Back to the Future

Uncharted: Golden Abyss proves Nathan Drakeís adventures arenít 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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More than just rubbing or swiping the screen, though, Golden Abyss makes innovative use of the system's camera (just once, but it's very, very slick) and especially the motion-sensing innards to allow any weapon to be aimed by simply tilting or moving the whole system. This isn't a bunch of SIXAXIS hokum; this is honestly one of the biggest improvements to the aiming in a franchise that has had... issues with its gunplay since the very beginning. With about five minutes of practice, I became a headshotting god, plinking away at enemies without even using that oh so useful new right analog stick. Actually drawing a line for traversal, too, allow me to reach out-of-the-way areas more easily and simplified (without over-simplifying) the traversal that makes up the other half of the gameplay ratio.

The result is that the two core parts of the Uncharted experience -- gunplay and traversal -- have both been immeasurably improved with incredibly simple implementations of the Vita's tech. Rather than just throwing a bunch of high-detail textures and mocap animations at that gorgeous OLED screen, Bend really embraced the hardware to create a unique experience that still feels innately like Uncharted. For those of you wondering what the point of a portable that can effectively take the place of a home console is, Golden Abyss is your answer. It gives you everything that you could want in a pulpy adventure while adding something you probably didn't expect. Personally, I won't be able to play an Uncharted without the insane precision of motion-aiming, and I never, ever thought I'd say those words.

I certainly knew I'd be saying these ones, however: Golden Abyss, while certainly good at scratching the pulp adventure itch, can't really hang in terms of snappiness of dialogue and overall impact in the story. That's not to say that either is especially bad, especially when compared to other games in the genre, but Amy Hennig and company have had three games to really hone their storytelling, and with Bend handing both the writing and directing duties in addition to building the game itself for an entirely new platform, I'm more than willing to cut them a little slack. Drake still has some fantastic one-liners (delivered, as usual, with aplomb by Nolan North), but it's really Sully who manages to come through with more vibrancy than he has in any of the previous games. The fact that he doesn't even show up until the second half of the game is a testament to just how well he's used in the story.

That story, for all the beating around the bush and vagaries that I've piled on, is actually fairly complicated stuff having to do with Visigoths and Conquistadors and a sort of bastardized marriage of two ancient myths, all muddled with bits of religion and a missing archaeologist and his daughter and... yeah, okay, so it's a little more dense the any of the console Uncharted entries, but that only serves to work in the game's pulpy favor. There's a lot of exploration of ancient locales here, and Bend has done an absolutely wonderful job of offering up a ton of exploration amid a story about a power-hungry warlord and a shady partner with dubious connections to Nate's past. Taking place before the first Uncharted, Golden Abyss manages to work just as well as a sort of pace-setter for the rest of the series without feeling like it's pre-dating them so much as to lose what makes the series so great.
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