Launching any new piece of video game hardware is an incredibly tricky proposition. To encourage consumers to pay top wack for the privilege of becoming early adopters, it isn’t enough to thrust the kind of sleek, revolutionary new device under their noses that gets them salivating at the mouth and straining at the leash. Convincing them to loosen the purse strings until their slack enough to allow the usually sizable amount to tumble out also requires that killer title which acts as both a justification for the expense and a showcase for the system’s prowess.
With stakes so high, and smart phones unrelenting in their continuing erosion of Sony and Nintendo’s previous monopoly on the portable gaming market, it’s hard not to imagine a Mission: Impossible 2-style scenario where Nathan Drake’s holiday is interrupted, half way up a sheer cliff face, by Jack Tretton in a buzzing helicopter.
“I’m sorry to bring your vacation to such an abrupt end Mr Drake, but there’s something big on the horizon, and you’re the only man who can help.”
For the PlayStation Vita, having a brand new Uncharted game ready at launch is a huge shot in the arm. While it took many months for Mario to finally make his way onto the 3DS, Sony’s champion is ready to go from day one. It’s a clear statement of intent from the Japanese electronics giant of the commitment and confidence they have for their new portable system.
And let’s make no mistake. Golden Abyss is a fully-fledged Uncharted game. Well, so close to a full PS3 Uncharted game running on a handheld that it seems almost churlish to mention the handful of compromises that have been made. It’s exactly the kind of full-blooded console experience you just can’t get on an iPhone or other portable device: duel analog sticks, precise and dedicated controls, take-your-breath away visuals and complex action/adventure gameplay.
While this time around it’s Sony Bend Studio rather than series creators Naughty Dog at the helm, Golden Abyss seems to have all the required components to enable it to sit comfortably in the company of all of the previous Uncharted games. Set as a prequel to the original Uncharted, the story transplants Drake to South America, once again doing his signature, laid back Indiana Jones impersonation, this time while on the hunt for a lost city of gold.
In traditional Uncharted style, there’s set to be affectionate and playful handling of character relationships, a series of stunning backdrops and an entire novel’s worth of good old fashion adventuring as Nate tries to navigate his way through an entire army of enemies and a romantic entanglement along with the jungles and ancient ruins.
As well as the standard climbing, shooting and sneaking, Golden Abyss also makes use of a range of the Vita’s tricks. Instead of having to use the standard controls to move from handhold to handhold whilst scaling walls, you can, instead, plot Drake’s route by stroking your finger across the system’s front touch screen. Melee combat and stealth attacks are also now touch-based, while the player will also be able to pick up and examine treasures and items, and make charcoal rubbings by performing a range of different movements on the system’s screen. There’s even a challenge to capture photos of some of the game’s most stunning vistas by using the Vita as Drake’s new virtual camera.
In the most fundamental ways, however, Golden Abyss stays extremely true to the Uncharted lineage. But while it was never intended to begin a revolution for the series, it is aiming to usher in a revolution in handheld gaming. And in this regard it could well be the title that ushers in the golden age of the PlayStation Vita when it launches with the system on 22nd February.
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