Uncharted: Golden Abyss Review
An adventure of gimmicks and tricks.
Uncharted: Golden Abyss is unlike any other Uncharted game, yet it is nearly identical, in its style, feel and narrative, to its predecessors. It plays ‘hang’man between the two, but delivers on neither of the fronts.
Bend Studio has lost little in translation – you have a scruffy Nathan Drake, then unheard walking encyclopedia of everything cursed and deadly, who teams up with a lady of fine features and mysterious background, who had teamed up with a goon of bad features and clearly dangerous background, who of course, had teamed up with another goon of superior bad-assery and exotic accent, in another twirling journey after a MacGuffin that almost always promises to spell doom but never quite makes it.
You handle Drake as you would on the PS3, however Vita’s tighter thumbsticks makes him far less prone to slip around edges in a purposeful intent to annoy you. Golden Abyss’ environments, while less complex and in need of very urgent application of antialiasing (and non-pixelated fire effects, we know what did there Bend Studio), has enough vegetation, planks and exploding barrels for Drake to get his hands dirty.
Where the game does show sparks of originality is when it employs all the nifty features of the PS Vita. At times, it is quite simply brilliant. About half way through, you are required to shine a source of light at the Vita’s rear pad to uncover hidden text on a parchment Drake found. There are also segments were you must rub dirt and substances of questionable nature off objects in order to uncover clues by swiping on the screen. You must also piece together markings found on walls and statues by charcoal rubbing. These clever uses of the touch screen makes you part of an adventure. It connives a sense of being in the boots of Drake, carrying out archaeologic finds and discoveries as you escape the callous rounds of baddies avarice of your blood.
But most often than not, it forces you to take up Hacking 101 in the hopes to disable everything that involves touching any part of the Vita other than it’s fantastic buttons. Whereas many aspects of the gameplay functions can be performed using traditional controls, almost seventy percent of them are forced and mandatory, and it’s the frequency, and often stupidity, of them that gets you. Because only a wretched soul could design a sequence where the Vita must be controlled like a car with its front wheels punctured to complete a sequence where you can’t see anything because you are moving the screen too wildly.
Golden Abyss also takes inspiration from Final Fantasy by placing random encounters along the ‘map’, only this time its a flow-breaking piece-the-puzzle goddamn mini-game. It pops out of nowhere and there is no run, or ‘i-will-do-it-later’ option to choose from. You must finish piecing the oh-so-important poster of some random dude while the enemies polish their nails, patiently waiting for you to get it over with.
The game also employs laborious finger swipes to get the most mundane things done. If Drake is facing a curtain, he must absolutely swipe left, right and center to tear through it, than just shoving it aside like a normal sane person would.
The myriad blasts of use-this-shiny-new-tech-to-get-things-done ultimately relegates itself into being lurid, and some of the nicer additions are dissolved into an annoying set of gimmicks that must be done again and again till you realize that what Golden Abyss is but a series of mini-games stacked together in a narrative.
When that is not happening, you have the rest thirty percent of the game where, you know, you shoot things. And by the time you get there, you are so suffocated by gimmicks that every action sequence feels like an epic set piece even though the game is entirely devoid of that. Bend Studio shows constraint at the number of meat bags it throws at you, and it’s tactile as ever to drop them dead. However, they have committed themselves to Naughty Dog’s blotchy controls, which makes aiming and shooting a twitchy, laggy mess. Thankfully, almost knowingly, the game features auto-aim, and coupled that with Vita’s gyroscope, which works so much better than games on smartphones, shooting instantly becomes fun and rewarding, if not slightly easy.
Narrative wise, Golden Abyss uses the same plot devices the series have faithfully stuck to since the original. It’s also about a long lost treasure that the whole world is after, and it is once again saved of being a borefest by its witty writing, and Nolan North’s impeccable performance. The introduction of a new female protagonist in Marisa Chase also adds good elements to a predictable set of casts by bringing a refreshing eagerness in scouring treasure trails set by her grand father.
Golden Abyss is for the fans, no doubt – a formulaic Uncharted that sticks to what it knows best. It’s more down-to-earth, realistic and at times, adventurous, but is unable to match its console-counterpart’s memorable sequences and polish. It’s also for those who needs a constant reminder of how “OMG! Vita is awesom3z!”.