Uncharted: Golden Abyss Review

By Rob Manuel - Posted Feb 13, 2012

Uncharted: Golden Abyss takes you back to the jungle as your search for the Lost City of Gold. Danger as well as a whole lot of touch screen action awaits you in Drake's first adventure onto the PS Vita. Will this be a city of riches or will out favorite adventurer only find fool's gold?

The Pros
  • Amazing graphics and presentation
  • Lots to explore
  • Great Characters
The Cons
  • No Great Set Pieces
  • Bland Story
  • Way too many gimmicks

Uncharted: Golden Abyss Review:

Drake strides out once more into unknown territory to brave every battle and to explore a new territory: the PlayStation Vita. In Uncharted: Golden Abyss, our favorite adventurer without a fedora heads into the jungles of South America to find untold treasures and a little pulp-infused adventure.

As one of Sony’s newly minted flagship franchises, Golden Abyss leads the way for so many other launch titles following behind it; however, like an over-encumbered sherpa, Drake stumbles occasionally under the weight of all the gadgets and gimmicks included with the new system. For better or worse, Uncharted demonstrates just about everything the Vita can deliver.



Strange Tales & Even Stranger Choices

Just as with Uncharted 2, we start some two days in the future with Drake jumping and dodging bullets as Dante, a poor man’s Joe Pantoliano, instructs his army to bring him down. After a little fighting and leaving off at an explosive cliffhanger, we find Drake and Dante as partners on an expedition in the present. The jump gives us a taste of the action a little sooner with the present day adventure not meeting with flying lead for a couple of chapters. Story-wise, however, the player is left waiting for the shoe to drop when we’re already suspicious of this highly unlikable character. The game gets off to a wrong foot – especially if that foot is dressed in animal skin boots. But I digress; let’s get to the real story.

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After running into Chase, a woman who also seems to know more than she’s letting on, we find out that a group of rather unlucky adventures may have stumbled upon relics from the Lost City of Gold. I say unlucky because a rather ruthless general in the area would rather see all the artifacts returns to his country and everyone dead – not always in that order. For a series that has come to be known for it’s strong storytelling, Golden Abyss comes off as rather predictable. Dante turns out to be a rotten backstabber. Chase actually does know more than she lets on since her grandfather went missing after searching for the Lost City of Gold. While this may be typical from other games, we’ve come to expect more from the Uncharted series.

Like any dig, you need to look deeper to find the treasure, or in this case, the characters. Chase comes off as Drake’s voice of reason, someone who cares more about discovery than gold. Her headstrong attitude often has you running to keep up after her. Around the third act, a slightly younger Sully, this is a prequel after all, shows up and completely steals the show. His interaction with Drake ranks up there with the console games. Take it as you will, but the best story parts may be the ones where you’re just rowing a boat and telling, “that’s what she said” jokes.

Uncharted Golden Abyss

Keeping in Touch

Golden Abyss focuses on exploration rather than combat up until the last third of the game. Sure, there are plenty of bad guys to shoot but you’ll be climbing, walking around, or simply looking for hidden areas for some of that famed treasure. This is in no way a slight towards the game since the graphics makes it a pleasure to take in the environment and animation. No longer can we use the excuse, “well, it’s on a handheld” when Uncharted can provide some of the most amazing scenes to hit the palm of your hand. Look past the flat surfaces and still backgrounds, and you’ll almost swear that you’re playing a console game.

Combat really isn’t missed since it’s also not all that exciting. Aiming is a bit loose, but turning on the auto aim helps even if it feels like a cheat. I played through without turning it on, and I was still able to get over a hundred headshots. Staging for many of these battles typically falls flat. Hide behind boxes and shoot. You’re not going to get any set pieces like the train ride from Uncharted 2 or the battle on the ship from the latest title. Most of the game focuses on exploration, puzzles, and touching – lots of touching.

Practically everything in the game can be done through touching. You climb the rope by sliding your hands up and down the back. You take pictures by using the Vita like a camera. To unlock areas, you often need to turn combination locks or slash through bamboo with a swipe of your finger. Climbing even becomes easier once you trace where you want Drake to go with you finger. And with all that touch, only a little bit works well. Don’t worry. Most of the important stuff can be controlled through the regular controls as well.

Uncharted Golden Abyss

Searching For Meaning

I blame the achievement system on this one. Actually, I should blame gamification, but that’s another story for another review. As I mentioned, Golden Abyss loves to let you explore, but you need something to fine. In previous games, you occasionally find bits of treasure shining in the empty pockets of the landscape. Here, it’s everywhere. You can’t get through a screen at times without seeing something shining. Cut scenes blind you with the amount of bling yelling at you to grab it. Hundreds of these little pieces are just waiting for you to find or photograph. Sure, my OCD kicks in, but the sheer amount you need to collect is simply overwhelming.

The game randomly rewards you with little name cards for some of the enemies you kill. They don’t look or act any differently than your regular run of the mill goon. Golden Abyss wants you to collect all these little name cards for a trophy. I know you’re hands are already sweating, but it gets better. You can trade through their Black Market system with other players in the area to get cards you need. The kicker here is that you have to trade in order to get some of the cards. Good luck in finding those friends.

Uncharted Golden Abyss

Tarnished Gold

Uncharted: Golden Abyss comes out of the game with a couple of stumbles, but shows promise for the series on the Vita. Instead of filling the title with gimmicks, I wished that they focused on creating a good experience for the player. Touch screens don’t sell systems; amazing games do. Still with all of my gripes, Uncharted remains the best at creating amazing characters and places you want to explore. If Sony is looking for someone to lead the charge with their new system, then Drake is still your man.

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