On paper, Uncharted: Golden Abyss sounds like it should be great. Hell, it should be better than great, but even with the original voice actors reprising their roles, luscious visuals, and plenty of opportunities to run like crazy from exploding buildings, the spark is missing. It doesn't help that Golden Abyss lacks the level of production we've come to expect from the third-person action adventure series, with lifeless writing, flaky cover detection and AI, plus an erratic frame rate. Nor does the addition of most of the PlayStation Vita's new input methods add anything significant to the experience; in some cases, they detract from it. These issues aren't easily overlooked, but get involved with the slick combat and awesome set pieces, and you'll find there's still plenty to like in Drake's latest outing.
6350249Look out Drake, that bridge doesn't look entirely safe!
Golden Abyss starts out promisingly enough, taking place before the events of the original Uncharted, when Drake is hired by his old friend Jason Dante to uncover the secrets of a Central American jungle. Cue an amazing discovery, a mystery to unravel, and a love interest in the form of archaeologist Marissa Chase, and you've got yourself the beginnings of a great Uncharted narrative. However, it all starts to unravel rather quickly, becoming predictable fare with just a few twists and turns to keep you on your toes. The dialogue isn't particularly snappy either, despite being well acted. Drake's trademark quips come across as forced, with developer Sony Blend's writing coming across like a decent bit of fan fiction rather than a creation from series masters Naughty Dog.
While the story might not fare so well, thankfully, the action and platforming does--for the most part. Navigating your way through the many jungles, rocky mountain ranges, and ruined temples is as easy as on the console versions, thanks to the Vita's full complement of analog sticks. The path you take is decidedly linear, but a variety of walls to climb--some of which crumble beneath you--rope swings, death-defying leaps, and stunning scenery keep the excitement flowing. It's when you use one of the Vita's more esoteric input options that things begin to falter. A tutorial at the start of the game introduces these to you gradually, but trying to remember what inputs to use can be confusing. Take using a rope, for example. You can push forward and hit X to jump to it, or you can tap on the rope. Once there, you can climb it using the left analog stick or stroke the rear touch pad with two fingers to do the same. How about swinging on it? There's the analog stick again. Or you can rock the Vita back and forth to accomplish the same thing.
Drake's always the gentleman.
Unfortunately, none of the new control methods are any better than using the traditional controls, particularly because your fingers sometimes go unnoticed on the touch screen. Thankfully, you're not obliged to use the touch or motion controls to get Nate around, but there are certain puzzles that require you to do so. These range from such simple tasks as taking charcoal rubbings of artefacts or holding your Vita up to a bright light source to view faded text to more complex tasks, such as piecing together torn-up maps or matching symbols to open locked doors. None are massively taxing on your noodle, but the controls work well, adding an extra layer of interactivity and immersion that wouldn't be possible with just a standard controller.
And yet, there are other times when the touch controls serve only to take you out of that immersion, such as chopping down some bamboo. It requires you to perform three different swipes on the touch screen, but rather than have Nate perform the actions as you swipe, he just stands there lifeless, waiting for the bamboo to spontaneously sever itself so he can proceed. And then there are fistfights, which are also based on swiping. Some are scripted and others are initiated by you in combat. Both lack the level of fluidity you might expect, thanks to some awkward slow-motion animations that change what should be an engrossing brawl into a stumbling punch-up. A lack of touch-screen precision affects the fights too, with some of your swipes mysteriously going unrecognised, causing you to lose a fight or--in the case of scripted events--sending you straight back to the beginning of the cutscene.