Uncharted: Golden Abyss is the fourth game in the Uncharted series, and the first to appear on a handheld. The first three games were PlayStation 3 exclusives, while Golden Abyss is a PS Vita exclusive. Like many other handheld games that form part of big-console series, this one is not precisely a part of the main narrative; this is perhaps done so that gamers on the big consoles don't feel like they're missing part of the story if they don't own a handheld. That's all very well, but even though Golden Abyss is a prequel to the rest of the series, it's still pretty much the full Uncharted experience (minus multiplayer). If you don't have a PS Vita and love Uncharted, you might just want to buy one so you can play this, or at least find a friend who'd be willing to lend you a Vita for a weekend or two.
Big Game on a Small Screen
One of the big appeals of the Uncharted franchise is its truly cinematic feel. The production values are nearly movie-quality, with top-notch voice acting, rich orchestral scores, and skilfully designed visuals. All of that is present in Uncharted: Golden Abyss, though necessarily scaled down somewhat for the smaller screen. Sure, the graphics are a little blockier than PS3 graphics--not that you really even notice on the PS Vita's smaller screen (I'm assuming that most people have televisions bigger than the Vita)--but they've been given the same care and attention as the PS3 games.
The music is also of the same high quality, though given that so much Uncharted music already exists, maybe they didn't even have to create any new. The voice acting, like that in the rest of the series, is among the best anyone's ever done for any game. Everything just feels the way it should for an Uncharted game. Though I suppose there are a few nits really picky people could pick, they're mostly things necessitated by the smaller size of the PS Vita.
One thing you may notice when you start up the game is that you'll get a message that says "Network features have been disabled." This isn't a glitch--apparently the developers chose to sacrifice players' ability to chat with their friends and do other network-connected functions while playing in order to save memory for, you know, playing the game. For me, that's just fine. I don't game while connected with others, and I'd rather have that juice go to running the game smoothly. For some gamers, though, that may be a disappointment.
Just One More Level
It seems to me that it's been a while since I played a game that I really had trouble setting aside to do such necessary things like eat and sleep. But with Golden Abyss I got caught in the "just one more level" trap. I just wanted to keep playing and playing to find out what happened next, to see what was beyond the next ruin or the next turn in the rainforest path. This means Golden Abyss is probably not the best choice for small bursts of gaming while waiting in line at the grocery store or between classes. It also means, though, that it's the perfect game for settling down on the couch to kill a rainy weekend (and it also made it the perfect thing to pop in my PS Vita while testing Nyko's Power Grip to see if it really is as ergonomic and battery-extending as claimed).
Essentially, this handheld entry in the Uncharted franchise uses the same combination of third-person shooting, platforming, and storytelling as its console brethren. If you liked them, you'll like this. There are no multiplayer elements, though, so expect a game more like Drake's Fortune (the first in the series), where you're on your own to explore (though you do have in-game NPC companions for much of the game, they're all computer-controlled according to the game's script).
PS Vita Exclusive
Uncharted: Golden Abyss isn't just an Uncharted game made smaller in order to fit on a handheld. Instead, the developers made a genuine--and I think mostly successful--attempt to use many of the Vita's unique controls. Some people will no doubt find the use of touch controls to be trying too hard, but I really liked the implementation. For climbing, for example, the player can choose to use the buttons just like they would on the PS3. Or they can choose to "paint" the path they want Drake to follow on the touchscreen. And you don't have to choose one control scheme and stick with it; I often found myself using the buttons most of the time, but tapping on ropes and ledges to jump to them when I wasn't sure I was getting the right angle or approach.
One of the most extensive uses of the touchscreen, and one that's most likely to annoy players (especially since there isn't an alternative control scheme), is in making charcoal rubbings. A few of these are necessarily to progress though the story, but most are optional bonuses that add more background to the story and get you trophies. Personally, I liked how they made the story more tactile. There are similar, but less frequent uses of the Vita's controls, too, like using the rear camera to hold a piece of parchment up to the light for a hidden message, and that sort of thing. I found these parts a lot of fun.
Where I found the controls a little more annoying was in hand-to-hand combat. You can throw punches with the buttons or by tapping the screen, but some moves could only be completed with swipes on the screen. That in itself wasn't a problem, but I often found myself automatically using the buttons to fight, then getting thrown off by the sudden need to let go and use the screen to finish off an enemy. Of course, that's more my issue than the game's.
Don't Look Down
My main problem with Uncharted: Golden Abyss is one that has plagued a lot of games over the years, and has made even the very best games just a tad frustrating at some point: the camera. For the most part, the camera in Golden Abyss is perfectly fine. It goes where you need it to be, and you can move it around with the right analog stick. But in some sequences, the camera does things that are meant to help you (one assumes) by keeping you focussed where you need to be. I don't mind so much when the game changes the angle or the zoom in order to help me out, like when I need to navigate a tricky series of ledges, but I really hate it when I can't choose to move the camera around at all. I like to pause and look around, and when the game won't let me, I get cranky. There are also a few places where the camera actually gets in the way of playing. In one instance, you're fleeing a collapsing cavern set with bombs, and the camera suddenly jumps in front of Drake, looking back. It's really difficult to suddenly have to steer backwards, so to speak, especially when every second counts. Fortunately, those instances are few, and forgivable once you get past them.
So Uncharted: Golden Abyss isn't perfect. It's imperfect enough that I very nearly gave it four stars out of five. In the end, though, I just enjoyed it so much I had to go with four and half stars. If Sony can get a few more games of this calibre out (and with Assassin's Creed on the way, there's some hope of that), the PS Vita could well become a device PS3 gamers are going to want to supplement their full-size gaming. Oh, and don't forget to pause once in a while when you play, just to look around at the scenery. Some of it is absolutely breathtaking.