Uncharted: Golden Abyss Preview

Until the day comes when there is no distinction between handheld consoles and home systems a mobile gaming production will never have to it the same depth and the same graphical quality that a home console game has. That isn't to say that handheld games are no good - there are some absolutely cracking titles out there, but none of them have the quality to them that they would have if they were freed from the technical barriers of the handheld. Thankfully the gap is narrowing and with Vita on the horizon we are beginning to see titles that are looking more and more like they have been made for the PS3 itself - a prime example of this being Uncharted: Golden Abyss.

With Naughty Dog working full time on Drake's Deception another team has stepped in to take the reins; Oregon-based Sony Bend, the company responsible for Resistance Retribution on the PSP. Utilising their already proven skill with portable Sony hardware Sony Bend have produced for us a brand new Uncharted title, a story taking place before Drake's Fortune, that fits in alongside the current series and returns to the jungle scene familiar to players of the first game.

This time around Drake will be travelling to the jungles in order to follow "the murderous trail of an ancient and secret Spanish sect" to investigate the massacre of a Spanish expedition 400 years ago. "Caught in the middle of a rivalry between Jason Dante - his old friend - and Marisa Chase - the granddaughter of an archeologist who has mysteriously vanished without a trace - Nathan Drake races into the treacherous river basins, undiscovered temple ruins and karst caverns of Central America in search of a legendary lost city, only to find himself pushed to the edge of the Golden Abyss".

For a handheld game the visual results that the developers have produced are stunning. The game really does a great job of imitating the environment style of Uncharted 1 with jungle scenes seen in the available footage feeling alive and packed with small details - things that in past games would have been plain textures are now models, and some beautiful dynamic lighting has been pulled off. Character models are beautifully done with Drake looking very much like his console-going self, his half-tucked shirt in place and characteristic swagger animated just as well as all the other host of movements he can pull off in fantastically animated style.

To throw a few numbers in - the polygon count is up to around 250,000, compare this to the ~50,000 in each frame of Retribution and you get an idea for just how much more depth can be put into the game. There are also upwards of 3000 different animations in the game so you won't constantly be looking at the same old tired movements. The Vita also allows for more technical work, advanced water mechanics are at play allowing bodies of water to wave and ripple realistically when Drake interacts with them.

According to those lucky enough to get hands-on with the game at E3 and the other big conferences where it has been on display the game controls very much like the console counterparts, the dual sticks meaning that controls are pretty much perfectly replicated. Of course the Vita comes equipped with so many control systems that Sony need to ship an extra hand with it in order for the user to use all of them and Bend have gone to town on integrating these new touch controls, happily though not at the sacrifice of standard systems.

These new controls usually take the form of touching context-specific areas of the screen - for example when climbing a rock face you could tap the next handholds for Drake to reach to or for ease - simply swipe a path between a number of holds. This can make life easier at times when you are negotiating tricky paths, a swipe upscreen and Drake figures it out for himself. It also can be used for melee where you tap and swipe across enemies to dictate the action. There is also a new element of touch based puzzles similar to those that make up entire games on the DS - puzzles such as clearing up fragments and putting them back together to reveal clues.

Final Thoughts

Sony Bend have had an absolute mountain to climb in replicating the superb experience that is the Uncharted franchise onto the Vita. Despite the odds against them they appear to have utilised all of their proven skills to produce a product that, for a handheld game, is visually stunning and looks to capture the life and feel of previous Uncharted games.

The integration of new touch controls gives a new way for the player to control Drake and is apparently quite fun to use - fear not though if you like good old buttons and sticks as the game is said to play exactly like the familiar console experiences. An incredible amount of effort has been put in to making Golden Abyss feel as close to the previous titles as possible.

The game currently lacks a release date but be sure that when it does arrive it will be one of the best games around and probably the number one title to own for the Vita.

Developer: Sony Bend
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment

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