The Playstation Vita’s first pin up.

Facial detail nearly reaches the heights of the first PS3 Uncharted.
Facial detail nearly reaches the heights of the first PS3 Uncharted.

Almost a year before we first cast eyes on our sexy little handheld monster, several video game producers made enticing comments, saying that Sony’s new device was like a PS3 in your pocket. At the time, before the announcement of the Playstation 4 and the leap in graphical fidelity, it seemed like an exceptionally lofty claim that would bring expectations above and beyond what would be capable. And then came the reveal and we got our first glance at Uncharted: Golden Abyss. Jaws dropped on a global scale. My heart certainly pounded, and even when the Vita was first released I couldn’t afford one. My husband knows how much I wanted one, as I’m sure there were days where he could strangle me. I feverishly searched the internet high and low for information, news and reviews. My addiction to the Vita had already begun, and eventually I had to get one on hire purchase, and ended up paying well above the odds and getting two games from the release list I wasn’t really that interested in. My point? Two games fueled my desire to get my hands on the Vita. The first was WipeOut 2048, the second was Uncharted: Golden Abyss.

It's a very long way to the nearest McDonald's.
It’s a very long way to the nearest McDonald’s.

Created by Bend Studio (who I actually think are a little underrated due to the fact that they are known for handling PSP versions of console releases) and overseen by Naughty Dog, perhaps the kings of this console generation, Bend Studio was tasked with creating a full, console like experience on the go, with all the action of the console releases while still showing off the unique features the Vita is now well known for. Golden Abyss is a direct prequel and the events that occur here happen before the original Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune on the PS3. It’s difficult for me to describe the plot in detail for you as I don’t want to reveal major plot twists, but the game begins with an action sequence before moving back through time, and much of the game is played through the events leading up to the prologue. As is the norm with any Uncharted game, Drake teams up for many sections of the game with another character, and although the game starts with Drake and Dante (who is an old friend of Drake), Marisa Chase ends up being the leading lady and it’s the continuous narrative that occurs more frequently while you are actually playing than in cut scenes that makes the game shine. Drake is voiced by Nolan North, just as in the console releases and the script as ever has just as much tongue in cheek sarcastic humour and flirting than it does anything else.

Don't go chasing waterfalls....
Don’t go chasing waterfalls….

Needless to say the highlights of the Uncharted series and what it is famous for are all here. Where the game differs (and unfortunately not always for the better) are what makes Uncharted: Golden Abyss unique from the other games in the series. While Uncharted 2 and 3 focused more and more on huge set pieces, Golden Abyss instead focuses more on discovery. Every single nook and cranny is begging to be explored, and if you’re a collectaholic like I am you’re in for a treat. Every single chapter in the adventure except for the prologue has tonnes of secrets; from ancient relics to Turquoise Glyph’s, charcoal rubbings and Jade Carvings. There are also photographs to be taken throughout many parts of the game, and Drake’s journal does an amazing job of keeping track of everything. Opening the menu by pushing select and then touching the on screen icon opens the list of items and mysteries to be solved in each chapter, so rather than having to look through all of the separate mystery sets (of which there are many), you know what you’re looking for. Finding all of them is another matter entirely. On my first playthrough I thought I’d be savvy and grab them all in one go, but upon completion I had to refer to a guide to find the ones I was missing. Many of the game’s secrets are tucked away cleverly out of sight and in hard to reach locations off the fairly linear main path, and the only visual clue you receive is a little glint of light (much like in the Resident Evil series) or by a flashing camera icon on screen. This goes a very long way to lengthening the experience, and I believe my first playthrough took about fifteen hours (I really was looking hard!). Added to the fact that completing the game on hard unlocks crushing mode, and that enemies drop bounty at random (sometimes meaning you have to replay chapters and kill enemies again and again) and you have a fairly meaty experience.

Shooting is fun and precise, despite the Vita's analog sticks being quite small.
Shooting is fun and precise, despite the Vita’s analog sticks being quite small.

The game handles exceptionally well, and both analogs sticks are used here to great effect. The controls are very similar to the console releases, so the cover system is present here, as are the precise aiming mechanics needed for those ever so satisfying head shots. What hurts this game, and brings it down beyond greatness, lies in two big, big problems; long sections of more or less automatic platforming and utilising nearly every single one of the Vita’s features, to varying degrees of effectiveness. The automatic platforming is to put it bluntly, a bit of a joke. I really enjoyed the platforming in the PS3 versions, but here it’s nearly impossible to die in these sections, and this really takes a lot of the fun out of it. Jumping is now so automatic that you can simply draw a line using the touch screen and Drake will hop to it. Whereas in games like Assassin’s Creed, the semi-automatic jumping techniques are fluid and fun due to the open world you inhabit, here it’s just dull. Towards the end of the game things do get a bit more tricky with the threat of explosions, being shot at and mini quick time events where Drake looses his grip and you have to swipe up on the screen to stop him falling, but it isn’t enough to save the platforming experiences here as it’s too little too late and only serves to intrude the flow and frustrate. These swipe the screen sections aren’t exclusive to the platforming either. Drake uses his machete to cut through sheets quite frequently throughout the game, but the entire game stops every time for you to input swipe after swipe. It just doesn’t work well and serves to remind you that you are playing a game rather than immersing you into the experience like the Uncharted series has always managed to do. Charcoal rubbings and cleaning dirty relics on the other hand have you brushing the screen and these fare better, though the charcoal rubbings are perhaps a little too common.

The problem is it doesn’t end there. Walking across logs means you have to tilt the Vita when you loose balance. Rather than balancing as you walk across which would make more sense and work better, Drake more or less sprints across these logs like he is somehow magically glued to them and then slips and stops moving, halting the action while you regain balance. This feels like a missed opportunity to me as again it only serves to break up the flow of a game that relies so heavily on it. The worst of the lot for me was when I had to hold the Vita up to a bright light to reveal a hidden image. I’m pretty sure if you were on public transport at this point you would just switch to another game or turn the Vita off to avoid looking like an idiot, and indeed my husband gave me some slightly odd looks when I had to turn the main lights on one evening and wave the Vita as close as I could to the bulb without burning it. It really feels tacked on and rather pointless. The rear touch panel is also used and can be used for climbing up and down ropes, but I didn’t find this method to be any easier or more fun than just using the analog stick. My favourite feature and the only one that really feels like it genuinely helps the experience is being able to zoom in and out with the camera or sniper rifle using the rear touch pad. This was both quick and fluid and definitely aided me, making the sniper and photography sections the most fun in the game. Using the front touch screen to throw grenades also worked out fairly well, as it’s faster than cycling menus and pressing buttons.

Fire effects are impressive but unfortunately the upscaling here makes them pixelated.
Fire effects are impressive but unfortunately the upscaling here makes them pixelated.

I may sound like I have been fairly negative in many of my critisisms of Golden Abyss thus far. The truth is, as is often the case with games that are released on day one; there are these constant niggling problems that could have been fixed and would have made this title a true must have. I really did have a lot of fun with Golden Abyss but it just isn’t quite up their with the quality of the console releases. Yes, it looks amazing, and is nearly as impressive as early PS3 titles, but it’s also running at a reduced resolution and as a result some of the jaggies are horrendous. Yes, it controls fantastically but the gimmicks more often than not intrude and become particularly annoying towards the end of the game. Yes, the script and acting are amazing, and the story is great too, but it just isn’t quite as good as Naughty Dog’s titles and as a result it often feels like taking a small step backwards when playing. On the other hand, having a title that looks this good, sounds this good (the orchestral score is as ever absolutely amazing) and really does play well from start to finish means I would still recommend it if you are a fan of the series. Added to that the fact that it’s currently completely free if you’re a Playstation Plus subscriber and you’re onto a winner. I urge you to try it as I’m certainly sure there’s fun to be had here, just don’t go expecting an experience that’s quite as good as Naughty Dog’s offerings. As it works out cheaper to get a Playstation Plus subscription for a year than it does to buy Uncharted at full retail price, you’d be mad not to.

One last bit of advice. If you  do have Playstation Plus and want to avoid frustration then make sure you utilise cloud saves. I completed the entire game on hard and got nearly half way through again on crushing (which is a painstaking process as the difficulty implies) and during loading the game crashed entirely meaning I had to hard reset my Vita. Upon loading the game again my twenty or so hours of gameplay had disappeared. That is why the screen shots are all from fairly early in the game. My trophy list says I’ve completed it on hard so to have to slog through everything again is currently a bit to depressing! Oh, and if you’re looking for multiplayer, you might want to hope for a sequel.

REVIEW OVERVIEW
Presentation
Gameplay
Lasting Appeal
Execution
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I'm 27 years old, and have been playing games for 20 years now, ever since Sonic and Alex Kidd on the master system. I love most types of games but I have a particular passion for music games and racing games, though Final Fantasy VII is and probably always will by my all time favourite as it's the only computer game to ever make me cry!
  • extermin8or2

    Complaining about some jaggies considering it’s using the Naughty Dog ps3 engine on a different platform and a handheld seems abit harsh, Sony Bend have done an exceptional job- the game is great luckily most of the motion stuff can be turned off in the options, and you don’t have to use the touch controls to platform, only bits you have to use the gimmicks for are the log walking sections, melee (which works ok actually) and the irritating machete through objects sections :/ otherwise I think the games great although if developers would just make an engine for the vita from the ground up I think it could perform at a level high above the quality we are getting at the moment- I recommend the Assassins Creed and NFS:MW on vita if I were you.

    • The jaggies are much more pronounced due to the upscaling. Don’t get me wrong it’s a great game, I just think the pacing could have been better and the platforming less automatic. Even when using the jump button it’s still too easy considering the linear path. Assassin’s Creed is alsp upscaled but post processing and a slight blur make it less pronounced. But I agree, both ace games!

      • extermin8or2

        Hmm yes very true although Assassins Creed is hampered by it’s sort of forced voice acting and lines in places and the disconnect between levels game-play wise and the forced use of the outfits when its unnecessary. If the sequel this year rumours are true (actually hope they are) then they need more enemies at once, make the combat abit more fluid and better cut-scenes etc

        • I agree. Hopefully a sequel is in the works for both Uncharted and Assassin’s Creed. It’s always fantastic to see the leaps and bounds between first and second generation titles.

  • HellRaiser

    Very nice review, I might hold back until the full price drops a little bit before I grab it. Thanks 😀

    • Thanks! For the record I’d say it’s certainly worthy of £30, just not £45.

      • Toploader

        And you can easily pick it up for £15 or less these days.

  • GYNGA

    Just one question, why is lack of multiplayer a negative point? Since the game has a solid single player campaign in terms of length, I don’t see a reason why it should be criticized for not having a multiplayer.

    • I’d argue that when a series has adopted MP in it then a title is released without it, it would be somewhat frustrating, It’s free on plus now, but was charged for the same – or slightly higher – as the PS3 titles and for that you would be forgiven for expecting a similar experience.

      • GYNGA

        BioShock Infinite also dropped multiplayer so it should necessary be cheaper too? I don’t think so. Also handheld games have always been and will be more oriented in single player as long as there is no proper infrastructure for online gaming on the go. Furthermore, an example of NFS MW (Vita version) shows that games tend to have lower framerate online and Sony Bend already sacrificed native resolution to make the game run smoothly. Online multiplayer would require even more sacrifices so all in all I don’t think that the game engine was good enough for a multiplayer implementation.

        • Multiplayer doesn’t actually bother me personally, but for some it does and you could argue the point thag multiplayer extends longevity of the package.

    • Because the fun parts of the game (shooting) would lend itself very well to multiplayer.

    • Kyle Wakeling

      I agree with Gynga on this one, for the sole fact that multiplayer is a tacked on piece of garbage for Uncharted. It started a solo game, and should’ve continued as one unless they wanted to add co-op.

      • Because multiplayer can extend longevity and although the single player campaign is meaty the niggles and flaws can make the game frustrating rather than fun. Usually when a sequel (or prequel) comes out they improve aspects of previous games not remove them entirely. As I’ve said before multiplayer isn’t important to me but my guess is a lack of time is why they didn’t include it rather than as a design choice. I could be wrong, and it’s my opinion, but well introduced multillayer can extend a game’s lifespan by a huge amount, and previous Uncharted titles have it.

  • Very interesting and detailed review Jon. Not owning a PS3 this was my first foray into the Uncharted series, and I did enjoy what I played (apart from the stupid light reveal bits, grrrr) I never really felt that I was truly in control of the game, it was more a semi-interactive story.

    It’s a very good game, and definiely a showpiece for what the Vita can do, but there are issues with it. Especially when you have had a year to think on them. 🙂

    • Exactly. When I forst played it I really enjoyed it but the test of time comes down to repeated playthroughs and trophy hunting. I nearly gave this an 8 but when you think what could have been achieved with a bit of extre time I feel my argument stands up. My comparisons towards the PS3 games are used because it’s a continuation of a series, not because it’s being related to the PS3 versions. I’m sure everyone knows that console experiences can be achieved on the go. When you look at Persona 4, a port of a PS2 game or even at the Godof War series on the PSP these games are the epitome of creating console like eexperiences on the go. My flaws as pointed out were mainly the unecessary use of tacked on features and uneven pacing, both of which the Vita can do. The platforming also has nothing to do with the PS3 version. The jaggies which people are mentioning could be a critism of any game that isn’t running at it’s native res. Look at the slating Haze got on PS3 for running at lower resolution. It really is a very good game, but when you look at the masteru Naughty Doh has achieved I feel it’s important to look at the series holistically which is why I mentioned no multiplayer. The graphics are still amazing but pixelation and jaggies affect any game.

  • 7.5? Generous, generous 😉
    Don’t think this game is too great, I’m happy I didn’t pay any money for it. Though it does redeem itself a bit in the later half of the game when the shooting sequences get better.

  • Toploader

    Of course a review is just someone’s opinion so don’t view this as an attack (just offering my own), but the author was obviously comparing it one to one with the recent PS3 releases, which to me is ludicrous. A game like this was Unthinkable 14 months ago on a handheld, and it’s still not really surpassed. Sure it’s a bit jaggy looking in places, but it’s on a handheld, something that consumes vastly less electricity and produces much less heat than the PS3.

    Marking it down because it’s not MP seems strange too tbh, it’s a single player game. I dunno, gamers are getting to expectant / spoilt / entitled these days. Maybe I’m showing my age but stuff like this blows me away, we could of only dreamed of this in the Gameboy days. So someone made the point that this was released at the same kinda price at the PS3 titles so should be compared… well maybe back then (I still think it’s wrong to compare), but the fact it’s being reviewed at a time when the game is free on PS+ and dirt cheap 2nd hand (and ya know, due to the lack of MP means there is no network pass) means this title really deserves more love than a 7.5, especially considering the games that got 10 on this very site.

    Did Rayman lose a point for losing the major co-op feature… nope, it got a 10. Not the same reviewer, but he represents the same site, and people expect a little consistency.

    This game is a mind blowing achievement, and I hope that no one puts it lower down their Vita ‘to play’ priority list because of this (imo) slightly unfair review.

    • Buckybuckster

      It seems to me to be a bit too much and unrealistic to expect consistency from multiple reviewers at any site. Everyone has their own standards concerning what they love or hate in a game. The most you could ever ask for is that the individual reviewer is remaining true to his or her past work. And even then, people’s opinions can and do change over time. All I ask is that the review is an honest representation of the reviewer’s experience with the game.

      Which is exactly the case with review. Excellent, concise, and entertaining review Jon! A very informative and fun read! I think that sometimes we have to remind ourselves that the score given to a game isn’t some sort of “official” verdict representing views of EVERYONE who reviews games for a website, magazine, or any other forum where reviews are a part of its process. As stated, everyone’s different. One may award a game a podium finish, while another will determine the same game shouldn’t allowed out of the starting blocks.

      • Thanks for the kudos. I can see where you’re coming from Toploader. And perhaps it hasn’t been surpassed at what it does, but that doesn’t mean it just score higher in my opinion. When Resistance was released on PS3 it was given good reviews, but was marked down from perfection and rightly so. Just because it was the benchmark it doesn’t necessarily mean that should effect the score, as the benchmark has already been set elsewhere. Take for exampke the Metal Gear HD collection. They are better games, despite the graphics not being as good as it’s obviously a PS2 port. Yes, graphics are only part of the experience but watering down the platforming here hurts the game. The gunplay is still exciting and the story great, but the pacing isn’t quite right. Uncharted has always been exciting when it comes to the platforming for me. I absolutely love a platformer but it has been over simplified in this prequel.

        Multiplayer isn’t an issue for me but it brings the longevity of the title down. Wipeout 2048 is a prime example of how multiplayer can really help an experience. I don’t like multiplayer and to date Wipeout is still the only game that has allowed me to enjoy it. But you have to ask yourself when previous Uncharted games have had multiplayer, why is it missing here? I’m going to hazard a guess that time restraints are the culprit and that isn’t an excuse when it comes to analysing a title
        A game should be the best it can be, and certain little things make the experience feel slightly incomplete for me.

        Remember, 7.5 is still a very good score. I ummed and aahed about giving it an 8 but in this day and age where games are so advanced and competition is so rife with standards set so high, I decided on the slghtly lower score. The game breaking bug I experienced was also inexcusable and it’s a heavily documented complaint on the internet, as I searched fpr solutions when I first had the problem and found many more people had experienced the same.

        As for being free on PSPlus I think this is a moot point. It may not always be free….what of those who don’t have plus or if they removes the offer? I’d have to go back and change the score. Price is a tricky topic as obviously lower prices throughout time lend to more value for money but this is true of all games. I don’t feel it would really be fair for me to rate higher due to the fact the game can now be found cheaper. The RRP remains the same and although cheaper deald can be found this can be teue of any title. If the game was being reviewed as a platinum or classic title at a reduced RRP then you could argue the score coild be higher.

        Rayman is a different kettle of fish I feel. Remember with Rayman the co-op play is through the entire experience so the experience is essentially through the single player mode. The same would be true with LittleBigPlanet in Uncharted games the multiplayer mode is completely separate and different. For the record Rayman wasn’t my review but I agree with the score. The opinion is that the lack of multiplayer doesn’t hurt the experience enough to lose points, plus the Vita specific zoom function and being able to touch lums really made things even better than the console counterparts, in my opinion at least. Obviously Jasper’s opinion is his own 🙂

        I agree the game is mind blowing, and has the wow factor but it alsp has the face palm factor in that flaws tarnish what could have been a must have. I still say it’s definitely worth a go and has been given a very good score. I try to review as fairly as possible and feel saddened that your opinions differ from mine but hopefully the above will help you understand my stance somewhat more. As I say in my review it’s still drfinitely worth a go, but it’s not the height of the series and that’s not because it’s not on PS3 or due to hardware limitations, it’s becaude the bar for the series has been set so high and this game just isn’t as fun to play. One last point. Look at Final Fantasy. It’s seen many, many games and arguably Final Fantasy XII isn’t one of the better ones, despite the PS3’s horsepower. Crisis Core Final Fantasy VII and Final Fantasy Tactics are better games on PSP. Weaker hardware but better titles, and FF Tactics is a port of a game that’s over 15 years old.

    • The one thing I would say is this – discounting the number at the top of the page, would people disagree with the majority of the text?

      People do get too hung up on numbers these days, which does make me consider whether a numbered scoring system should be what we use here. For what it is worth, we consider anything at and above a 7 as “good”, so by definition we would class 7.5 as “very good”.

      Although I will add that I do know many people that feel that the game is in that kind of score area, including at least three members of the people that write for this website, which does include myself. Sure, it’s an amazing technical accomplishment to get this running on a handheld and for free on PS+ should be looked at by everyone, but for me personally it was very little more than an a somewhat interactive story.

      • Toploader

        I should not come on the internet after a beer, I can’t believe I made such a long point on something that does not matter… I blame metacritic for making this seem even remotely important (which as yet you guys are not signed up to anyway). But yeah, I’m actually in favor of not having scores at all and this is one of the reasons I really like the PC gaming site ‘Rock, Paper, Shotgun’

        UC should have been a 7.6 guys, how could you not see that? 🙂

        • Sometimes discussions with beer are more meaningful. 😛

          And hopefully we will get incorporated to MC next year; their approval process has a small window and if you miss it you have to wait a year.

          • Toploader

            Well, my relatively polite backlash against your score is nothing compared to what you’ll get once you are on Metacritic lol. Hey you guys don’t have a forums I see? Seems a wasted opportunity, even if it does not tie in with the main page logins.

          • Ha ha. Wait until you read my reply. I got four hours sleep last night due to this wretched bug I’m suffering which maybe will go some way to explaining my frankly ridiculous, over long rambling reply 😉

          • Toploader

            All good man, it’s being able to write detailed replies like that which means you’re also able to write good detailed reviews. I may not have been bothered by the things that you were in the game (I even liked the touch screen features, bar the over done rubbing stuff) but I do really appreciate the fact you really detailed your own thoughts on the game and backed up all your reasons.

            As I say, was a little tipsy and got overly defensive of one of my favorite handheld games of all time. I’m sure when you review a game with the same attention detail, and I agree with it all, I’ll be the first in the comments singing your praises.

            And…. if I was reviewing Rayman, I’d have downgraded it from a 10 to 7.5 because the co-op was missing and that was a major feature for me, and others would have clearly disagreed.

            Yey for subjective viewpoints 🙂

          • Haha that’s ok! My husband is in politics so I rarely say anything unless I feel I can back it up and I do tend to have a long thing about how and why I review and criticise. I guess for me and Rayman at least, I’ve not played it on consoles. I can say as a person who hss experienced it only on the Vita I’d give a ten though. But I love d school 2D platformers so it was almost like a love letter just for me 😀

  • I haven’t played this game since March last year, but the review pretty much sums up how i felt playing it. I wouldn’t consider lack of multiplayer a negative point, but I don’t play multiplayer games for the most part.

    At Vita launch, the game was mind blowing particularly from a technical perspective,, however having been treated to the likes of Assassin’s Creed, Little Big Planet and Need for Speed etc since, the technical accomplishments of the game are now somewhat diminished, and I really expect Tearaway, Killzone etc to surpass the game.

    Now that the dust has settled around the technical part, there is a very solid game underneath, but it’s definitely not 9/10 good, and even 8/10 is a little on the positive side. It’s a solid competent game and 7.5 really does sum it up well. It’s just shy of greatness. Hopefully there will be a sequel to really show what the Vita can do.

  • CooPerMan

    Your review is spot on .The graphics are some of the best i have ever seen on my vita , with the highlight being the early jungle chapters and stunning views into the distance of sunsets etc. from the top of the cliffs. The music is also great orchestrial scores and feels right and the voice acting and story are high quality but then to the bad points.

    The game holds your hand too much in the jumping sections and there never feels any danger of death so it loses it’s edge.The game area looks big and there are bits to explore but even in seemingly open areas outside you soon realise it is an illusion and the play area is quite small . Multiple paths and a more open world would have made this a much better game. Then theres the gimmicy touch screen controls like the swipe the screen to clear the vines blocking your path or rubbing dirt of items using the front touchscreen is ok the first few times but after dozens of times grows repetive and overused. Don’t get me wrong this isn’t a bad game by any means but it could have been great if the gameplay matched standards set by the visuals,music and story. Just hope they can make a sequel and learn their lessons as the vita deserves a truly outstanding uncharted game as it would drive up the sales of the system.