, for example.
To start with, the amount and quality of voice acting is extraordinary for a portable game. Nathan Drake, voiced by the always splendid Nolan North, never seems to shut up; wisecracking and chatting his way through every action from the grand to the banal. And when Sully turns up, expect plenty of laughs too.
Some people may find all of this cinematic depth, with sometimes lengthy cut scenes and constant chatter, off-putting. To them, we say stick to your Angry Birds, if that’s all you have time for, fine. There’s nothing wrong with that. However, the PlayStation Vita is a bone fide games console, and Uncharted: Golden Abyss is a bone fide console game.
Making the most of the Vita's controls
It does have some bells and whistles unique to this specific portable. As one of the A-list launch titles, it makes sense that Sony would use it to help promote some of the more interesting features of the PS Vita, so it seems that every available control method has been used in some form or another.
For example, the front touchscreen can be used to pick up weapons, access the journal, camera and other user-interface ephemera, while also coming into play for in-action functions. Some are merely optional, such as the ability to swipe your way around ledges in order to force Drake to climb them automatically. Others are required, such as a swipe to cut down bamboo blockages or to dodge during a fist fight.
The rear touch pad is utilised too, allowing you to examine objects and rotate them. In fact, the game often adds a puzzling element to this particular method of interaction. And the motion sensors stop you falling from logs or help to refine aiming during a shooting fest.
Unfortunately though, we feel that for an experienced Uncharted player most of the new control methods are gimmicky at best, and we found it far easier to revert back to the tried and trusted dual thumbsticks and buttons 90 per cent of the time. That’s not to say that someone coming in cold won’t prefer them; we just found them less intuitive.
Thankfully, apart from the occasional touchscreen-necessary event, there is always the option to use the conventional gaming controls rather than the new age ones. And, unlike many other games, they run in parallel at all times, meaning you don’t have to return to the menu screens to swap over.
Overachiever and proud of it
The last major element to the game lies in the quest for PlayStation Trophies and the numerous collectables that will need to be found or acquired in order to earn them. More than any other Uncharted game, Golden Abyss asks the more dedicated fans to deviate from the story often, in order to grab certain collectables, whether they be small statues, charcoal rubbings, or specific photographs of the surroundings in each level. This last task is the most fun, as you try to match up viewpoints and take accurate replicas, although we wish this is pointed out right from the start, as there are a couple in the first chapter that you’ll miss on first play.
Sadly, there is no online game mode in Uncharted: Golden Abyss. Instead, there’s the Black Market, which uses the console’s “Near” functionality to swap Bounty collectable cards with other die-hard Uncharted fans, but that’s about it for internet connectivity.
We doubt you’d mind much; there’s about 12 good hours of gameplay packed into the tiniest of memory cards and we expect you’ll be satisfied enough by the story’s conclusion. And happy to ready yourself for a sequel.
To release Uncharted on the PS Vita is the equivalent of Nintendo launching Mario Galaxy on the 3DS, it is a property so revered by so many that even the slightest of curve balls could help taint the franchise forever. Thankfully, Uncharted: Golden Abyss is a very worthy addition to a series of much loved games. It may be portable, and crammed into a smaller frame than its loftier cousins, but acknowledges that fact without ever allowing it to be a handicap.
Yes, the multiple new-fangled control methods are more than likely to be ignored by many, but at least the game doesn’t require you to master them. And yes, the characterisations of some of the ancillary cast are two-dimensional, but no more so than a decent action movie. In-depth interaction and canny set-pieces make up for any shortfalls.
Then there’s the stunning graphics, which put all other portable games to shame, iOS, 3DS and Android included. It helps that they sparkle through an OLED display so adept at rendering colour and vibrancy, but art direction on the game is highly commendable.
There’s only one sticking point that we can think of, and that’s price. £45 for any game, on any console, is a lot to ask. But in Uncharted: Golden Abyss you truly get what you pay for.