Uncharted: Golden Abyss - review
PS Vita, Sony, cert 16, out now
That it is blockbuster hero Nathan Drake leading the charge for the launch of PS Vita serves to confirm the eyebrow-arching adventurer as the closest thing PlayStation has to a Sonic or Mario-style mascot. But it also represents an assertion of the intent behind the handheld itself - to deliver full-strength console gaming in portable form without any of the usual compromises.
On this count at least, Golden Abyss is proof of Vita's success. After a little adjustment for their relative dinkiness, the machine's twin sticks ensure that the game plays like its PS3 relatives, Drake swaggering through firefights and lurching over ledges. And the style of the game is largely intact, a steady third-person shooter made remarkable through an unusual investment in character, performance and the production of its motion-captured cutscenes.
Not that the formula survives the transition entirely unmolested. While Uncharted 3 was characterised by - and occasionally criticised for - its reliance on spectacular one-off set pieces, Golden Abyss loses them altogether. This is presumably a technical limitation, but it has the effect of refocusing attention on story beats and the rhythm of the regular action. And while that story (itself limited by a prequel scenario) takes a while to get going, this balance makes for a cracking final third when it finally does.
Another unexpected plus point is the use of the Vita's unique controls, which rather than being clumsily forced on to the game's mechanics like a too-trendy suit have instead been carefully tailored to its needs. Touchscreen controls smooth everything from gun-switching to grenade-throwing, while the gyroscopic aiming - tilting the handheld to target enemies - is accurate enough to bag regular headshots.
It's all rather compelling and enjoyable, with just one lingering doubt - that for all its punch, Uncharted is the kind of blockbuster experience best enjoyed on a big screen at home, and doesn't solve Sony's problem of how to compete with the more disposable distractions offered by its mobile competitors.