As one who thought Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception ended two or three chapters too early (not to mention with too many loose ends), I’m glad to get back into another Nathan Drake adventure a mere four months after the last PlayStation 3 outing. Moreover, while Sony has a number of strong, action-centric IPs in the Vita pipeline like Killzone and Resistance, it was a wise move to strengthen the launch line up with a series known for its cinematic execution and Indiana Jones-inspired treasure hunting.
Before assuming that this is essentially ‘Uncharted Portable’, Golden Abyss is also a solid showcase of much of the Vita’s touch functionality, so expect a slightly different change in the game’s pacing over the other Uncharteds. From the standpoint of Drake’s treasure addiction, there has never been an Uncharted that puts relics in the forefront as much as Golden Abyss, and a lot of this interactivity is performed with the touch screen. There’s an often used camera mode as part of the collecting and many items have to be rubbed with the touch screen. Dragging one’s finger along walls also guides Drake on a proper climbing path. It’s an unnecessary control mechanic (which can be toggled off) but there is gimmicky appeal for those who have never played an Uncharted game before.
This also marks the first Uncharted game not developed by Naughty Dog, so it’s a bit of a blessing that this adventure doesn’t interrupt the story canon by being either in the middle of the series continuity or after Uncharted 3. In fact, it’s set before the events of Drake’s Fortune. Without Amy Hennig and Naughty Dog’s story team heavily involved, it seemed like a prudent move for Golden Abyss developer Bend Studio to play with a set of new characters to either assist or antagonize Drake. Treasure-seeking buddy Dante and the beautiful Chase are certainly interesting characters; it just seems like the dialogue script could have used a few more rewrites to add the same level of verbal color that past Uncharted supporting characters are remembered for.
Make no mistake, there is a solid sense of familiarity that no one should question that this is an Uncharted game. There’s great comfort in listening to the trademark main menu theme, not to mention the all-too recognizable voice acting of Nolan North as Nathan Drake. The camera angles in the platforming and combat are the same as the other Uncharteds. Yet what really sells Golden Abyss from a presentation standpoint is in its visual detail, putting it right next to Wipeout 2048 and Super Stardust Delta as the prettiest games on the Vita so far. When you have a Vita launch title like the sub-par Shinobido 2: Revenge of Zen–a game that looks like it was originally meant as for the PSP–it serves to make Golden Abyss look all the more gorgeous. The one glaring downside is the relative monotony of the environments. Whereas there was a unique charm in basing most of the first Uncharted in a single island, setting Golden Abyss just in the jungles of Central America helps discourage beating this Vita game in one or two sittings. At least it spans 34 chapters so there’s considerable lasting appeal, not even counting all the collectibles.
It’s speaks to the quality of the PlayStation Vita’s launch line-up that Uncharted: Golden Abyss doesn’t even crack my top five games among this line-up, but it’s certainly within the top ten (out of 27 games). What this library is relatively short of are quality action-adventure games and Golden Abyss does a superb job in satisfying that fix. The limited environmental color palette is a minor turnoff, but Bend Studio does so much right with the exploration, combat, and platforming gameplay that Golden Abyss is an unmistakable Uncharted game.