Back to the Future

Uncharted: Golden Abyss proves Nathan Drake’s adventures aren’t confined to home consoles -- or exclusively the handiwork of Naughty Dog. Get ready to have your expectations of what a handheld can do redefined.
Author: Sam Bishop
Published: February 27, 2012
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For years now Sony's Bend Studio up in Oregon has been busily cranking out some of the most consistently amazing handheld experiences available on the PSP. They did it with Syphon Filter: Dark Mirror, then again in the follow-up Logan's Shadow, then started branching out into dedicated multiplayer territory with Combat Ops and somehow managed to find the time to port the Resistance franchise to the PSP with the stunningly good Resistance: Retribution. More than just being technically competent, though, Bend has a knack for truly embracing everything a portable has to offer; in the case of Retribution, that was embracing that stupid single analog nub and crafting an aiming system that somehow managed to make a first-person shooter work on the PSP -- a feat that was never really matched again.


But, of course, Uncharted: Golden Abyss is not a PSP game. It's not even "just" a Vita game. It is something quite a bit more important: a sort of all-in-one collection of slightly gimmicky implementations of all that tech (again, this is Bend Studio's forte) and a dyed-in-the-wool Uncharted adventure that goes toe-to-toe with the first game while never suffering from the same sort of "Uncharted-isms" that have plagued the series since Naughty Dog first created it. Make no mistake; this is an Uncharted game through and through -- though one that doesn't quite dip into Naughty Dog's bag of spectacle-creation tools to deliver a jaw-dropping series of events.

That's an important distinction because in many ways Golden Abyss simply running as smoothly as it does is the spectacle. You have never seen a portable game look this good, perform this well and encapsulate the feeling of playing a PS3-level experience wherever you feel like -- and best of all, Bend managed to clone the formula and feeling (though it's not a carbon copy) without falling into the same traps. There are no huge difficulty spikes (no plane or church or watery hair pullers here) and, miracle of miracles, it somehow manages to avoid having some kind of supernatural element, yet doesn't completely avoid offering a bit of spookiness.

It's an accomplishment that can't be overstated: SCEA Bend Studio has made a kind of Uncharted Pure, a reduction of the core flavors of Naughty Dog's series that still manages to feel at home on the Vita. With the exception of the lame log-balancing bits that were sadly brought back from the first game (they're still annoying and far more prevalent this time around), every other use of the Vita ends up being a complement to the experience. Some make take issue with all the charcoal rubbings Nate takes or the swipes across the screen to cut things up with a machete, but they're such tiny distractions from the core gameplay that I never really felt terribly upset by them -- and I was actively going out of my way to find hidden treasures.
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