Uncharted: Golden Abyss Review

Uncharted Golden Abyss

A gray and black haze fills the air. Burning embers consume a decaying building. You frantically climb decrepit ledges in an effort to find the lone escape route. Death is just moments away as the collapsing structure slowly crumbles around your feet. The weight of the Vita system feels heavy in your hands and your palms start to sweat. Then a large cloth draping blocks the path. In the chaos of it all, time suddenly stands still as you strike down the obstacle with a knife, mimicking the movements across the touchscreen with a slow and deliberate pace. But time is not on your side and the heightened tension is lost in those few brief moments – the sweat dissipates and that handheld feels as light as a feather.

Anti-climax defines the Uncharted: Golden Abyss experience. I could highlight how the game faithfully recreates the platforming and shooting sequences from its console counterparts, or detail the world-travelling plot that we’ve come to expect from the series. But the lasting impression from this Vita launch title is how it removes the very essence of the Uncharted franchise, resulting in a merely decent action-adventure game rather than Sony’s definitive statement regarding the potential of handheld video games.

Boiling down Uncharted’s effectiveness to a single element is a dangerous task considering the wealth of impacting content of the past three titles. From the charismatic characters to the satisfying weapon selection, there’s no shortage of expected features in Uncharted: Golden Abyss, but it’s safe to say that the memorable set pieces from past entries play a pivotal role in accentuating the series’ impact. The jaw-dropping thrill of dangling from a teetering train or shooting enemies on horseback in the desert is what truly elevates Uncharted to a whole other level. That ends up being the key missing ingredient in Golden Abyss, and it has the effect of throwing off the game’s entire pacing. Suddenly the shootouts aren’t quite as exciting and platforming sections start to drag.

Uncharted: Golden Abyss

The lack of memorable and adrenaline-pumping moments give Golden Abyss an overall detached feeling, and the touchscreen controls further emphasize that. There are an alarming number of mandatory touchscreen actions which, oddly enough, take away from the experience despite the fact that they aim to make the player feel more involved. Tasks such as rubbing dirt off an artifact or making strokes to paddle through lakes and rivers come off as interesting initially, but slowly reveal their inherently mundane qualities and will likely leave players feeling disinterested. Even the optional touchscreen controls like climbing entire buildings with a few swipes of the finger aren’t particularly effective because they don’t work 100% of the time. There’s nothing more frustrating than tapping the screen multiple times just to see Drake idly kicking up dirt.

Further hindering immersion is the wealth of collectibles scattered throughout Nathan Drake’s adventure. Hidden treasures and trophies have become mainstays in gaming, but Golden Abyss exceeds the marginally acceptable norm. Drake is a treasure hunter and archaeological findings come with the territory, but he’s also a videogame action hero. Naturally, then,  gamers have developed an expectation for action-packed moments when controlling the smart-mouthed hero, but it’s hard to retain any semblance of a frenetic pace when the player is constantly pausing to take picturesque photos or uncover charcoal drawings.

The real shame is that the narrative in Golden Abyss lends itself well to exciting moments. Once again, Drake travels the globe in search of artifacts with the help of two new companions – an old friend named Dante, and Marisa, who he meets along the way. As the story unfolds the focus shifts to the search for a missing archaeologist and the secrets uncovered regarding a 400-year old massacre. All the while Drake must avoid an evil general hellbent on claiming the splendors of an ancient lost city for himself. With that kind of backdrop the game is just screaming for rousing set-piece spectacles, but they never come.

Uncharted: Golden Abyss is by no means a bad game. It looks incredible, does a solid job of offering a portable version of the famed series, and presents a story with intriguing characters. But when the potential of Uncharted on a brand new, technically proficient handheld comes to mind, so does the consideration of holding the videogame equivalent of a summer blockbuster in your hands. Not once did I get that feeling while playing Golden Abyss, and it ultimately leads to the spark being lost that makes the Uncharted franchise so special.


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Author: Anthony LaBella View all posts by
My first experience playing a video game blew me away. The fact that Super Metroid was that game certainly helped. So I like to think Samus put me on the path to video games. Well, I guess my parents buying the SNES had a little something to do with it. Ever since then my passion for video games has grown. When I found that I could put words together into a coherent sentence, videogame journalism was a natural interest. Now I spend a large majority of my time either playing video games or writing about them, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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