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Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Review: Uncharted Golden Abyss - Now That's a Rubbing

The Uncharted series is by far the most well-rounded franchise on the Playstation 3. It combines exceptional storytelling, fast-paced action, precise controls, and unprecedented graphics. When the Playstation Vita was announced, a rock solid title had to be on the release list. With franchise titles such as God of War, Infamous, and even Final Fantasy, the pool to choose from is incredibly deep.

After finishing Uncharted: Golden Abyss for the Vita, it's easy to see why Sony went with Nathan Drake to lead the charge.

There have been plenty of console titles that have made the jump the handheld platform. On the same note, many of these titles have completely failed. When Uncharted: Golden Abyss was announced I naturally approached with much hesitation. You see, Uncharted to me is the console-defying experience for the Playstation name. The last thing I wanted to see was a handheld version ruin the near perfect name. Within moments of turning the game on I knew this was going to be a hit.

In Uncharted: Golden Abyss you take control of Nathan Drake (obviously) on the quest for the Golden Abyss. While the cast has changed, with the main female protagonist being a dark-haired girl named Chase, it takes a bit to get into the feeling of the franchise. Luckily Bend Studio took everything that defines Uncharted and then added some.

The story behind Golden Abyss is beyond solid. If anything they may have emphasized the story a bit too much, throwing in a few mini-games that border on annoyance due to repetition. Is this a bad thing? In my opinion absolutely not. One of my main complaints in the previous titles was the poorly designed main villain. Golden Abyss has easily the most believable baddie of them all. Guerro, a has-been General is now the leader of the Revolution. With a jaded personality and the thirst for treasure, you'll find yourself wanting him dead more than any previous antagonist.

Then there's Dante. The all-too-familiar loud-mouthed treasure hunter who finds himself between alliances, constantly backstabbing every person he encounters. You meet him almost immediately in the story and if first impressions are everything, then you'll understand why he's not to be trusted. The combination of his somewhat friendly "I'm just using you to get to something else" personality and Guerro's brutal rush for conquest creates a storyline that fits perfectly with the series. I have read a few reviews that disagree with my sentiments, but as Nathan Drake would say, "Quit your bitchin'".

In terms of graphics they are absolutely phenomenal. I have take easily over 50 in-game screenshots. There are moments during gameplay that simply require you to stop and stare. While they aren't as good as Uncharted 3, they easily stack up against UC2 and may even be better than the first Uncharted. One of the most impressive graphical achievements is seen during water sequences. It's unbelievable how realistic the game looks, and even more unbelievable when you realize you are holding these graphics in your hands.

The major concern with any handheld game is the controls. If you've played any of the earlier Uncharted games you'll understand why solid controls are of utmost importance. With the Vita sporting a front and rear touchscreen and dual analog sticks, the recipe for success is there. Bend Studio couldn't have used these new features any better. The second analog stick reacts seamlessly during tough firefights. When Drake finds a treasure, it's up to you to rub the dirt off via the front touchscreen. The rear touch panel is used during row boat scenes, and and the tilt controls are implemented while balancing across precarious log crossings.

By far the most impressive use of the Vita is found when you have to uncover a set of hidden letters on a script by moving it closer to a bright light source. As in a lamp next to your bed.

Yes - moving it closer to an actual light makes the letters more visible. I literally jumped out of my chair and showed every person around me. This, in my opinion, was the defining moment that the Playstation Vita is the real deal and not just some gimmicky handheld.

Returning to the party are a plethora of treasures and collectibles to be found. These include random treasures located around the landscape, photos of certain areas that need to be taken, and even charcoal rubbings - which are of course uncovered through the front touch screen. If you are a few collectibles short, you can use the Vita's "Near" application to request a trade amongst the hundred's of other players in your area. It's a really good feeling to come home and realize that you are just that much closer to every collectible after a successful trade.

This game is absolutely worth the purchase. Is it worth picking up a Vita just for Golden Abyss? It all depends on your feelings towards the Uncharted series. I wouldn't hesitate to recommend it. If a release title can be made of this caliber, then it's scary to think of where developers are headed. Golden Abyss ranks better than Uncharted: Drake's Fortune and Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception in my book. It's a stellar title that demands attention.

Hats off to your Bend Studio. You've taken one of the greatest franchises of all-time and successfully ported it to a handheld.

Note: The images seen above are taken using the screen capture feature of the Playstation Vita. If that's not awesome, I don't know what is.
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