Thankfully, playing Golden Abyss is delight beyond those issues. Gunplay makes the leap beautifully; despite the Vita analog sticks’ short throw compared to those on a DualShock, aiming is buttery smooth and franchise fans should feel right at home. New inputs afforded by the handheld make for some neat additions as well; fine tuning your aiming by tilting the machine is a revelation and makes popping headshots a breeze, and using the rear touchpad for zooming your sniper rifle is a nice touch. Platforming is also familiar, and using the touchscreen to trace Nate’s path is cool at first. However, he’ll simply stop himself at large gaps, forcing you to use the buttons and killing the point of the new control option.
Uncharted is also known for its puzzles, and Golden Abyss has its fair share. Most of the puzzles revolve around moving stuff around — things like statues and floor tiles — and can be fun to do thanks to the touchscreen. You simply drag your finger across the screen instead of moving Nate around and lugging things around, removing any tedium from the task at hand. They’re all rather simplistic, though, with the game holding your hand along the way. As you start solving them, the other character (usually Chase) will tell you that, yes, you’ve put that piece in its rightful place. If you ever get stuck, just move shit around until you’re told what a great job you’ve done. There are also plenty of jigsaw puzzles sprinkled about, made up either of those infernal charcoal rubbings or ripped up documents and pictures. They’re easy without being offensive to your intellect, but also nothing to write home about.
Golden Abyss is also keen on getting you to look for collectibles. The amount of hidden objects to find is by far the most in any Uncharted game and entails more than simply finding tchotchkes in each level’s different nooks and crannies. Now you’ll also be tasked with finding specific photo-ops and, yes, many more charcoal rubbings beyond what’s needed for the story. Fortunately the in-game journal tells you how many things to look for in each chapter, so those inclined to dig around for shiny objects won’t pull their hair out to do so.
With Golden Abyss, Bend Studio have given us a title that looks and sounds like Uncharted, but doesn’t completely feel like Uncharted. The script and voice acting are excellent, but the story doesn’t resonate because you never feel that Nate is in any real danger like you do when he’s, say, hanging off of a train on the side of a Himalayan mountain or wandering the desert with no water or supplies. There’s no sense of peril, and you know from the get-go that everything’s going to be just fine — it is a prequel, after all.
What is mostly rock-solid gameplay is sometimes hindered by seemingly extemporaneous touch and motion controls. While they work brilliantly in a couple of instances, they mostly feel tacked on for the sake of showing you all of the new tech that’s built into the Vita. It’s a wonder that I didn’t rub right through my Vita in the 12 hours I spent playing through the story.
Golden Abyss is brilliant when it concerns itself more with being a game, and its generous checkpoints makes Uncharted surprisingly apt for playing on the go. When it feels the need to be a tech demo, though, it’s kind of a downer. Unlike it’s console brethren, this isn’t required reading for those picking up a Vita.
FINAL GRADE: B