Uncharted: Golden Abyss (2011) Video Game Review

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We’re nearing an end here people…This is the second last Uncharted game that I’ll be covering for a while.  After this, it will be Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End, and when Uncharted: The Lost Legacy becomes available…well, you know the gist of it.

Released about a month or 2 after Uncharted 3 came out on the PS3, The Golden Abyss was 1 of the first games for the Playstation Vita, and 1 that stood out for utilising the Vita’s unique controls.  What’s our story?  Well, it’s a prequel to Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune.  Before Nathan ever met Elena, Chloe, Charlie, Eddy Raja or Harry Flynn (or so it seems), he knew Jason Dante, a smart-mouth used-car salesman archetype who happens to be pretty rich and capable of hiring an army as part of his work as an explorer (He also reminds me of the actor Saverio Guerra).  The other is Marisa Chase, who happens to be Dante’s partner, but who also doesn’t trust him.  The game is set in some old ruins in Panama, where Chase is trying to retrace her Grandfather’s steps.  Her grandfather, Vincent Perez, had found an amulet that was connected to the site and could lead to treasure.  However it becomes clear that Dante was doing more than he let on, as he reveals his partner isn’t Chase, but rather the paranoid, power-hungry warlord known as Roberto Guerro.

Now to discuss what parts are golden and what are of the abyss…or somewhere in between:

First of all, the graphics.  This game is the definition of what it means to play a PS3 on a handheld console.  It is very, very impressive, even to this day.  We’ve come a long way from Game Boy Color.

The art style could be best determined as this:  This is a Handheld game, therefore to save space, it is sometimes better if you have less to look at.  In this case, it comes with the visual variety.  Part of the appeal to Uncharted games is that the setting and backgrounds are constantly changing, with many numerous scenarios that could act as “levels” (or Chapters).  We would be given the insides of houses, museums, city streets, ancient ruins, mansions, beaches, mountains, jungles, trains, airports, undergrounds, rain, snow, shine, day and night, from seemingly all over the globe, and they make each game very different due to the chosen locations.  What makes The Golden Abyss different to the rest of the series in this area is the fact that you get the jungle, ruins, rivers, the inside of storehouses, small villages, caves, and cutscenes of Chases’ museum-like home…and that’s it.  The other games are a wild goose chase around the globe, and feel as such.  Here, our characters know that any treasure they’re looking for is in this area, but it’s a matter of ‘where, right here’.  Some could even argue that this feels like it begins in the middle of an Uncharted game, but the fact that the 1st half or so is a flashback will say otherwise.  Is it still a pretty game?  Yes, and it looks fantastic on handheld.  But the lack of things to see  when compared to the rest of the series could make the game feel a bit long.

The characters in general are at least as good, if not better, than Uncharted 1.  But it’s not in league with 2, 3 and 4.  It’s nice to see more of Drake and Sully, but this feels like a filler episode for these characters.  If 1, 2 and 3 (and 4) were their big, big adventures, then this was 1 of their more typical heists.  Nathan and Sully’s banter was the highlight of the game’s dialogue.  Jason Dante is a good “pest/asshole villain” in the sense that you wouldn’t mind shutting him up and dislike his decision to wear endangered species on his feet.  Chase isn’t a bad female lead, and is very different to Elena and Chloe in the sense that what she is involved in is literally out of her league – Unlike Elena and Chloe, she has little experience in fighting, and is very much book-smart.  She can even come across as a bit naive and a daydreamer – at times walking the thin line of confident and stupid…Which can be argued as a quality of Nate – but Nate is a professional in the other necessary qualities.  Guerro is your typical paranoid, power hungry maniac who would be a dictator in a corrupt government on some island south of Florida or India who would plaster his image on every street corner, and fit in well as El Presidente in the Tropico game series.  Not much else to say about him.

The voice acting, despite the lack of pauses in dialogue, is actually very good.  The writer could be seen as to blame more so than the actors, but they went with what they were given and did very well with it.

The story is good, but at the same time an element of it feels…like fan fiction.  Amy Hennig, 1 of the 3 original writers, was the story consultant, but it was actually written by John Garvin, who is also the director of the game.  Nate and Sully are about 70-80% accurate when compared to the trilogy, and while banter plays a role in the series as a whole (aiding in the enjoyment factor), the banter in this game feels…forced.  Yes there’s sarcasm, tall tales, locker room jabs and deprecating humour, but here it felt like it was being thrown as fast as possible against a wall.  In ‘Fortune, ‘Thieves, ‘Deception (and ‘End…finished it recently), there is a delicate balance between the narrative dialogue and the character-developing chit-chat, but here the chit-chat is…fast…very fast.  There are few pauses in between lines and if their minds matched their mouths, they’re thinking as sharply as Doctors and improv comedians.  It doesn’t have the same weight as the main series in terms of danger, highs and lows.  But it’s a decent side-episode that follows (most) of the usual formula…minus the round-the-world chase.

The music is once again by Greg Edmundson, and most of it is recycled from the trilogy.  It’s still fantastic though.

The gameplay is good, and likes to utilise the various characteristics that the Vita brings, including the ability to either tap your jump by pressing your finger on the screen at where you want to go, or by simply using the analogue stick.  You’re also given the mini-games that include cleaning dirt off items by rotating it with the back of the vita and cleaning it by rubbing the Vita’s screen with your finger, as well as creating charcoal rubbings of the stone patterns.  You also have to swipe your finger across the screen in the right direction as part of a sequence in order to perform a successful melee attack.  Outside of simply exploring the areas and fighting the traditional way, much of these gameplay qualities come across as very gimmicky, and not necessary.

Would I recommend Uncharted: Golden Abyss?  Yes – but I don’t recommend it in the same way I would recommend the Uncharted trilogy.  Is it a good reason to get a Playstation Vita?  It’s 1 good reason – but Gravity Rush, Persona 4 Golden and several digital PSP games would make it much more worthwhile.  Is it a necessary part of the Uncharted Series?  I don’t think so.  But is it a good instalment to the Uncharted series for those who can’t get enough Uncharted?  Yes.

Graphics: ***** (For the Vita, **** in general)

Art Style: ****

Characters: ***1/4

Voice Acting: ****1/4

Gameplay: ***3/4

Story: ***

Music: *****

Overall: ****


Batman: Arkham City (2011) Video Games Review

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NOTE: This review will contain spoilers of Arkham Asylum.  If you haven’t played it first, I insist that you do before reading this.

After Arkham Asylum exceeded all expectations of a Batman video game, some might wonder if it was possible to do it again, only with a new story, new background and new characters mixed with old.  Thankfully, Rocksteady not only did this…they may have shown us their own personal growth as developers.

Set once again in February, a year after the Arkham Asylum incident and in Bruce Wayne’s 8th year as the Mask Vigilante – Gotham experiences a unique scenario.  1 where the new Mayor of Gotham, Quincy Sharp (The Warden of Arkham Asylum, who took all of Batman’s credit and admiration over the incident), decides that in order to keep Gothamites happy and safe, it would be better to divide the whole city into 2.  On 1 half, you have Gotham City…and on the other, is Arkham City.  The setting of the game has “Escape From New York” written all over it, and Bruce Wayne disagrees with giving Gotham’s criminals half of the city to run havoc in.  While doing a press conference where he expresses his disagreement, Bruce is arrested by TYGER Guards, who are Arkham City’s police force, and under the command of Arkham City’s Warden, the super-villain known as Professor Hugo Strange (1 of Batman’s earliest enemies in the comic books).  Hugo provides a unique scenario, as he knows who Bruce Wayne really is, and what he does when he’s not being a brooding Tony Stark.  Upon arriving inside Arkham City, he is greeted by another well-known face…The Penguin.  Who brings Wayne into a back alley of the City to effectively kill him.  Only for Wayne to beat everybody up, escape, and get in touch with Alfred in order to have a Bat-suit delivered to a roof-top.  After this, you play as Batman, and the game technically begins (unless you got all of the DLC or the GOTY Edition, where you play as Catwoman first).  So what’s the bigger picture?  Well, after that massive overdose of TITAN back on Arkham Island, Joker is…a mess…and he’s dying.  It’s enough to make him kidnap medical staff from the Church (Where medical staff are actually there to help sick Arkham patients), and make him approach Mr Freeze for help in finding a cure.  Unfortunately for Batman, he gets caught up in Joker’s problems, and has to cooperate.  Written once again by Paul Dini (and a few others), we’re provided with a slightly more complex story than Asylum, but it’s also 1 with a greater peril, and therefore 1 that’s of quality right to the end.  There is also a DLC story were you get to play as both Batman and Robin.  It’s pretty good for being a 2-3 hour game.

A lot can be said about Arkham City when comparing it to Arkham Asylum, and also as a standalone game.  Does the game standalone?  It can, but it’s a lot more fun when paired with Asylum (and makes more sense).

The Graphics came with the times and experiences, as the overall presentation of graphics on the PS3 had developed significantly in 2 years, and Rocksteady did too.  They might not be on par with Uncharted 3 (which came out in the same year), but they were better than Skyrim, and many of the textures presenting dirt, grit and skin looked wonderful.  Especially in The Wonder City, which I fell in love with.

The music was once again done by Nick Arundel and Ron Fish, and we were provided with a soundtrack that beautifully blends the evident borrowing of both Danny Elfman (Tim Burton’s Batman) and Hans Zimmer (The Dark Knight Trilogy).  In it’s own way, it’s 1 of the best presentations of Batman within music.  Big, dynamic, haunting, gritty, and dark.

The gameplay is a step-up from Arkham Asylum and flows much better than it used to, especially within the combat aspects.  We’re also introduced to an upgrade of Detective Mode, which allows Batman to be a detective at a crime scene, and not just have x-ray vision.  In general, Arkham City is a gem in its polish…especially if you play as Catwoman.  The RPG elements are once again really well done, and the new gadgets that help you both get around and collect Riddler Trophies are excellent.  It can also be noted that they really stepped up with The Riddler’s influence, by having hostages involved when you solve a certain amount of his challenges.  There aren’t as many actual riddles, but the puzzles themselves are well done.

The range of characters and their presentation in Arkham City (in design and voice) is very pleasing.  It’s full of surprises, and it’s the closest that a Batman game has gotten to having a near-perfect super-villain reunion.  You have Joker (obviously), Penguin, Riddler, Two-Face, Catwoman (thought she was always on the fence), Mr Freeze, Bane, Hugo Strange…and others…I’ll keep them a surprise, because they were very pleasant.  Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill once again return to play Batman and Joker, and much like the Animated Series and Arkham Asylum, their chemistry remains a treat.

Compared to Arkham Asylum, how are the Boss Battles?  They’re definitely an improvement.  But 1 boss fight stands-out in particular is Mr Freeze.  His boss fight can be rather difficult, even on easier settings.  Reason?  Because you can’t attack him the same way twice.  He learns, and he deals with any attempts to try that attack again.  I haven’t had a boss fight as good (and as unnerving) as this since The End in Metal Gear Solid 3 (They’re different, but because they’re unique and stand-out, they’re great), a proper cat-and-mouse boss fight.

Would I recommend Arkham City? Well…I guess.  It’s 1 of the best video games ever made, so I think it’s worth a look.  I enjoy it enough that I have few problems with replaying it again and again.  It’s really that good.

Story: *****

Voice-Acting: ****3/4

Characters: *****

Music: *****

Gameplay: *****

Graphics: ****1/2

Art/Design: *****

Overall Rating: *****