The Vita is not short of ways to interact with a game. Microphone, rear camera, front camera, front multi-touch screen, rear multi-touch screen, tilt sensor, accelerometer, twin analogue sticks, Bluetooth, and lest we forget the good old fashion button. You could be forgiven for thinking that hardware designers had decided they were not going to compromise on anything, they wanted it all.
You have to then feel sorry for the first party developers. Those poor souls who, to show off all the various platform’s bells and whistles, are told they have to incorporate all of those particular input methods into a single game. The look on their faces when that particular email surfaced must have been one to behold.
With so many bases to cover, this shoehorning could have become the death knell for any semblance of consistency or flow for Uncharted. Skipping back and forward from touch screen to sticks may well have seemed contrived, but for the vast majority of their inclusions they complement or even enhance the experience.
Despite being shrunk down, the Uncharted formula remains unchanged as Drake continues to roam through Incan jungles and statue-lined caverns, hoping that he’ll strike it rich. As always though he’s also managed to team up with a less than salubrious partner and, to complete the picture, he’s joined by a quick witted female co-star. The setup may be a well worn prospect but it is one that sets up the Saturday afternoon matinee approach that the treasure hunting adventures take and that gives them so much appeal.
Much of the gameplay comes ported as-is from the home console too, with next to nothing left out due to the Vita’s parity with the six-axis. For the first time ever I felt as though I was playing a full action game rather than a stripped down port full of concessions for the portable platform. Our hero can run and gun, jump, swing from ledges and pan the camera as well as if you were sitting on your sofa at home directing him.
In fact, the climbing is probably distinctly improved on the Vita. Operated by analogue stick and buttons it still handles as expected, but I’ve never found the act of climbing in games such as these challenging. Having removed the frustration of pixel perfect jumping a generation ago, adventures now-a-days are more about picking routes and with Golden Abyss you can paint said route on the screen with your finger, Drake following along the path you trace. I found this far more satisfying as his motions were far smoother as he picked his way around the rock face, obeying your commands, whilst you effectively scouted ahead. With extra little details of allowing him to lean with a tilt of the machine, leap to a higher handhold with a flick up, or drop down with the opposite motion made me think that maybe the whole game could be controlled in such a manner.
Boots back on the ground though and it’s a fair bet that this generally means you’re not too far away from being shot at. Sadly, gunplay is once again a disappointment. The feel and flow of a fire fight has never been something that Naughty Dog had managed to nail down and here it again feels floaty and unreliable as the cross hairs meander across the screen. The enemy AI makes the best of the situation though, sticking to cover, poking up in an unpredictable fashion, attempting to make more of the shoot-out, but it is by no means Golden’s Abyss’ strongest suit. The further the adventure progresses the more emphasis is placed on your ability with a gun, which was disappointing. It may help to ratchet up the tension and the settings for some of the situations maybe spectacular but a proportion just felt like padding.
Though most of your time is spent climbing and shooting, the touch controls do offer a host of distractions that act as a series of nice little intervals to the main proceedings. Rubbings must be taken off rocks, vines chopped down to access secret areas, and photographs snapped to chart the journey. In isolation none are anything special, but each add a drop of exploration and discovery to Drake’s trip. Be it uncovering an important symbol from a grave stone or rearranging fragments of paper to create a map, every tiny extra goes to build a more cohesive experience. They allow us to fill in the blanks where previously a cutscene may have been presented.
There are a couple of turkeys in there though, including the traditional balance scenario when edging over gaps on logs, but these for the most part are outweighed by clever uses, such as dragging grenades about to show their arc and using the rear touchpad to zoom snipers and cameras.
A lot of this could be completely ignored by those happy with a stick under one thumb and buttons under the other. It feels and looks as any of the previous Uncharteds have done and so shows off the power of the Vita probably better than any other of the launch line up. Treasure hunting lends itself to stunning vistas and locations and they’re brought out in stunning colour and clarity right in the palm of your hands.
It’s a surprisingly lengthy and faithful addition to the series that continues to see some great performance capture continue to make Nathan Drake into the Indiana Jones of this generation. From navigating cliff faces to unearthing secrets in darkened tombs he leads on an impressive journey. The gunplay may still bring down the overall package, but you ask GTA if that’s ever harmed its success.