Nathan 'Nate' Drake, loveable scamp and star of the hugely popular Sony-exclusive Uncharted franchise, was an obvious choice as a poster child for Sony's next-generation handheld.
But can he survive the considerable drop from home console to portable console, or will he end up in a dead heap?
Like the trilogy of Uncharted games on the PlayStation 3, Golden Abyss is a beautiful and theatrical action-adventure title with a smattering of platforming and puzzle-solving. It's a completely new story, set some time before the first in the series: Drake's Fortune.
Nate's day starts out like any other, with him strolling in the South American rainforest with old pal and mercenary Jason Dante trying to solve a 400-year-old mystery at some ruins. Then everything goes horribly wrong as Nate meets the crazy General Guerro, who Dante is working for.
Luckily, Dante's friend Marisa Chase is on hand to help spice things up. Her grandfather, who has mysteriously vanished, originally discovered the ruins and holds the key to solving the mystery.
Before long, more plot twists ensue and Nate goes off to find an old friend to help him figure it all out, save the girl, and kill many people.
Golden Abyss does a superb job of shrinking Uncharted down to portable dimensions while retaining its visual splendour. The majestic mountainous setting of South America looks stunning on the Vita's panoramic 5-inch screen, as do the the character models.
When Nate's clothes get wet, they darken and glisten. As you trek through the jungle you can see shafts of light streaming down from the canopy of trees, and shadows playing on the ground.
The motion captured cut-scenes - and there are more than two hours of them - are a joy to watch and keep you engaged in the story.
Not all thumbs
The plot gets going fairly slowly, with the early stages of the game focusing on basic running, jumping, and shooting.
The touch controls can feel a little clumsy at first, being out of thumbs' reach. But you'll soon forget about buttons. Using the touchpad makes it feel as though Nate is following orders rather than responding, puppet-like, to prompts.
Sliding your finger over a series of handholds will have him follow that path. Every so often there's a gap between ledges that's a little too wide and Drake just can't grab on. In this scenario you tilt the Vita to make him reach out and tap to make him jump.
Your first encounter with the enemy is a stealthy one, as you tap on a bad guy at the top of a cliff to reach up and throw him off.
Subsequent hand-to-hand battles kick off in much the same way if you can approach unseen. If you're spotted you engage in sequences of taps and swipes for slow-mo combos, rather than silent but deadly single attacks.
This is one area where there isn't an alternative to the touchscreen, and at times you may wish there was. A mis-swipe can result in painful consequences for Nate - all the more frustrating during a lengthly boss fight.
One in the chamber (of secrets)
Once enemies start shooting, it's time to fight fire with guns. The game strikes a nice balance, with battles that are fast-paced enough to get the adrenaline pumping while short enough never to get boring. Enemy reinforcements trickle in, and the AI is smart enough to keep you busy.
Aiming with the right stick is very sensitive and takes some getting used to, but the Vita makes fine-tuning a cinch with its use of Sixaxis motion control.
You can aim your weapon by physically moving the console around: just imagine that the gun Drake is holding is sticking out the back of your Vita and you get the idea. The lady in the next seat on the train might not appreciate how much fun this is, but thankfully it requires just small movements to achieve the effect.
There are less embarrassing new ways to control Nate, too. Slide your fingers down the back of the Vita, hand over hand, and you'll climb up ropes or row a boat.
The rear touch panel is also used for zooming while using the sniper rifle or Drake's camera. This makes it easier than ever to aim and zoom simultaneously, and while strafing too. If you're on a wobbly ledge, tilting the device will help you to balance.
If there is one omission from the game, it's the complete lack of any kind of online component. While Golden Abyss manages to find a use for every possible control method the Vita has to offer, there's no multiplayer, no co-op, nor even a tie-in to Near.
That's not to say you're not getting your money's worth. With 15 - 20 or more hours of gameplay and dozens of collectible items, the campaign offers plenty to do. Add to that the five difficulty levels and there's a lot of scope for replayability.Uncharted: Golden Abyss is an essential purchase. It really shows off what the new handheld can do, squeezing the best bits of home console gaming into your pocket, adding some new modes of interaction and taking nothing away in the process.
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