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Uncharted: Golden Abyss Review

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On 03/05/2012 at 11:55 PM by Nick DiMola

Vita-specific controls in an Uncharted game are a bad idea.

For fans of the series. Others looking to get into the series should check out one of Drake's other adventures on the PlayStation 3.

Uncharted: Golden Abyss marks the first entry in the critically acclaimed series to have not been developed by Naughty Dog. But Sony's Bend Studio has done a fairly good job of carrying the torch to their new handheld system. The bigger problem with Golden Abyss is that it takes every available opportunity to shoehorn in Vita-specific controls, and more importantly, the tale that it tells fails to grab your attention until roughly halfway through.

Golden Abyss predates the first title in the series, Drake's Fortune, catching up with Nathan Drake in the beginnings of his treasure hunting career. Hurting for cash and high paying jobs, he finds himself working with Jason Dante, a smooth-talking criminal from Jersey. As Nate quickly learns, Dante is in over his head in his latest business venture. After aligning with Guerro - a South American warlord - Dante’s had the pressure put on him to find one of the cities of gold. Dante's other business partner, Vincent Perez (who you never meet) has gone missing without a trace, leaving only his granddaughter, Marisa Chase, to attempt to complete his work.

The dynamic between these four key characters is the center stage of the experience. Over the course of the quest, you'll see betrayals, power struggles, and power shifts, until its explosive conclusion. Unlike the past two Uncharted games, Golden Abyss is set mostly in a single area - you'll start and end your quest all within the jungle, but that's not to say you won't see some great set pieces. Temples and dig sites are interesting and well-constructed, but the lack of variety and mostly dark and dimly lit areas  grow tiresome as the quest wears on.

The high intensity action the series is known for continues to play a role here. Despite the shrunk down Vita experience, you'll still engage in massive firefights that not only require good positioning, but constant movement around the level. The sneak attack gameplay that played a bigger role in Uncharted 3 has also made a return, giving the gunplay a much needed rest in certain segments. What doesn't make a return is the ability to toss back grenades. It's an odd step back and one that's a bit tough to get used to after playing through a whole quest with the ability.

Puzzle solving is at an all time low, placing this quest much more in line with Drake's Fortune than either Among Thieves or Drake's Deception. The plentiful firefights strewn about the quest feel even more overbearing without the relief typically provided by these puzzle segments.

Most of the puzzles are actually puzzles in the most literal sense. You'll often be given a blank grid with a variety of puzzle pieces and be forced to spin and move them using the touchscreen in order to construct an image. I can't claim to understand the impetus behind the inclusion of twenty piece puzzles, but they're out of place and unwelcome.

Many of the other forced Vita controls fall flat as well. Nearly everything that was once a simple button press or move of the joystick has been complicated with the Vita specific settings. By default, the sniper rifle forces you to actually move the Vita around in order to aim at in-game enemies. This can thankfully be turned off, but other controls like a random swipe to stay on the ledge you're hanging from after a big jump, or the finishing move at the end of a fist fight, cannot. Every time you walk across a thin plank you'll have to stop midway and tilt the Vita left and right to stay balanced. Even the last two fights of the game require you to exclusively use the touch screen. These controls break the immersion each and every time they come up.

The optional Vita controls also take most of the gameplay out of the experience. Rather than climbing ledges, you can just swipe your finger across the path and Drake will perform all of the actions required automatically. The controls unquestionably work well, but it makes me wonder - why would anyone want to "play" the game like this?

Despite my complaints, this looks and plays like an Uncharted game and it's hard not to become immersed in the adrenaline-pumping adventure. You'll discover hidden temples and unearth artifacts, determine hidden meaning and unravel mysteries that have spanned for centuries. It's all very exhilarating and a trademark of the series that remains alive and well, even here with a new team at the helm. Daredevil platforming and intense gunfights litter the cinematic presentation and no matter what distractions you encounter along the way, Golden Abyss always remains enjoyable.

There's no question that the handheld Vita is not the ideal place for the game, but it's hard to ignore yet another well-produced title in the Uncharted series. While newcomers won't find quite as much to enjoy, fans shouldn't turn down this adventure, especially alongside their brand new console.

Review Policy

In our reviews, we'll try not to bore you with minutiae of a game. Instead, we'll outline what makes the game good or bad, and focus on telling you whether or not it is worth your time as opposed to what button makes you jump.

We use a five-star rating system with intervals of .5. Below is an outline of what each score generally means:

All games that receive this score are standout games in their genre. All players should seek a way to play this game. While the score doesn't equate to perfection, it's the best any game could conceivably do.

These are above-average games that most players should consider purchasing. Nearly everyone will enjoy the game and given the proper audience, some may even love these games.

This is our middle-of-the-road ranking. Titles that receive three stars may not make a strong impression on the reviewer in either direction. These games may have some faults and some strong points but they average out to be a modest title that is at least worthy of rental for most.

Games that are awarded two stars are below average titles. Good ideas may be present, but execution is poor and many issues hinder the experience.

Though functional, a game that receives this score has major issues. There are little to no redeeming qualities and should be avoided by nearly all players.

A game that gets this score is fundamentally broken and should be avoided by everyone.



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