Is Golden Abyss The Vita’s Golden Ticket?
On PlayStation 3, the Uncharted series redefined what a cinematic game experience could be. Each game in the series has introduced increasingly grandiose set and some of the best voice and character acting in the industry. But now Nathan Drake is exploring his most unfamiliar territory yet: Sony’s upcoming PlayStation Vita. And with Naughty Dog out of the driver’s seat, many fans are wondering if Uncharted: Golden Abyss will live up to the series’ high standards on the small screen.
Though Naughty Dog isn’t working on Golden Abyss, fans should be reassured to learn that Sony’s Bend Studio is at the helm. Bend Studio has been responsible for the Siphon Filter series, including bringing that series and Resistance to the PSP. And unlike the concessions that needed to be made for PSP adaptations, Vita has a nearly identical control layout to the PlayStation 3. So obviously dual-analog aiming is going to be a huge factor in bringing Golden Abyss closer to the console experience, but that doesn’t mean there won’t be some Vita-specific twists to take advantage of the new technology.
In addition to dual analog aiming, Uncharted: Golden Abyss will feature what Sony calls its Intu-Aim system. Essentially, this adds tilt control when a weapon is drawn for greater accuracy. For example, players can easily make large camera movements with the right stick to target enemies, then tilt the system slightly to pick off head shots or a stray limb peeking out from behind cover with pinpoint accuracy. The feature can be turned off entirely by purists, but this should start sounding very appealing to anyone who has ever lamented that a mouse and keyboard is more accurate than a controller.
Intu-Aim isn’t all that’s new, as Uncharted: Golden Abyss will take advantage of the Vita’s touchscreen. Picking up weapons and ammo is as simple as tapping on them and swiping your finger across a ledge will send Drake shimmying to the other side. When a collectible treasure is nearby, a context-sensitive touchscreen icon will appear on the screen next to the right stick. At other times the context-sensitive icon could indicate an opportunity to interact with the environment. For example, tapping it as a machete icon could start a quick-time event where Drake cuts a path through the jungle as the player swipes on the screen. Given how prominent environmental puzzles have been in past Uncharted games, using the touchscreen could open up whole new possibilities in Golden Abyss.
The Vita’s back touch panel will even come into use, as players alternate tapping to simulate Drake climbing hand over hand up a rope or ladder. Conventional controls will still be an option for actions like shimmying, but Bend Studios is trying to get the most out of the Vita’s various inputs to make Uncharted a showpiece for the system.
Of course, it wouldn’t be a cinematic Uncharted game without an epic story. While most of the specifics are still being held secret, Uncharted: Golden Abyss takes place before the events of Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune. But Bend Studios has been very careful to say it is a stand-alone game, not a prequel. This means familiar faces like Elena most likely won’t pop up, as Drake and Sully meet, collaborate with, and inevitably get betrayed by a whole new cast of characters. Bend Studios has said the game will feature over two hours of cutscenes in total, so it’s clear that story will be a large focus in the game. The only question is how well all those cutscenes will translate to a handheld game.
If there is only room for one PlayStation Vita game on your list for February 22, Uncharted: Golden Abyss aims to be the one to beat. It looks to offer the full Uncharted experience on a handheld, with a few tweaks here and there to fully take advantage of Vita’s features like tilt control and a touchscreen. And with the promise of a brand new stand-alone story, Golden Abyss could be the just the justification to make Vita worth every penny.
A Golden Opportunity
In just a few short years, the Uncharted series has risen to a status most games can only dream of. Today you’d be hard-pressed to find a PS3 owner who hasn’t racked up some serious Uncharted hours, and even PlayStation phobics would admit to having some interest in the adventures of Nathan Drake. With only two games to his credit so far (and two more coming soon), Drake’s ability to attract an audience beyond core gamers is catapulting him up the list of all-time best game heroes. One could even argue he’s as admired by Sony fans as Mario is by Nintendo fans.
Developers at SCE Bend Studio are behind the reigns of the game design for this Uncharted endeavor. That doesn’t mean series creator Naughty Dog is sitting idly by, as both companies are working in tandem to make sure Golden Abyss contains all the elements that made past entries so successful, from the story to the iconic vista to Drake’s unique character model.
The timeline precedes that of the first console adventure, Drake’s Fortune, although it is not considered a prequel. Throughout the story, there will be indications to and encounters with some familiar characters to the series, but a selection of new allies and adversaries fill the cast. The two most notable will have a personal effect on Drake’s decision making, as well as the story itself. Jason Dante, an old friend of Drake’s, is on the hunt for a legendary lost city in Central America and the treasures it undoubtedly contains. Dante’s rival, Marisa Chase, is on a different quest, attempting to piece together the mysterious disappearance of her grandfather. Caught between these two struggles, Nathan is also trying to unravel the secrets of a 400-year-old massacre by an ancient Spanish sect.
The PlayStation Vita certainly grants the freedom to create a full adventure instead of a trimmed-down one-act. A powerful processor allows for advanced rendering techniques, such as character and water shaders, as well as dynamic lighting. On top of that, Golden Abyss will boast over two hours of cinematic content.
Although the style of gameplay remains relatively intact, the controls are where we see this game break from its console brethren. (Although, “break” might be the wrong word to use, since veterans of the DualShock controller will not be without the classic twin-stick style they hold dear.) The Vita simply offers an alternative for those keen on a more tactile experience, using the front touchscreen, back touchpad, and motion-sensing technology. From exploration to combat, almost all actions can be achieved through simple taps and tilts. Swinging on a rope, for example, can be accomplished by first tapping the rope onscreen, which makes Drake jump and grab it, and then tilting the machine back and forth to cause the swinging action in order to reach the opposite side. Moving along a cliff face can be managed using a touchscreen method dubbed “painting edges,” where you drag a path for Drake to follow. Stealth kills and melee combat are ways to get your finger into the fight, as well swapping and reloading weapons. Many other exclusive Vita control features have already been displayed, with many more to be discovered, but the seamless flexibility between touch and classic controls will allow gamers to instantly switch between the two schemes without interrupting the flow of the action.
Beyond movement and combat controls, Golden Abyss will also introduce some interesting minigames, which are tied into the story itself using Drake’s journal. At any time, you’ll be able to whip out your camera and take a snapshot of the gorgeous and untamed backdrops by moving the Vita around like you would an actual camera with an LCD screen. For the minigame, there are series of reference photos that, when the locations are deciphered and photographed, will present you with scores based on the compared pictures, rewarding you with trophies for your efforts. Using the touchscreen to make charcoal rubbings and then piecing them into a puzzle is another simple but satisfying use of the unique controls. Other extras include side mysteries to solve and obscure treasures to collect, all designed to satisfy those completionist gamers.
The initial success of any new gaming system has less to do with innovation and upgraded power and more to do with the games launched alongside it. (The lackluster sales of the 3DS thus far are evidence.) Nathan Drake has a golden opportunity here to shine for a greater cause, and it would be interesting to poll how many Vitas are sold purely for the portable Uncharted title.
Hold onto your hats, because although SCE Bend Studio has not revealed a release date, we do know that Uncharted: Golden Abyss is well into production. Hopefully that means it will make the Vita’s launch window.