E3 2011: Uncharted: Golden Abyss – hands-on preview with the NGP’s hottest game

It’s hardly surprising the meteoric success the Uncharted franchise has experienced when you think about the elements of success that go into each game: locations that include beautiful vistas, long-forgotten temples and snowy peaks, fast stop-and-pop gun play, intricate puzzle-solving, death-defying platforming and great stories with even better voice acting. With the much-anticipated third installment’s release date crawling towards us, we’re turning our attention to another entry in the stand-out series.

Set for release on Sony’s new NGP, Uncharted: Golden Abyss serves as a prequel of sorts to the main series. Developed by Bend Studios – the masterminds behind much of the Syphon Filter series and Resistance: Retribution – Golden Abyss is an original story that not only looks fantastic and plays great, but utilizes the NGP’s new touchscreen and accelerometer controls.

We were able to play a few sections of the game, of which took place near a temple we couldn’t quite catch the name of. Golden Abyss looks remarkably similar to most environments found in Drake’s Fortune, in that you’ll traverse through a temple with plenty of waterfalls, rushing creeks, sun-caked jungles and the foundations of temples that have been overtaken by nature. Comparisons aside, Abyss is gorgeous on the NGP’s five-inch screen, what with real-time lighting and water physics that soak your clothes, and eventually dry over time. Uncharted’s all about the details and we’re glad no corners have been cut to provide the experience fans expect. This is no rushed port, but a ground-up offering.

We started out in the middle of temple ruins. We needed to grab a rope and climb up a cliff side, but a bad guy was standing watch. We ran towards him and engaged in the first of the new touchscreen controls. With his back to us, we tapped the fist-shaped Melee icon on the right side of the screen, prompting us to shove him off a cliff and to his watery grave. If we were to engage him in a fist fight, we could further use the Melee icons to counter his attacks and serve him fists of our own. Keep in mind, you don’t have to use any of the touchscreen prompts for the game. They’re just integrated seamlessly.

Next was a climbing section, where we could either hold a direction on the analog stick and hit X as per usual, or we could tap exactly where we wanted to go. It’s a nice touch, but feels a little strange to get used to. We’ve played two of these console adventures now and know that the climbing sections are nice breathers in between gunfights and puzzles, enabling us to admire the landscape and titillating our platforming prowess. That said, the touchscreen didn’t always recognize where we wanted to go next or – worse – we had to touch the next handhold a few times because the game couldn’t register the exact place our finger had touched. Granted, this isn’t the final version of the game, so it could get fixed any time. And even if it doesn’t get fixed, it’s not a big deal, unless you count that it takes an extra microsecond for you to get to your destination. And on top of that, you’re sliding your hand in front of the screen, blocking your vision.

In another cool touch (ha!), you can tilt the NGP toward the gap you’re trying to leap across and tap where you want to go. The added functionality is neat and all but you can just easily hold the analog stick left and jump. Again, there’s nothing requiring that you use the touchscreen, but the option is there.

Soon we found ourselves in a gunfight, which thankfully felt familiar. We were able to hide behind pillars, pop up and unload on armed guards with an M4, before ducking and reloading our weapon. Now you can quickly change clips by tapping a weapon icon onscreen or even switch weapons by tapping the same icon over downed enemies. Same thing here; we’re used to button controls so it takes a while to get used to the new functionality. That said, the classic shooting controls feel familiar and comfortable with the added second thumbstick.

After this section, we were whisked to another part of the story where we were partnered with another guy who – from what we gathered – hires/blackmails/entices Drake to come with him to the temple to solve a mystery only our hero can. We’re sure the opening of the game sets the story up smoothly, but we were playing catch-up. And rest assured, the banter and voice-acting are all top notch. Nolan North is turning in another great performance as Nathan Drake. In all seriousness, when did North become the Orson Welles of voice acting?

Drake and his mystery friend rag on each other’s designer clothing and fire quips at each other while running up paths. Surely you’ve seen previews where you can make charcoal rubbings of statues by rubbing your finger over the touchscreen. It’s a neat touch for puzzle solving and feels a little like Bend Studios is adding a little Professor Layton for this handheld adventure.

The mystery guide mentions a General Guerrero, which ruffles Drake’s feathers. Who is this Guerrero? Why’s Drake afraid of him? Is Guerrero the villain? What exactly is the Golden Abyss? And where the hell is Sully? The answer to the last question must be somewhere because the two guys mention him. We don’t have many answers, but we do know the new touchscreen controls feel intuitive, but not instinctual. Maybe we just have to get used to playing established franchises with touch controls? It worked for motion controls, right?

We’ll have more on Uncharted: Golden Abyss as soon as possible. Stay tuned in the weeks to come for the tentative release date.

Jun 2, 2011

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