Uncharted: Golden Abyss Hands-On Impressions -- The Quest for the Lost Spark?By Adam Rosenberg - Posted Dec 12, 2011
Uncharted: Golden Abyss is an ideal PlayStation Vita launch title for a variety of reasons. Even with SCE Bend Studio taking over the development duties from Naughty Dog for the portable title, it's a franchise that Sony fans are very familiar with. More than that, the franchise-standard cover-based shooty/platforming gameplay lends itself well to showing off some of the features of the device that put it ahead of Sony's aging PlayStation Portable.
This realization crystalized for me last week as I sat down with Golden Abyss and the Vita both for the very first time at Sony's 2012 preview event in New York City. The two-stage demo ran through the game's key pillars, which is to say platforming and action. First came a platforming sequence that I'm told fans first got a taste of on the floor at Tokyo Game Show earlier this year.
Drake is trapped in some kind of an old, rundown building which made me think immediately of the French chateau our hero visits with Sully in Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception. The comparison becomes an even more apt one when a fire breaks out and the entire place starts to burn down around Nate. The Vita's visual capabilities are fully on display here, with fairly convincing flames creeping slowly up the walls and across the floor.
The "play" portion of this sequence is designed to show of the platforming controls in Golden Abyss. Much like Uncharted 3's trip to France, Drake must inch his way along the rafters and balconies as he attempts to escape from the blaze before it overtakes him. It's immediately familiar and very Uncharted-y, though some of the epic flavor of the console game felt absent to me. I wouldn't pin the blame for that to the Vita's small screen; sure, it's not quite as big as your average living room TV screen, but it pushes out some very nice visuals all the same.
The "off" feeling for me came more from an apparent scaling down of the console games' epic blockbuster sensibilities. Uncharted as a series has always been good at delivering the sort of nail-biting tension in its major set pieces that you would expect from a summer blockbuster film. Drake's escape from this burning building is exciting, sure, but at no point did I get a real sense of heightening tension as I did in Uncharted 3's similar scene. That's not to say that these moments are absent from Golden Abyss, but there were none in evidence during my preview time.
Fortunately, the game's actual play is quite solid. The controls will feel immediately familiar to fans of the series, what with the Vita's button layout falling so close to the PS3's DualShock controllers. You'll sometimes get tripped up by the right analog stick when reaching for a face button, but it seems more a question of simply getting used to this new layout.
The touch-specific controls work great as well, though they also take a bit of getting used to. You can use standard controls to shimmy Drake along a series of handholds and footholds, but the better option involves using your finger to "trace" his route along a wall/ceiling by dragging it over the various grip points he can access.
The game also makes use of the touchscreen for context-sensitive commands. For example, whenver you pick up one of the game's collectible treasures, an icon pops up at the side of the screen, just next to where your thumb is resting on the right analog stick. Tapping the icon brings up a menu that lets you sort through your various collected treasures. It's a great way to integrate the touchscreen into your moment to moment experience, putting these contextual commands within easy reach of your right-hand thumb.
Another context moment that uses the touchscreen comes up later, involving a conveniently placed machete and a tarp that blocks Drake's advance. Tapping the little machete icon on the right side of the screen triggers a swipe-based QTE in which you trace a series of slashes with you finger, with Drake following those movements as he cuts his way through to the other side. The QTE itself is a little jarring, what with the delay between your three finger swipes being translated to onscreen action, but the use of the touchscreen itself as a sort of face button alternate makes immediate sense.
The second half of the demo picks up in an outdoor jungle location. Drake must use a nearby sniper rifle to pick off gun-toting baddies in the distance. The Vita brings a big control twist to the game's aiming mechanics; you're still able to use the right analog stick to adjust your crosshairs, but the device's built-in gyroscope can also fill the same role.
This is a particularly handy feature when you're staring down the crosshairs of a sniper rifle. For the most part, I ended up using the analog stick to actually get an enemy in my sights. I then fine-tuned my aim for a headshot using the gyroscope controls. It's hard to say how well this feature will work with a non-scoped weapon, but it certainly felt cool to carefully line up a headshot as I tilted the handheld.
Uncharted: Golden Abyss is a launch day release for the Vita, so look for it in stores on February 22, 2012.