Uncharted: Golden Abyss Hands-On Preview - Drake Finds Uncharted Territory on Vita
Written Thursday, December 22, 2011 By Lee BradleyView author's profile
Before we get stuck into the finer points of this Uncharted: Golden Abyss preview, let's get one thing out of the way first. It's Uncharted! On a handheld! How freaking amazing is that!? Good, now let's move on.
Golden Abyss represents not only the first time that Uncharted has appeared on a handheld, but also the first time that creators Naughty Dog has handed the series over to an exterior studio. As such, a number of question marks are left hanging over the project. Can Sony Bend possibly recreate the magic?
The preview build we've been toying with is essentially two sequential levels, giving us a decent overview of the platforming and sniping elements of the game, as well as a quick peek at some of the unique Vita functionality that Bend is squeezing into Drake's latest adventure.
It all starts with a fire. Coming to in a grungy room with barred windows, Drake clambers to his feet, clearly hurt. We've got no context to how he got there, or what is going on. All we know is that the building is on fire, there's a girl calling his name and he's trapped. Business as usual then.
The immediate feeling is one of familiarity. Drake handles and reacts exactly how you would expect. Identifying subtly glinting environmental objects, he clambers and climbs, reaches out for ledges, falls and clings by his fingertips in the way that we know and love.
Even the little details that Naughty Dog is famous for are present and correct. Move near to the flames, which grow in intensity as the level progresses, and Drake will shield himself from the heat, bringing his forearm up over his eyes. He wheezes and stumbles. He's vulnerable and human, basically, which is why we love him so much.
The new stuff comes in the form of features that only the Vita could pull off. While wandering around one of the rooms looking for an exit, I chanced upon a strange marking on the wall. A click of a button and I was prompted to take a rubbing of it for Drake's collection, something achieved by methodically dragging your finger back and forth across the slick touchscreen.
Similarly, at one stage – with the flames licking up around him – Drake had to cut his way through an obstacle with his machete, an action executed by following on-screen prompts to quickly slash your finger in the direction indicated. It's kind of like a swipey QTE. Just like the wall rubbings, it adds little to the experience, but neither does it detract from it.
Far better are the Mirror's Edge-eque balancing moments where you use the gyroscope to keep Drake upright and moving across a precarious, narrow surface. Understated but meaningful, it's exactly the right combination of novel and useful.
Of course, Drake escaped in the end. At the very last minute he reached the open window from which his new love-interest Marissa was calling and scrambled to safety just as the entire building was engulfed by fire. Phewph!
Next came the shooting. As soon as Drake escapes from the building, which turns out to be a dilapidated warehouse of sorts deep in the jungle, Marissa gets dragged off by a goon who holds her captive at distance. But guess what!? There's only a neat row of sniper rifles stacked up against the wall next to you. Handy.
After picking off the goon through the scoped sights of the rifle (while carefully avoiding putting a cap in your girlfriend's head), Drake then has to negotiate a fairly rote sequence in which he guides Marissa back to safety by picking off the snipers lining the rooftops. Their positions are revealed, predictably, by red dot tracer lights. One by one you take them out. Inch by inch Marissa makes it back to safety.
Next came the climax of the demo and the moment that I realised that Uncharted may struggle to work on a handheld. With Marissa back at your side, all of a sudden a convoy of vans rumble towards the building, stopping at distance for gunmen to jump out of. I was expecting a grand shootout. That's not what I got.
Instead, two men jumped out, I shot them and then I was prompted to put a few bullets into one of the trucks, which was rather handily stuffed with explosives. So I hit it, the entire convoy went up in flames and the demo was over. Job done.
Now, if this was a home console Uncharted game, there would have been a protracted combat sequence where the tension ratchets up - Drake and Marissa in increasing, nail-biting peril - until the final, climactic scene erupts in a giant orgasmic squall of fire and our heroes survive by the skin of their teeth.
Boil the Naughty Dog Uncharted games down and the individual elements - the combat and the platforming - may not be entirely perfect, but the way in which they are mixed, matched, paced and structured usually is. Naughty Dog are the master choreographers. Based on this little snippet, Uncharted: Golden Abyss is lacking.
But it's not Sony Bend's fault. The disappointment of this sequence is not necessarily a failing of the developers. Uncharted: Golden Abyss has to pan out in relatively bite-size vignettes. Its sections have to be short and sweet because it is a handheld game, not necessarily designed to be played at length. It lacks the requisite space to breathe.
What this means is that Bend simply can't ape the ebb and flow of the PS3 Uncharted titles. They have to find another way that fits the platform. And that's our only misgiving about a game that is otherwise remarkable. The best thing about the games Golden Abyss has to impersonate is nigh on impossible to achieve, given the format.
But hey, I'm being nitpicky here. It's Uncharted! On a handheld! How freaking amazing is that!?