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Critical Consensus: Uncharted: Golden Abyss

The PlayStation Vita struggles to contain Uncharted's scope

A significant chunk of the Vita's lure is that it is effectively a PlayStation 3 in your hand. With that in mind, Uncharted: Golden Abyss is the perfect test of Sony's early positioning of the device: can you fit the PlayStation 3's most spectacular, technically demanding franchise into a handheld device?

If you're asking that question to Destructoid's Dale North, the answer would be an almost disturbingly enthusiastic, "Yes!" In a review that rates Golden Abyss at 9.5 out of 10, North can find few considerable problems with what Sony Bend has achieved, even if its skill with characterisation and storytelling doesn't quite match that of Naughty Dog.

"The story is great, and there's some really nice plot twists and lore to be enjoyed and explored," North writes. "Golden Abyss may not have quite the character depth that Naughty Dog pumped into previous series games' characters, but that not to say that the characters are bad in any way... It's just that, while good, they're not quite to the impossibly high level that Naughty Dog has set with previous games."

The Vita's generous range of interface options are given a full workout, with Bend designing gameplay around motion, the front and rear touch pads and the cameras. North notes that these additions are generally optional, allowing players to use analogue sticks and buttons for core gameplay if they prefer. However, "they're implemented so well that I'm sure most players will end up using them and enjoying them."

"Basic commands, like picking up items and weapons, can now be done by simply touching them on the screen... Flinging grenades is a joy now, as you literally flick them in the direction you want them to go with the front screen. Fist-fighting also uses the touch screen, and it's much better than you'd think, with swipey cinematic attacks and dodges mixing up the standard punching and kicking."

"I love that the sniper rifle's zoom can be controlled by either a slider on the front screen, or by running a finger up and down across the back touch panel... The touch control even extends to exploration. You can jump from ledge to ledge with buttons and the analogue stick, just as you always have, or you can simply touch a ledge to have Drake jump to it. In fact, he will follow a line you've traced across the screen with your finger to do things like move across ledges and over or under obstacles."

The use of motion-control to subtly adjust Drake's aiming also receives high-praise from North, as well as a number of other critics. However, while these elaborations on the core mechanics are effective, North insists that Bend has captured the essence of Uncharted.

"You'll get more of that perfect mix of tense platforming and climbing and epic gunfights, all presented with cinematic flair," he continues. "The first time things get hairy and you find yourself hanging from a rope with shooters firing from above and snipers aiming from below, you'll feel right at home. There's no way the game's creators could have been more true to Uncharted's gameplay. They nailed it.

And Bend does commendable work when deviating from Naughty Dog's template, too. At least, that's the opinion of Eurogamer's Tom Bramwell, who describes Bend as a, "fastidious steward, carefully ticking all the right boxes over the game's six-to-eight hour lifespan."

Indeed, in certain areas, Bend adheres so closely to its source that it includes the "eccentricities" in its gameplay; like the tendency for every NPC in the area to descend upon your location and hurl grenades the moment Drake is spotted, or Drake's uncanny ability to perform a body-slam on an unsuspecting guard without drawing any attention to his actions.

There's no way the game's creators could have been more true to Uncharted's gameplay. They nailed it

Dale North, Destructoid

However, Bramwell observes that there is nothing in Golden Abyss to match the sheer drama and spectacle of its console predecessors' set-pieces, the environments lack variety, and the engine struggles when there are too many moving objects on-screen. However, while these are ostensibly weaknesses, they lead to an unexpected and entirely welcome side-effect.

"The extremely heavy scripting of the last PS3 generally absent. The developers' compromise has been to highlight usable handholds, ropes and other means of progression with a shimmer of light and a lick of gold paint, which is a more traditional means of guiding your progress, but one that leaves you free to pick your own way through your surroundings and - gasp - even explore!"

The exploration is also where Bend includes the more experimental control concepts. "It has generally been careful not to replace any expected and understood functionality with novelty waggles and gestures," Bramwell notes.

"Instead...the developers have injected the majority of the mandatory new-fangled control ideas into the margins of a world we never previously explored. So now, in addition to occasionally picking up glittering relics in nooks and crannies, Drake can also collect charcoal rubbings (rubbed out on the touch-screen), slice through bamboo (using your finger as a machete) and generally rotate, drag and wipe anything he finds lying around."

"You're also on the lookout for a selection of picturesque views to capture with Drake's camera, which uses a mixture of buttons, gyroscope and god knows what else to orientate itself. It's all basic stuff, and the environments aren't exactly open-world, but the inclusion of little hidden paths and diversions and the use of unusual control methods inject welcome variation into a previously repetitive formula."

"For perhaps the first time, this is an Uncharted adventure you may replay to find things you missed."

Eurogamer's score may only be 8 out of 10, but this is precisely the sort of praise that Sony Bend will be hoping for, and not every critic was so generous. Edge magazine thought slightly less of Golden Abyss, awarding it a 7 in a review that describes the entire game as, "a bit straight-to-DVD."

So the landscapes are the same lushly detailed South American jungles, temple complexes and subterranean caverns familiar from the console games - "it's a marvel to hold all this beauty in your hands" - but their more challenging and unique urban environments are absent. The same is true of the characters' immobile faces and stiff movements, and a story that ticks all the globe-trotting boxes but lacks direction and a strong villain.

The one area that Golden Abyss genuinely improves on previous Uncharted games is the combination of the Vita's analogue sticks and gyroscopes to produce a "near perfect" aiming system.

"[The system offers] a subtle touch of finely granulated control that should persuade even the most long-standing motion-control sceptic of its uses... Vita's analogue sticks are reliable, sure, but for a quick headshot it's often easier to slightly tilt the unit than risk nudging the reticule a centimetre too far."

For Giant Bomb's Jeff Gerstmann, however, the various new features and gimmicks the Vita affords simply can't make up for what is lost in translation.

For something that Sony has tried to compare to the PlayStation 3 on a technical level, it doesn't take long to see that this ain't no PlayStation 3 game

Jeff Gerstmann, Giant Bomb

You won't see any huge, technical showpieces in Golden Abyss. Or, at least, none that resemble the insane scope found in the PlayStation 3 games," he writes. "The thing that's become something of a calling card for the Uncharted franchise is missing, and without those huge sequences, the game lacks punch."

"You'll occasionally see some pillars fall over or some other basic destruction, but it never quite feels like an Uncharted game. Instead it feels like Drake going through the motions, performing his base-level tasks under decidedly ordinary circumstances."

In the place of that bombast are "a bunch of mediocre mini-games" largely built around the front and rear touch interfaces. Gerstmann concedes that no single mini-game is entirely "awful", but they left him with the impression that Golden Abyss is, "half Uncharted, half lame iPhone compilation."

"If the goal was to use every single piece of functionality that the Vita has to offer, then the developers deserve a huge pat on the back," Gerstmann writes. "But the overall quality of the final product suffers as a result of these inclusions, leaving behind an Uncharted game that feels like a carbon copy of the genuine article."

"Perhaps looking for those huge Uncharted moments on the Vita is a bit much to ask. It's hard to know where the system will ultimately fall with regards to technical strength and graphical capabilities, but for something that Sony has tried to compare to the PlayStation 3 on a technical level, it doesn't take long to see that this ain't no PlayStation 3 game."

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Matthew Handrahan avatar
Matthew Handrahan: Matthew Handrahan joined GamesIndustry in 2011, bringing long-form feature-writing experience to the team as well as a deep understanding of the video game development business. He previously spent more than five years at award-winning magazine gamesTM.