Uncharted: Golden Abyss has singlehandedly sold me on the PSVITA. Not that it didn’t all sound well and good before, what with its promised near PS3 quality graphics, dual analog sticks, front and back touch screens, sixaxis motion controls and forward and back facing cameras. But after having some hands-on time with the VITA and Uncharted: GA, it is hard to deny myself the pleasure of following Drake’s adventures on the go.
Now, Uncharted: GA doesn’t seem to bring much new to the table as far as the series goes. However, I’m not sure anyone really expects it too. What you are getting is another full-feature adventure with Playstation users’ favorite everyman, Nathan Drake. While the story does take place preceding the events of the first Uncharted game, in our interview with Sony Bend developer Sr. Staff Environmental Artist Brian Pape and Sr. Manger Production Gerald Harrison, they were quick to say that it wasn’t a prequel. They also mentioned that there would be some other familiar faces making a return for the VITA installment. It is even more comforting to know that Nolan North will continue to reprise his irreplaceable role as Nathan Drake.
But it is not good that story should be alone, rather the perfect marriage of extremely polished, varied and awesome gameplay along with natural and integrated story telling are what have propelled and perpetuated this series to its great heights. Therefore, fans will be eager to know how it plays. Well, this writer is overjoyed to report that it handled like a dream.
Anyone that knows their way around a Dualshock 3 controller will be taking cover, jumping chasms, and capping peons whilst dangling macho-like from ledges in no time at all. The VITA felt a bit foreign in my hand for about the first 2 minutes while I got acquainted with its physical differences from a standard controller, but once I got used to the way the oral-ish device contoured to the shape of my hands things felt great. There are a few key differences that have been revealed so far that will truly differentiate the PSVITA Uncharted from the home console ones in the way of controls.
The VITA allows players to do a wide array of actions by simply tapping or sliding their fingers across the screen. Small things like reloading are done by tapping the weapon icon on the screen (which is good since there are no (L2 and R2 equivalent buttons). More elaborate actions like meleeing can be done with VITA’s physical face buttons or by swiping your fingers in the direction you wish Drake to strike. On screen prompts help you to determine what the best way to do these are. The most impressive use of the VITA touch screen and motion controls were related to climbing, though. If you want Drake to start shimming up stone ledges or navigating them side-to-side, all you do is slide you finger from where he is and touch each thing you want him to grab along the way. It actually required far less effort on my part to do that than holding down the analog stick until he crossed the full length of each platforming section. And, the player has control to send Drake to as many or as few ledges or whatever he may be traversing as they please. Swinging and jumping behind where you are facing are easy as well. The player simply tilts the VITA right or left to correspond to the desired directions of movement and voilà – Drake turns and jumps at the tap of the screen or touch of the “X” button.
The best thing about almost all the motion controls and screen touch based movements is that they are all possible with the physical buttons. If you find them clunky or unsatisfying (which I did not at all), then the option is generally there not to use them. But everything worked so insanely well that I felt compelled to use almost all the new touch screen and motion commands. Luckily, you are able to combine the control styles as well. Let’s take for instance the tilting of the screen to make Drake turn around to grab a ledge that is behind him, if you want to jump using the “X” button instead of tapping the screen you can still do that. Most importantly, both control schemes are fun.
The enemy AI still seemed as aggressive and smart as ever. Cover still worked well, and I was still able to pull off headshots like I came out the womb with a controller in hand. The graphics look absolutely stunning, just like its PS3 brethren: The vistas are meant for gazing upon, the textures are crisp and sharp, and the audio was improved even over Uncharted 2 in some areas (like gun shots). Sony Bend stated that the PSVITA Uncharted has only been in development for a “little over a year,” but it’s hard to believe with the polished product that I played. While story details are scarce from the developer, everything about Drakes first foray onto the PSVITA has me very eager to fall blissfully into the Golden Abyss.