Review: Uncharted: Golden Abyss (PSV) (Japanese Version)
Title: Uncharted: Golden Abyss
Format: PlayStation Network Download (3.2 GB) / Game Card
Release Date: February 15, 2012
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment America
Developer: Bend Studios
Original MSRP: $44.99 (PSN) / $49.99 (Game Card)
ESRB Rating: T
Uncharted: Golden Abyss is exclusive to PlayStation Vita.
The Japanese Game Card version was used for this review.
*NOTE* Word is that Bend Studios continued fine-tuning even after this game was released in Japan. This review is completely based on the Japanese version. *NOTE*
The audio review for this game is available on Episode 254 of the podcast.
When Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune first hit the PS3, I was a bit cool to the game. I was never much for the Tomb Raider’ish type of games, and it seemed like more of the same. Of course my mind was changed once I actually played the game, and since then I’ve been an ardent fan of the series. Seeing an Uncharted game on a handheld was something I never thought would be as good as it is on the PlayStation 3, but what we were shown at E3 definitely gave me hope. Read on to find out if this is worthy to be called “Uncharted”.
First-off, everything you know of the gameplay in an Uncharted game is here, except for the melee combat from Uncharted 3. Overall, the classic mechanics are kind-of a hybrid between Uncharted 1 & 2, but are very solid. Obviously though, the Vita allows for even more options. In Golden Abyss, some are good, some are a bit cliché, existing more to show that the system CAN do something even though it really adds nothing to the gameplay.
What they’ve inserted into the game using the rear touchpad are some of my least favorite, but they do work. First is being able to use it to climb a rope or chain. Yeah, it’s neat, but pushing Up on the left analog does the same thing. Now when you find treasures or objects, on occasion you have to interact with the object. This is usually either by doing a charcoal rubbing by running your finger over the paper, or in the case of the rear pad, when you pick an artifact, it usually needs to be cleaned-off. In this case, the rear touchpad is used to rotate the item, but it’s really touchy. This is the worst of it though in terms of exploiting the new hardware.
The touchscreen is used extensively, but still sparingly in most cases. In the previous example above, and as in performing the charcoal rubbings, you’ll “clean” the artifact by running your finger over the dirty sections to get the dirt off. This again, at least to me, is sort of unnecessary, but it does add to the immersion of the experience a bit. Another new touchscreen-centric aside, that also uses the motion controls, is to take pictures of certain items that help to uncover mysteries listed in your journal. The controls work wonderfully, but the margin of error to get the picture as close to the sample photo is excruciatingly devoid of any margin for error.
But where the touchscreen sees the most action is in hand-to-hand combat. You can still use the buttons to fight, but no matter what, you will have to finish the foe off with a couple swipes of the screen. Also, with some long jumps, you may have to swipe up on the screen to get your grip. It’s also used to pick-up hidden treasures, guns that are dropped, and even to reload your weapon of choice. This use is unavoidable in many situations, but everything is quite intuitive, and the touchscreen is very responsive. Lastly, and one of the most convenient uses, is the ability to swipe your finger all the way across handholds that you would normally have to keep hitting X to traverse. Now you simply slide your finger across the path, and Nathan follows the path effortlessly. I laughed when I first saw this in use, but after using it, I take that laughter back. Golden Abyss even uses the rear camera a couple of times. You’ll find a blank piece of paper, and to see what’s actually on the paper, you have to hold it up to light, so you actually do this using the built-in rear camera. It’s actually pretty cool, and it really does need light. I had to turn a light in my kitchen on that was bright enough to do the job,
Now, to my favorite new option, the motion controls, specifically the ability to fine-tune your aim while looking down the sights. They’ve tuned the motion aiming perfectly, and being able to use the right stick to aim, then go down the sites and use the motion sensors to home right in is fantastic, and adds a great deal of precision to the gameplay. It really is the first time that an aiming mechanic like this works as well as it does, and it may actually ruin me for other similar games. The motion controls are also used for aiming the camera, getting your balance when walking across a narrow board, and guiding yourself down rivers. The sensitivity of the motion sensors in the Vita is stunning really, it’s just incredibly accurate.
So past all of that, the level design is good, but one thing missing is “that blockbuster level” like we’ve seen in the past with the Train or Horse levels for example. The locations are highly detailed and run the gamut from dense jungles to humongous caverns. I did have a couple of occasions where I really didn’t know where I was supposed to go, and I think that may come from this being Bend Studios first foray in to the world of Uncharted. Again, there’s nothing wrong, but it definitely harkens-back to the first game. The mix between puzzles, exploration, and action is very well done, with that classic pacing we’ve gotten to know and love. Regarding where in the Uncharted timeline that this game falls, there’s no indication in the story, but a few things you’ll see would lend me to think that this takes place before Drake’s Fortune.
The visuals are in a word, stunning. This is an Uncharted game through and through. Seeing people on the Internet profess that the game runs at a lower resolution, or that it looks blurry obviously haven’t actually seen the game in action. Might I suggest a trip to Lenscrafters for those posting stories based on nothing more than a guess based on a blurry image posted to the web.
Also, the game is made for that luscious 5-inch OLED Vita screen, and it just bleeds color from every edge. I will say though, that you’ll probably need to up the brightness, as while I was playing with all of the blinds up in my living room, even with the OLED screen, some scenes were a bit tough to see when underground (also, I have old-man eyes.)
The biggest issue I have in this area are some of the puzzles, especially one in particular that requires you to match 7 faces with 7 symbols. The symbols are all on wheels like an ancient slot machine. A couple of them were incredibly hard to see, and made me long for the option to zoom-in on that section of the puzzle. Other allow viewing from multiple angles and even have a zoomed view, but not that one. That was probably the most frustrating piece of the game, but fortunately it happens early in the game, and doesn’t happen again.
On top of all of this, the lighting is superb, and better than the first Uncharted in my opinion. It’s really great and very immersive when light reacts to everything the way you’d expect it to, especially in those rare instances when the sun is visible. Torches flicker realistically, while your shadow appears on a wall behind you. Flashlights are used sparingly, which I’m happy about. It’s very easy to get too ambitious on a portable platform, but no matter what, playing on a 5-inch screen, no matter how beautiful, is still different than on a 50-inch HDTV. Luckily, the puzzle I described above is really the only instance where this was a problem.
Top-notch in every way, the audio design is what you would expect. My advice, wear headphones. The soundtrack is amazing, with definite hints of tribal chants and pounding drums, perfect for locations based in South America. The voice acting is excellent, with not a one that doesn’t fit perfectly. Guns and rockets sound exactly as they do in the games’ big brothers, only lacking surround sound. Even in stereo though, the sound design fills every nook and cranny of your ears.
Golden Abyss is a worthy entry into Uncharted lore, and even with a couple of control issues, and dealing with some semi-gimmicky mechanics, it’s a fantastic game. No, it has no online or multiplayer, but neither did Drake’s Fortune, of which overall, this is actually a better game. The story takes a while to unfold though, so don’t get deterred when you’re playing it. Even though it doesn’t have a stats page to tell me, I’d say that on Normal, this took me between 7 and 9 hours to complete. If you’re a trophy-whore, you’ll obviously have to play through twice, so you can finish on Crushing difficulty to ensure that Platinum. I honestly can’t believe that this wasn’t developed by Naughty Dog, and that alone speaks volumes for the talented team at Bend Studios.
* All screenshots used in this review were taken directly from the game using the Vita’s built in screen capture feature.
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