The Average Gamer

Uncharted: Golden Abyss (PS Vita)

Uncharted: Golden Abyss feels disjointed. I know nothing about how it was developed but playing through, it feels like there were two distinct design styles at work. The first encapsulates everything I detest about console gaming. The second, everything I love. A weird experience but on the whole, I enjoyed it. Mostly.

I started out hating the game. Throughout the first third of the game you’re almost solely concerned with traipsing through corridors. While the world is undoubtedly beautiful, you’re rarely given the freedom to appreciate it. Discovering your route is limited to finding the shiny gold part of the room and attempting to jump on it, to the point where even the climbable crates are marked with a sparkling gold cloth. Sometimes you’ll come across a gold cloth that doesn’t sparkle. Don’t waste your time on this. Drake won’t even touch it until you’ve killed the requisite number of enemies to progress the plot. It’s an extremely artificial limitation and annoys the hell out of me.

Everything changes around Chapter 14 (of more than 30). You’re out of the corridors and actually have to spend time looking around the environment working out where to go next. It’s refreshing, it’s challenging and even a little bit fun, though you still don’t have the freedom of movement. Both types of area have collectibles up the wazoo, so those of you who rate yourselves by the number of sparklies you’ve discovered can have a ball looking around for these.

This inconsistent design approach extends to the characters as well. In some chapters, your female companion Chase can barely climb a pipe without Drake’s help. In others, she’s a seasoned adventurer who spent her childhood climbing mountains with her grandfather. Later still, she claims to be afraid of heights. Best to just ignore the attempts at character development and appreciate what little parts of the scenery the camera permits you to see.

Uncharted: Golden Abyss has been developed by SCE Bend Studios under the guidance of Naughty Dog and is the first Uncharted game for the Vita. As such, it’s filled with gimmicks that showcase features of the new handheld. Some of them are brilliant, like tilting for precision aim. For the sniper rifle this is a great way to make small adjustments that the stick would easily overshoot, though it makes things a little more challenging if you’re in a battle while on public transport.

Others are awful, like the touch screen motions to slice through sheets of cloth or bamboo walls to reach more shinies, or clean dirt off some tools. Anything that forces me to shift my grip and poke the screen is a bothersome intrusion that breaks immersion. It just reminds me that I’m not Drake, I’m just watching a tiny version of him through a window. They add nothing to the sense of fun.

Using the rear touchpad to zoom in and out when sniping or taking photographs is almost a convenience, sadly marred by the size of the pad. The touchpad on the Vita is so large that it takes up all the space where you would naturally put your fingers to hold the console, leaving you with the sniper randomly zooming in and out just as you’re about to take a shot. Yes, you can move your fingers to grip the edge when sniping but more often than not I’d forget until the thing started buzzing like crazy.

Worst of all is the touch-screen melee combat. When you get close enough to an enemy, a fist icon appears over him, with another one in the sidebar menu. Touch either of these to punch in slow motion. Eventually, one of you will get the other in an armlock, triggering the blood-pumping adrenaline-rush mechanic of… drawing a diagonal line across the screen followed by another in a different direction. It’s slow, it’s awful and you have no ability to move the action to a safe location. If you’re caught in the wrong place you will get shot.

It’s not all bad. Playing on normal, the combat sections are challenging enough to fun and you get a good range of weapons – different handguns, machine guns, grenade guns, hand grenades and the occasional bit of heavier weaponry. Should a battle not be going your way, there’s usually a better weapon nearby that can turn the tide or you can always fall back to a more defensible position with the waist-high walls and pillars that are everywhere.

Uncharted: Golden Abyss is… passable. It’s polished and it plays well enough to not let the franchise down but it’s not going to win any awards. Those of you who enjoy the series will find enough there for it to be worth the £35 asking price. Despite the forced touch controls and Drake’s inability to walk across a plank without stopping in the middle and swaying from side to side, it’s one of the better launch titles for the Vita. Give it a go.

Uncharted: Golden Abyss is out now on the PS Vita.

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