Can such a game go handheld? CAN IT?
First, a confession: I’ve never much cared for the Uncharted series. In fact, at the risk of being burned alive for crimes of heresy, I’d go so far as to say that I consider it one of the most over-rated, over-indulged franchises in videogames today. Sure, the PS3 trilogy looks lovely, and there has clearly been no shortage of love extolled upon bringing the ‘cast’ to life. But in their focus upon the cinematic (particularly chapters 2 and 3), they suffer from a myopic obsession with spectacle at the cost of, you know, actual interaction. For every runaway train high-spot, there are a dozen thumb twiddling expositions boasting varying degrees of sass, sexual tension and Sully.
Now we come to Uncharted: Golden Abyss – the real heavyweight title in Sony’s Vita launch line-up – and the interesting thing is that the critical reception for the game has been, well, ok; lots of solid 8/10 reviews, and a consistent thread of criticism from one to the next. It lacks the set pieces; it’s a B-Movie compared to its blockbuster brothers; it’s a little too simplistic; the birds aren’t as fit (ok, I made that one up).
Wrong Sully, bellend.
So why is it, that having played through Golden Abyss, I suddenly find myself enthralled by this adventure in a way that none of the other games had previously managed? Is it just because I am a contrary twat who wants to swim against the tide? Or is it that, just maybe, when judged on its own merits, in the context of hand-held gaming, this is actually a remarkable title that suits its new portable landscape fantastically well?
The more modest-sized chapters that structure Drake’s outing in Central America give Golden Abyss a ‘dip-in, dip-out’ quality, ensuring the narrative doesn’t fracture under the duress of pressurised play time, and even beyond that, regular checkpoints ensure a relatively painless outcome should you need to switch off at short notice (like when approaching a roundabout). The combat is as robust as ever (ie sub Gears of War, but pretty much on a par with the best of the rest), and once you’ve adjusted to the sensitivity of the analogue sticks, aiming and unloading works perfectly well. There’s even some novel use of the touch screen for zooming cameras and sniper rifles (which works great), as well as for several other contextual actions (some good, some tedious).
What cannot be in any doubt is the technical achievement on display here. From the dappled light that plays on Drake’s face as he walks under a forest canopy to the smoke rising from a chimney in the night sky – this is one of the most beautiful games I have ever seen. It may not be pushing quite so many polygons around as its bigger brothers, nor be outputting in 1080p – but nevertheless, it is achingly gorgeous. If the game clocks in at around 11 hours or so, but you’ll very easily add an extra couple just standing around and admiring the view.
Bring it all together, and this more focussed, slim-line Drake experience is a revelation. Not so much killer app, as proof of concept that the Vita really can deliver home console quality games in the palm of your hand.