Uncharted: Golden Abyss Sets a New Standard For Portable Visuals, But Not Game Design «

Share it:Tweet This is not a review of Uncharted: Golden Abyss, though it could well be. The Japanese version of the game, which shipped with the PS Vita at launch, offers full English-language support, including dialogue, menus, and even Trophies. But this isn’t a review, because — despite having had the game in-hand for a week now — it hasn’t quite gelled with me enough for me to finish it off.
To Golden Abyss’ credit, my failure to have completed it yet has a good deal to do with its length. Currently I’m about a quarter of the way through the adventure, if chapter count is anything to go by, but I’m guessing I’ve sunk at least four hours into the game. Given the production values on display here, that’s a rather generous amount of content. See, if nothing else, Golden Abyss is an amazing-looking game.

Click the image above to check out all Uncharted: Golden Abyss screens.

“Amazing-looking” doesn’t really do it justice, to be honest. Sony Bend has put together the single best-looking portable game I’ve ever seen. That’s not just dazzlement from the PS Vita’s high-end OLED screen talking, either; Uncharted marks the advent of the current gen of gaming on handhelds in more ways than one. Most Vita games won’t look this great; few will have the budget for it, especially now that the pervasiveness of bargain-basement pricing on iOS is starving out the production values of handheld games. Uncharted, I think, stands as an example of what portable games can look like but rarely will, because it just doesn’t make financial sense for anyone but Sony’s internal developers and a few lucky third parties to sink a lot of cash into games for a medium where the public perception of value has dropped from “incredibly low” to “through the floor” over the past few years.

Golden Abyss is visually arresting. If it were a PlayStation 3 game running on an HDTV, people would still stop and take notice of it. No, it’s not quite up to the standards of Naughty Dog’s own Uncharted trilogy, but it’s not far enough off to diminish the series’ reputation, either. Running on a compact screen with ultra-high pixel density, it looks downright amazing. The visuals are detailed and varied; while the action so far has been set in jungles and run-down encampments, there’s little blatant copy-and-pasting to be seen. Outdoor scenes are splashed against glorious backdrops of natural beauty, while interiors are crammed with unique details: Distinct documents pasted to the wall here, stacks of rotting tires there, a disused washing machine rusting away on the porch over yonder.

A few portable games have approached this level of visual prowess on iOS, but they’ve been far more limited experiences — rail shooters like Doom and rail slashers like Infinity Blade II. Uncharted, however, remains true to its console roots. It is a “real” game in the customary sense of the word. Hero Nathan Drake runs, jumps, climbs, shoots, and occasionally enjoys a tiny amount of leeway to experience something vaguely akin to exploration. He engages in shoot-outs with villains by employing cover-based mechanics like aiming with the left trigger and blind-firing without. The right stick — and let’s all thank our favorite god, pantheon, or cosmic happenstance that there’s finally a portable system with a right stick — controls the camera during free-looking moments and guides Drake’s aim during combat. Drake utilizes standard Halo-derived gun capabilities, toting two weapons at a time and frequently swapping between different types of pistols, automatic rifles, shotguns, SMGs, sniper rifles, grenades, and reportedly an RPG or two before game’s end. This is not a watered-down experience like the old Game Boy versions of Perfect Dark or Turok. We’ve come a long way since then, and Golden Abyss is a console-caliber game that would review well on a modern system.


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