Thursday, December 12, 2013

Review: Uncharted - Golden Abyss

If I had any doubts that my purchase of a Playstation Vita would be a waste, Golden Abyss has dispelled them. Despite my having owned a Playstation 3 for several years, I had somehow avoided playing any of the Uncharted games on that console, and now I regret not having done so, especially since Golden Abyss is frequently cited as the weakest of the series.

The gameplay is basically that of a platform shooting game translated into 3D. Nathan Drake, the protagonist, jumps, climbs and bounces around levels as though he was in a Mario game, but rather than jumping on his enemies to dispel them like the plumber, he acquires and uses a variety of weapons and shoots at enemies via cover. There are also several puzzles, none of which are particularly challenging intellectually, but do break up the flow of the game so that it's not a series of action sequences.

The graphics behind this game is gorgeous. There are many times when I'd be traversing a canyon, a cave, or some set piece, and I'd want to stop just to rotate the view and enjoy the scenery. The colors pop, and the scenery is well put together and real.

What blew my mind, however, was how well the game used all the features of the Vita. The most compelling section came when the characters came across a blank piece of paper. You're asked to hold up the paper to a light, and sure enough, when you hold the Vita up against a light bulb, letters appeared on the parchment in a slow reveal. This is a cool use of the rear camera, and gave me a feeling of "wow" that none of the other games I've played on real game consoles have provided. When you're asked to do a charcoal drawing, you actually use your fingers to rub against the touch screen. Very sweet. When you're asked to take a photograph, you can hold your Vita just like a real camera, and control how you snap pictures that way. Not all the interfaces were as smooth as that particular piece. For instance, using the touch screen for hand-to-hand combat felt like a miss compared to using the physical buttons. Using the rear touch sensor for holding and rotating an object didn't feel natural, and neither did using the gyroscope to control a sniper rifle. Fortunately, most of the time you could also use the joysticks (which are a delight to use).

The story is well put together, and it's worth reading Bend Studio's post-mortem on the game to see what tweaks and changes they had to make in order to make the female lead likable to most players. Unfortunately, as with all games of this type, the story usually has you feeling like you're on rails. For instance, there's a scene in the game where Drake is hiding behind a pillar watching one of the villains have a conversation with a lackey. There's no PC in D&D history that wouldn't just take a headshot at the villain there and then and save himself a lot of trouble later. But this being a computer game that's on rails, the game takes control away from you for that scene, which might not be frustrating if you're used to the game doing so, but for me, just jarred me out of the immersion mode that the game otherwise worked so hard to put me into.

The game's difficulty setting on Easy (I didn't use "Very Easy") was perfect for an out-of-touch gamer. I died often, but not so often as to become frustrated, and in general I had a lot of fun.

In any case, playing this game made me immediately go out and download Uncharted 3 to my PS 3 (it's a free game this month on Playstation Plus). I doubt if I'll get through that game as quickly as this one, because having something on the Vita makes it so much easier for me to sneak in 15 minutes of gaming here and there when I have time, rather having to be at home and having to power up the TV the console and taking over the living room.

In any case, Golden Abyss is highly recommended and I definitely felt like I got my money's worth from the Vita just based on this game.

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