Wednesday, February 29

Golden Abyss swipes, rubs and cuts in the right direction

This post contains spoilers for Uncharted: Golden Abyss.

Uncharted: Golden Abyss features a Nathan Drake that I can live with. Not as in sharing the same domestic space. He's a charming young man -- don't get me wrong -- but he would cramp the married couple dynamic that my wife and I have. I mean "live with" as in I can forgive myself for liking him.

Why? Because this Nathan Drake isn't the murderous consumer of all things hidden, shiny and -- more often than not -- dangerous. Sure, he kills lots of thugs, but that's not all he does. Like the other Nathan Drake that I've spent time with, he runs, leaps and climbs up tall structures of ancient origin. This one also collects various relics and treasures that are littered throughout various temples and caves.

What's different about this Nathan Drake, however, is that he pauses, he investigates, he acknowledges danger. He acts more like Indiana Jones, the big screen hero that he is so often compared to. He examines sites for clues and even dusts them off  to confirm each item's historical context. He takes photos of ancient ruins and looks to group collected items and evidence based on the civilisations or "mysteries" to which they pertain.

 A lovable mess

This Drake is an explorer first and foremost, and a bloodthirsty grave robber second; well, that is until a recurring cast member gets involved at least. Still, I got enough of this new Drake to be satisfied that the series could cater to the "Adventure" side more than the "Action" in terms of the Action/Adventure genre.

I've read criticisms that the touch controls for the afformentioned clue cleaning and charcoal rubbing feel "tacked-on," but I think it creates a pace that is more suitable for a portable game. Gaming on the go means that you need to pause at inopportune times, and an action-heavy shooter with long peaks and short troughs in activity can make for a jarring experience. For example: as great a game as Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories is, I would argue it's not a very portable experience. You're always doing something in game, whether it be driving to a save point or mission marker, or completing some of the more lengthy missions, there's no break: no place to leave the action and  it can suffer as a result. Through these new touch-controlled sections of the game, Uncharted: Golden Abyss is punctuated perfectly. There's still enough shooting and jumping for this to be seen as a legitmate instalment in the series; but enough is new to differentiate it from its predecessors.

On the topic of jumping and platforming, the new swiping controls breathe life into what was starting to become a superfluous activity in Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception. The additonal control method in concert with new instances where players need to swipe upward in order to regain grip on some of the more shaky handholds reinvigorated my interest in this particular aspect of the series. There are missteps, but for the most part, I felt that the new touch controls kept me engaged.

Swipe up to converse

There are some poor design choices where controls are concerned, but they don't detract significantly from the overall experience. The need to swipe upward everytime a companion needs a boost and the silly gestures required to cut walls of bamboo and hanging cloth repeated to the point of nausea. One sequence towards the middle of the game (which I loved) requires exposing the back of the Vita to a light source, which may not be overly practical during your commute either. They work more often than not, but there have been some ill-considered control methods that have appeared thoughout the adventure.

As far as characterisation and controls go, Uncharted: Golden Abyss feels like a breath of fresh air in the context of the series at large. This new and (for the first few acts at least) less-violent Nathan Drake reads more like a witty adventurer, and less like a sociopath who likes treasure and dispatching scores of mercenaries.

What do you think of the new Nathan Drake? Do the new controls feel "tacked-on" and unnecessary, or have they added to your experience?

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