There will never be a bad Uncharted game. Ever.
It may surprise you to hear that Naughty Dog is not behind the recently released Uncharted: Golden Abyss. For the first time in its celebrated history, development duties were handed to a third-party development team, Oregon’s Bend Studio. Founded in 1994, Bend is best known for the Syphon Filter series, a forerunner in the stealth/action genre. But before you get all worried that the game isn’t everything you hoped it would be, you need to relax and take a deep breath—the spirit and rich storytelling of Uncharted remains intact and has a few new tricks to boot.
Golden Abyss finds our beloved hero Nathan Drake facing the wrath of a Central American warlord after a failed attempt to cash in on the relics of an extinct (and fictitious) Mayan-esque society. Friends become enemies as Drake fights for his life as well as that of Marisa Chase, a young woman who’s archaeologist grandfather has mysteriously disappeared while right on the cusp of a staggering historical/archaeological discovery. As our heroes flee from the evil General Guerro, they slowly unravel the mystery of Chase’s missing grandfather and discover he may have just found a way to the fabled City of Gold.
Golden Abyss fits perfectly into the Uncharted series. Each time the game seems to be heading towards a finale, a new set-piece is encountered, a new area is discovered. The added tech of Vita’s front and rear touch interface allow for some interesting new mechanics (specifically in the realm of Drake’s climbing and shooting), all of them intuitive. Vita’s motion-sensor allows the user to aim by shifting and tilting the hardware itself. Though good old-fashioned analog stick aiming is also available, gunplay is at its best when combining the two methods into a seamless run ’n’ gun blend. The graphics of Golden Abyss are jaw-dropping—Vita or not—and while they can’t stand up to the processing power of the PS3 (obviously), the level of detail, lighting effects and character models are all gorgeous. There are literally hundreds of collectable items that flesh out the story and up the replay value considerably. Vita’s touch-screen comes into play here as well, and it’s more than a little fun to obtain charcoal rubbings by, well, rubbing. There’s an excellent score that will be familiar to fans of the series, and voice actor Nolan North is—as always—at the top of his game as everybody’s favorite treasure hunter.
It’s a minimal complaint, but new mechanics create a bit of a frustrating learning curve. You’ll be parkour-ing it up with ease by the end of the game, but controls that aren’t always 100% responsive can make for some irritating moments. There are a couple parts that go right past challenging to straight up “I hate this game!” territory, and missed treasure-collecting opportunities or a lack of a clear path can be hard to accept.
The Bottom Line
This is Uncharted, so unless you hate a fantastic story, beautiful settings and exciting gameplay, you’re going to love it. Bend Studios really stepped up with the first non-Naughty Dog release in the series, so much so that you’d never even know Naughty Dog wasn’t behind it. Ultimately, this is exceptionally well-executed fan-service with a compelling story and lots to do. Really, it’s plain and simple: if you have a Vita, you need this game.
Platforms: Playstation Vita
Developer: Bend Studio