Developer: SCE Bend Studio (with Naughty Dog oversight)
Platform: PS Vita
Release: February 12, 2012
Genre: Adventure/3rd Person Shooter
Multiplayer: No, but has a Black Market mode that will allow you to trade items with other players.
Welcome to another grand adventure with Nathan Drake. There’s something about Mr. Drake that seems to attract trouble. Then again, it’s likely a side effect of his chosen profession of Treasure Hunting.
The events in Golden Abyss take place at some point prior to the events of Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune. However this doesn’t mean it’s a direct prequel to Drake’s Fortune either. Regardless of when it takes place, the story and game play for Golden Abyss is extraordinary.
Nathan is enticed by his friend Jason Dante to go on an expedition of sorts. As you progress beyond the basic tutorial chapter, you’re introduced to the mystery of a bizarre massacre of a Spanish expedition that took place over 400 years ago. Drake is caught up in the rivalry between his old friend Dante and Marisa Chase. Inevitably, Drake finds himself on the wrong side of a friendship.
The story in Golden Abyss is a pretty similar to the other stories in the Uncharted series, but not quite as great as the console titles. In a way the story has become almost cliched. You know there’s going to be witty banter, a few sparks between Nate and the female partner, and Drake’s going to learn that lasting loyalty is only given to treasure and gold. Once again you’re dealing with centuries dead Spanish and a jungle. Compared to Uncharted 2 and Uncharted 3 you have fewer locations to explore, but Sony Bend does make great use of the environment you have access to. This is not to say the story isn’t good, it is, but it’s not a great story.
Golden Abyss feels more like an adventure game in my opinion than the other Uncharted titles. In the 3 console titles, the treasure hunting aspect took a back seat to the story and game play. In Golden Abyss it feels that has been reversed. While there aren’t a huge number of treasures to find, there’s a lot more to find in Golden Abyss then that.
SCE Sony Bend makes pretty good use with the Vita’s unique features but at the same time some of those features feel more like they were included simply because the ability is there, rather than because it enhanced the game play. Such as the motion sensing ability of the Vita. It’s use is tacked on rather than used for innovation.
You can use the motion sensing aspect of the Vita to lean back for a jump or to swing back and forth on a vine, but that doesn’t really add anything to the game play. You will also come across a few points where you’ll have to teeter the Vita back and forth to maintain your balance or you’ll fall off and die. If you’re not careful that quickly becomes a frustrating game play aspect.
You also have the ability to use the touch screen to maneuver Drake along the handholds. Sony Bend also makes use of the back touch screen for shimmying up & down a ladder and to rotate some puzzle pieces while you clean them off with the touch screen.
You get to make rubbings of certain statues and things to solve multiple puzzles. I really enjoyed that aspect, as well as rotating objects like a dial lock, helmet, amulet, paper; sometimes to piece together a puzzle, sometimes to view all the angles of an item (like a skull) or rotating them to clean them off.
Other than finding treasure, making charcoal rubbings and rotating items there are 2 more aspects to Golden Abyss’s game play. Chopping your way through stuff and taking pictures. In your quest for the treasure you will sometimes find something blocking your way. You’ll see the machete icon pop up on the left indicating you need to use it to progress. Using the machete requires you to use the touch screen to imitate a set of moves. When you’re successful, you’ll see Drake hack his way past the obstacle.
Finally we have the camera. You have to collect pictures in each area to help unlock the many secrets contained in Golden Abyss. You can also take random pictures for your journal if you just want to capture a really neat piece of scenery. I like how these game play aspects make me feel more like a part of the adventure.
Presentation: 9/10 Overall the game is well polished. Even with game play elements that felt tacked on, it was still an enjoyable experience. Story was good, but not great. Bit cliched. The character animation was well done via the motion capture.
Graphics: 10/10 Sony Bend did a great job with the graphics. In a way, they made a greater effort to make the game look beautiful than they did making sure none of the new game play aspects they added were more than side thoughts. I found a couple of great areas that made beautiful journal pictures (the ones that weren’t a part of unlocking one ‘secret’ or another.) I just wish I could have saved them directly to my Vita to share with friends.
Sound: 7/10 While the voice acting was on par with older games, the sound track wasn’t quite as noticeable as other games. It was nice, but not really memorable.
Game Play: 8.5/10 Sony Bend added a number of new features to Golden Abyss, but they added too many new aspects. As I mentioned earlier, at times they felt like they were tacked on, such as the motion sensing for keeping your balance or using the touch screen to navigate. You can easily ignore the motion sensing for the bulk of the game and not miss a thing game play wise.
The use of the back touch pad added some nice touches to the game, like being able to rotate some items. The machete and camera were also great additions to the game play and help the player feel more like a part of the game.