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In Other News – 22 July 2014

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Uncharted: Golden Abyss review – Déjà vu and some light petting

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Set before the first Uncharted game, but without being a true prequel, we join Drake as he works with Dante, a man of questionable morals. They are looking for treasure in old ruins allegedly belonging to the Kuna people (I wonder if they know that the Kuna are alive still). Unfortunately for Drake, they aren’t the only people looking for the treasures hidden in the jungle ruins. Add a damsel in distress and a power-hungry madman with too many guns for hire and things look familiar right?

Does the formula work again and does Nate have what it takes to usher in a stable of Vita games?

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Despite the conventional approach so similar to its counterparts, Uncharted: Golden Abyss lacks the scale of previous games, with none of those absolutely massive levels or areas, such as the derelict oil tanker in 3, to create that sense of awe and vertigo. Instead, Drake spends more time looking at the finer details of ruins, taking time to make charcoal rubbings of various weathered symbols and motifs. Make sure there are no enemies around though, as the action doesn’t pause while you have a good stroke.

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It also misses those supernatural elements that go hand-in-hand with the mysteries of ancient civilisations and their advanced traps, elaborate puzzles and machinery. Oh wait, all that is missing too. I guess the Kuna didn’t build fancy machines that were blessed by voodoo, because they were too busy mining for gems and worshipping a rather convoluted pantheon. No, rather the puzzles are for the most part rather literal, involving piecing together scraps of posters and maps to learn more about the history of the area and where to go next.

Ok, so several things are different from the PS3 Uncharted series. Add to this a… familiar story and one would think the game is doomed to fail. But there is just something about Nate (I blame Nolan North) and his quips that kept me glued to the screen. Nathan Drake still has his signature sense of humour, with the other characters, and the trophy system itself, mocking his skills at rubbing one off and using the rear touch-pad.

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You will have to take time to rub one off, because the myriad features that are controlled by the bells and whistles of the Vita are forced onto you. From regaining balance to chopping things with your machete to mêlée combat to puzzle solving, by the end of the game you will be pretty familiar with most of the features of the Vita. While it is great that they show off all the amazing things the handheld can do, you will reach a point where the QTEs feel unnecessary.

Fiddling aside, the AI felt a bit archaic, often not hearing the loud grunts, conversations and footfalls as you sneak up on them, or run at them full tilt. As long as they face away from you, guards are incapable of hearing anything except for gunfire.

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At this point I should reiterate; I really enjoyed the game. There is something enchanting about Drake and his often doomed quest for riches. Golden Abyss is a great showcase of the Vita system and stands out as an adventure platformer, but it just doesn’t have the same polish and feel of the rest of the Uncharted series.

Scoring

Design and Presentation: 7.5/10.

Weird performance lags occur in some areas, with the frame rate dropping to a rather sluggish crawl. Besides that, the game looks amazing, and really shows off the graphical power of the Vita. This game is my showcase of choice for showing off what the Vita can do.

Gameplay: 8/10.

The game has less shooting in it than Uncharted 3 did, but also has fewer puzzles. Movement and controls didn’t feel as tight as the other titles. In one area I had to use the touch screen to climb to where I wanted to, as the controls seemed to ignore my commands.

Value: 8/10.

Hunting for random treasure drops and solving mysteries will make you replay this game at least once. Not the longest title, but then, Uncharted has always been more like a long movie than a marathon game.

Overall: 7.5/10.

For me, it felt like it was missing the touch and tweaks of Naughty Dog. While they did guide the creation, it doesn’t have the exact same quirky charm. But then, I might just be bitter after they stripped away the supernatural element that pervades the ancient ruins and bygone civilisations theme.

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