The Return of Sony’s Golden Boy

Uncharted: Golden Abyss sees our favorite modern-day treasure hunter, Nathan Drake, in the jungles of Central America as he stumbles upon a 400-year old mystery involving a murdered Spanish expedition. Of course, no Drake adventure would be complete without some sort of meddling from interlopers, so Nathan will have to avoid the rivalry of an old friend, Jason Dante, and new leading lady Marisa Chase, a girl who’s searching for her missing archeologist grandfather—and who can hold her own in a firefight.

Now, Sony moving their crown-jewel franchises over to portable systems is an inevitability that’s paid off some decent dividends when you look at franchises like God of War and Resistance. But can Drake make the transition as easily as when he hops from ledge to ledge—especially with the pressure of being a PS Vita launch title—or will he stumble and fall into a portable-gaming chasm of doom?

For Uncharted fans, the answer isn’t quite so clear, unfortunately. The story unfolds just like one of Drake’s PS3 adventures we’ve all come to know and love. Sony Bend’s tale stays true to the character while also brings along new players seamlessly. Couple this with the great voice acting for which the series is known and console-quality visuals, and—at least on the surface—this game looks like a winner.

But if you were expecting to come into this experience and be able to pick up and play it just like one of its console brethren, then your frustration level will rise quickly. To start off with, the game features forced tutorials that showcase special Vita-style controls—and which constantly pop up throughout much of the early part of the game. Now, this is somewhat understandable, given that the Vita’s an entirely new paradigm, but after learning what it takes to execute even the simplest of moves, you’ll quickly realize that it’s just much easier to do what you’ve always done on the PS3 with button prompts. Why would I want to draw a path with my fat fingers for Drake to climb when I get a much more desired level of accuracy—and a more satisfying feeling of direct input to my character—by moving the analog stick and pressing buttons?

But whether you choose to avoid the Vita-style gameplay or not, Golden Abyss forces you into countless minigames that not only break up the pace of the action, but are also so simple that you’ll wonder why the developers are making you bother in the first place. These minigames include putting together a torn-apart map, taking pictures of interesting ruins, rubbing your finger over the screen to draw a charcoal etching, and, of course, balance games. Because nothing says Uncharted like running away from poachers with assault rifles, coming to a log bridge, and then being forced to stop in the middle to play with the Vita’s gyroscope so that Drake can miraculously balance himself and continue being chased. And these instances are constant—I must’ve taken a dozen charcoal drawings and balanced on half a dozen bridges (not always being chased) in the first five chapters alone. For a series whose pacing and storytelling is as celebrated as its visuals and voice actors, the former really falls apart when forced into these proof-of-concept minigames.

The other major problem is that even on the least-sensitive setting, the aiming crosshairs are still much too sensitive; the right analog stick is so small that each degree of movement is greatly magnified. This means that while your movement might work on the PS3, it’s completely thrown off by the shrunken-down scale of the Vita’s analog stick. This leads to constant misfiring and needless deaths as you attempt to work out where your enemies will be so as to save yourself the trouble of aiming. And though you can move the Vita around to help with this, you’ll find that it just throws too many moving parts into the machine, and you’ll still overcompensate as you move your arms and thumbs trying to line up a shot.

Uncharted: Golden Abyss may serve as a Vita proof-of-concept, but it also serves as proof of a lesson to be learned: Don’t mess with something that isn’t broken. All the new moving Vita parts and features end up watering down what should be celebrated as a really great Uncharted story, but the diluted pacing, unnecessary minigames, and hit-or-miss (literally) controls keep this from being anywhere near the level of a console Uncharted.

SUMMARY: A story worthy of the franchise, Uncharted: Golden Abyss falls short in terms of pacing and controls, as the touchscreen gimmick takes the experience down a big notch.

  • THE GOOD: The story’s worthy of an Uncharted adventure.
  • THE BAD: The gimmick-based play destroys the pacing and flow.
  • THE UGLY: My fat hands trying to use touchscreen controls.

SCORE: 7.0