Let's get this out of the way right from the start: if you own a PlayStation Vita and you haven't played Golden Abyss, you're doing it wrong. This portable entry in the Uncharted series is tailor-made for the Vita and does a fine job of showcasing the handheld's raison d'etre.
But is it a great game in its own right? Golden Abyss comes with a lot of baggage (that of the previous three PS3 titles) and a huge responsibility (selling the Vita). With that weighing it down, does the game stumble or rise to the occasion?
The answer is, yes and no. On one hand, Golden Abyss is a technical achievement for the Vita and, as such, gives gamers a portable experience they wouldn't be able to play anywhere else. The OLED screen does a great service to Uncharted's visuals, making Golden Abyss look and feel very close to its console cousins. One would have to look very hard to see significant visual differences between Drake's Fortune and Golden Abyss, which means gamers looking for a home console experience on the go needn't look any further than this.
In fact, fans of the series have a lot to like with this game. Even though it was made by a different studio, the same clever dialog delivered by solid actors runs throughout this prequel story. The same cinematic flair is employed in the set piece design, though admittedly the set pieces aren't as dramatic as you've seen in Among Thieves and Deception. Nate is once again killing way too many people, Sully is once again at his side, and there is yet another highly attractive female along for the ride. Bend Studio hit all the right notes in Uncharted story telling.
But, Bend also had to make a game that would showcase the Vita's features and -- in some cases -- their implementation was poor. For example, climbing a rope could be done by massaging the rear touch pad. It is a clumsy maneuver that is best avoided and, instead, performed by simply moving the left analog stick up or down.
Then there are the much-publicized wall-climbing events where you can run your finger over the path you want Drake to take, then let the game follow the path on auto-pilot. This feature comes dangerously close to letting the game play itself for me, which I'm personally not a big fan of. Again, though, this can be done with the left analog stick. So, you're never forced into it.
What I liked the least was the QTE-inspired boss fights. The big dramatic battles come to a head with very simple touch-screen swipes which do a terrific job of shattering the 4th wall and making me wish for the more engaging fights on the PS3.
Still, I respect Bend for taking chances and trying to make Uncharted feel natural on the Vita. In some ways, it made a smooth transition and even improved a little on the series: for example, finding treasures by touching the screen was a nice update, as was taking in-game pictures with the Vita's camera functions. But, at other times, Bend seems to be trying to fit a square peg through a round hole.
Saying that Golden Abyss doesn't quite measure up to the bar set by its console forbears is, perhaps, a bit unfair. Golden Abyss remains a dramatic, cinematic jaunt through an Uncharted world. Even though this adventure isn't as big as what we've seen on the PS3's Uncharted games, it's still bigger and better than what you've seen on most other games on any other system, and it's by far the best game in the Vita's launch line up.
Game Title: Uncharted: Golden Abyss
Platform: PlayStation Vita
Developer: Bend Studio
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Release Date: 15th Feb 2012