By Max Neopikhanov
Just before Indiana Jones cuts a suspended rope bridge in the Temple of Doom, sending his screaming adversaries into the maw of a great river, Short Round, his tenacious little sidekick, delivers one of more memorable lines in the film: “He’s no nuts, he’s crazy!”
Uncharted’s treasure hunter protagonist Nathan Drake is certainly no Indiana Jones, despite the many parallels that can be drawn between the two series. But he’s earned the reputation of being a little nuts due to the many seemingly impossible stunts he’s pulled off in the Uncharted trilogy. By comparison, Drake’s personality is rather tame and undeveloped in Uncharted: Golden Abyss, the newest installment in the series.
Fortunately, the quality of the game’s individual parts makes up for the some lack of originality in plot and characterization. Golden Abyss may not have the explosive, cinematic production values of the PS3 Uncharted games – themselves influenced by films like Raiders of the Lost Ark, Die Hard and the old penny dreadful books.
Yet it has its compelling moments.
Golden Abyss chronicles one of Nathan Drake’s explosive adventures prior to the main trilogy. The young Drake – voiced again by Nolan North – is recruited by a treasure hunter called Dante. According to Drake, he’s “a friend from the old days” who’ll help find unknown wealth somewhere inCentral America. Within an hour of play, Drake is introduced to Dante’s partner Marisa Chase, and they soon discover clues to a 400 year-old massacre of those unfortunates involved in a Spanish expedition.
As the mystery unfolds, Dante is revealed to be somewhat of a psychopath and the dichotomy between his personality and Drake’s brings their friendship into question. One flaw in the characterization is easily noticeable – Drake constantly derides Dante’s character yet follows him heedlessly, stealing treasure at every possible opportunity. It’s an astounding flaw.
The absence of veteran Uncharted writer Amy Hennig may be noticeable to long time fans of the series, but the Golden Abyss’ sarcastic, cliché dialogue is definitely more tolerable on a five-inch screen and in bite-sized increments than it would be on the PS3 in your living room. To enhance the extremely linear story which includes 34 chapters and a prologue, the developers included a plethora of treasures to collect and photographs to take. It takes a really sharp eye to get all of them and many give insight into both the overlapping historical narrative and the motivations behind some of the characters.
Though the writing may leave you wanting, Golden Abyss’ visual presentation looks nearly as good as any console version of Uncharted. Right away, you notice the beautifully rendered levels as Drake traverses jagged cliffs and swings on lush vines as soldiers and mercenaries try to gun him down. A.I. is fairly – but not completely – adept at reacting to Drake’s movements. The somewhat frantic enemies work in tandem to flush him out with grenades, sniper rifles, and shot gun rush tactics. Like its console brethren, Golden Abyss features third person over-the-shoulder gunplay along with cover mechanics.
One puzzling decision by the developer is this: the player has to use the touch screen to navigate through menus with no given option of using the buttons. One particularly ingenious puzzle, which required that one of the Vita’s cameras be held up against a strong light source to be solved, completely stopped my play session while I traveled on my daily commute on a subway train. For the first time in all my years of gaming, I could not physically solve a video game puzzle because I was unwilling to stand up and hold my Vita against the fluorescent light in a train packed full of people.
In what admittedly may be an isolated incident, I realized that developers of handheld games need to incorporate gameplay and control mechanics that one shouldn’t be embarrassed to perform in public.
After nearly 14 hours of generally engaging platforming and gun-play, the credits rolled. My disappointment at the predictable ending faded as I powered off my system and stepped off the train at my stop. I think I’ll play it again tomorrow and get the all the secrets and trophies I missed.
Max Neopikhanov is a journalist and gamer who lives in New York City. This is Max Neopikhanov’s first story for the Circle. More of Neopikhanov’s work can be found at http://hightechmonster.com . The New York Videogame Critics Circle is committed to giving promising writers a platform for their views. Send us a note with your ideas.