Mascot Turned Masthead
The Uncharted franchise has become almost synonymous with Sony’s PlayStation brand. It only makes sense that Sony utilise the series’ reputation and popularity as a flagship title for the upcoming PlayStation Vita. That’s right Mr. Drake, you may be able to traverse dangerous tombs and possibly even dodge bullets, but even you cannot escape the encroaching force that call themselves the Sony marketing team!
Uncharted: Golden Abyss will be Mr. Drake’s first portable outing, hence it seems natural to question whether Sony’s new handheld will be capable of delivering the high expectations of the series. Golden Abyss will need to pull out all the stops to showcase the capabilities of the device and to point the way for the Vita’s future.
Not So Big Now, Are You!
The process of shrinking ‘Nate’ from standing at about 6 feet tall to just under 5-inches is tricky at best and is destined to involve some sacrifices. The Vita is a powerful machine and even if it is not realistic to want to retain Uncharted 2: Among Thieves’s quality of graphics, we are in for a visual feast. With 260,000 frames per second, 160 megs of textures and over 3,000 animations pulled straight from the Naughty Dog libraries, Golden Abyss certainly manages to impress. Environments and textures are detailed and match the depth usually seen on a television screen. The game is colourful, full of rich green foliage and generally sticks to a natural-feeling, earthy palette.
Gorgeous jungles, rapid waters, hidden tombs and bright sunshine are just some of the environments you will encounter in the game. Each supported by dynamic lighting and advanced water shaders that add to the authenticity and impact of the game’s overall look in a way not seen on a handheld before. Sunlight will blind the player when it peeps through the jungle canopy, and exiting deep water will leave Nate soggy until his clothes eventually drip dry. While these visuals are standard fare for the series, seeing them on a 5-inch screen held in your hands is somewhat of a marvel.
A Mini Adventure
Nathan’s first portable adventure is set before the events of Drake’s Fortune. Oddly enough, Sony Bend - the studio in charge of developing the game - has been insistent that this is not a prequel. The plot of Golden Abyss will see Nate chasing down a legendary lost city in Central America; there is mention that he will be uncovering the dark secret behind a secret Spanish sect that caused an expedition to result in a massacre some 400 years ago. This all sounds very familiar, possibly too familiar? Sony intended to follow the series’ winning formula, but we can’t shake the feeling that they may have almost copied the plot from Drake’s Fortune. Not that we’re worried though. Amy Hennig is co-writing the story of Golden Abyss to ensure that it will match the style and quality of the series.
Jason Dante will be joining Nate on his adventure. This smooth talking New Yorker has adventured with Nate many times previously, and consequently the two have grown quite the friendship. This is evidenced in the banter that takes place between the two; joking around and challenging each other like a couple of schoolboys. We’ll have to do without Elena, but fear not, a new female character will be introduced. Though not much is known of Marisa Chase at this time, we do know that she is in a rivalry with Dante. The tenacity of this dispute is not clear, but whatever the case, Nate is caught in the crossfire as he races to find the lost city. Marisa may have an ulterior motive that hints at a potential plot twist: her archaeologist grandfather vanished without a trace on a similar expedition.
Approximately two hours of cutscenes will weave the plotline in the typical cinematic style of the series throughout which the characters are given voice by the regular, superb cast of actors.
Touch Me…All Over
Having been shrunk down to the size of a large bug has unsurprisingly left Mr. Drake a little weary on his feet. The Vita’s touch screen comes in handy during the many treacherous platforming sections. While hanging on a crevice, the player only needs to tap the next crevice they want Drake to reach to make it so. You can also drag a single finger along multiple crevices - known as ‘painting the path - to see Nate jump each in sequence. The touchscreen is also used in combat. A finger on the touchscreen is used to determine the arc of a grenade throw and stealth takedowns on unaware enemies are made easy through a simple tap on the screen. Melee combat is also manageable by tapping the enemy on the screen. When you do, a number of symbols pop up in a seamless quick-time event style and swiping your finger up and down performs uppercuts and body blows to the enemy.
The Vita’s rear touchpad is used when climbing a rope vertically with each finger representing one of Nate’s arms as he ascends. Golden Abyss also uses the accelerometer and players can tilt the portable the way they want Nate to lean when hanging on a crevice. Similarly, momentum is built when swinging on a rope by mimicking the to-and-fro action with the portable in hand. Balancing across a beam is made more intense with the accelerometer, requiring the player to have a steady hold on the Vita to succeed. Lastly, when using a sniper rifle and looking down the scope, the aim is controlled by moving the portable device about in the player’s hands.
A number of puzzles will be specifically designed around the capabilities of the Vita. One example has the player rubbing their fingers over the screen to unveil a charcoal etching in four separate tablets. Once unveiled, the tablets have to be sorted and rotated into the correct position using your fingers, all to reveal a clue.
Breaking The Divide
There is no doubt that Uncharted: Golden Abyss will deliver the same quality as its console brethren and its obvious role as the PlayStation Vita’s flagship title is well deserved. The game will not disappoint in reiterating the tried and true Uncharted formula, but will make great use of the features of the portable. The new controls are merely optional so if you are not ready to join the touchscreen revolution just yet, you can simply continue to use the old control scheme. If anything, this illustrates how casual and core players can enjoy the same game equally through innovation and clever use of technology.