With Nintendo already getting something of a headstart on the next gen portable market with the 3DS, Sony need to hit the ground running with the Vita. Cue a wealth of first party, exclusive content. Jon's already spent some time with LittleBigPlanet, and we also managed to grab a sneak peek at Uncharted: Golden Abyss, being developed by Sony's go-to studio for console-to-portable transfer ports - Sony Bend.
I'll say it right now - the game looks pretty damn good. Not quite up there with the quality you'd expect from the PS3 but these are still relatively early days, there's plenty of time before the end of the year for a bit of spit and polish. That said, there are a few visual treats that let you know that you have something powerful in the palm of your hand. Dynamic lighting makes for some realistically rendered shadows that flicker and dance through the dappled sunshine as they would in real life, glinting off of the virtual camera as it pans around. It's probably the best looking handheld game ever seen at this juncture, the environments richly detailed, the loose flora and fauna swaying gently in the breeze. It looks good. Really good. Although there's something that suggests there's further to go with this thing, and we can't wait to see what the next year or two holds in store for the Vita on this evidence.
Drake himself is captured well, looking almost as roguishly handsome as he does in Among Thieves, his animations smooth and responsive. He'll drip water when wet and leave footprints in his wake. Controlling him is a joy thanks to the dual sticks and you'll wonder why the marriage between twin sticks and portable gaming hasn't happened sooner. Going back to one in the next few months will seem utterly inadequate.
A prequel to the series (in time at least, although there's some dispute as to whether or not it's actually a truly canonical prequel according to Bend) set out by Naughty Dog, Golden Abyss will see another tale of hidden treasures, lost cities and ancient artefacts. Nolan North is back reprising his role as everyone's favourite Dr. Jones-esque mercenary and the script is getting helpful input from Naughty Dog's own creative director Amy Hennig.
Ironically enough, the brief demo started by showcasing how Sony Bend have incorporated one of the Vita's other features - the touchscreen - into gameplay. Moving Drake along precarious ledges and rocky overhangs, having him climb the foliage-flecked cliffs, is as simple as drawing the path you want him to take with your finger. It's intuitive, it's simple and it works.
Drake ends up hanging from a jutting branch and here Bend demonstrated how the tilt mechanism could be used to help build up Drake's momentum before tapping the screen once more to send him flying across to the other side. A guard is nonchalantly standing with his back to the chasm our Nathan is scaling, and so a tap on the guard himself leads to a melee takedown as Drake flips him off the ledge, another tap on the screen allowing Drake to clamber upright and whip out his gun.
The touch controls are, of course, completely optional - an important thing to note. They never really seek to intrude or disrupt the gameplay style that PS3 owners will have grown to love, instead providing different methods for task accomplishment, inviting players to mix and match and play the game as they wish. The tilting is a bit irritating, frankly; although there was an interesting bit where you used the gyroscope and cameras to pinpoint a sniper target with real movement, though it felt a bit gimmicky. I was never a huge fan of the Sixaxis to begin with, and it's inclusion here seems pretty forced to be honest.
There's nothing out of place when it comes to the rest of the action, mind. A simple tap puts Drake into cover, another on the guard the other side of the crate he's ducked behind and the poor henchman's neck gets snapped like that of a Christmas turkey. One final tap and you can sweep up the guard's rifle and equip it, ready for action. Left trigger brings up the aiming reticule and the right trigger unleashes some bullets eager to flirt with virtual flesh. Aiming is a breeze thanks to the beautiful ergonomics of the Vita - the sticks spaced out far more comfortably than on the Dual Shock. Three guards dropped and our brief date with Drake was over.
The most important thing to note about Uncharted: Golden Abyss is that it doesn't just feel like an Uncharted game...it is one. There's little sacrifice in the graphics department, and that commitment to presentation extends to the sounds as well as the sights. There was a bit of lag at times when it came to registering some of the traced paths we took up the cliff face, but by and large we found ourselves impressed by what Bend. Fans of the series would be fools to miss out on this one, canon or not. We'll hopefully have more for you soon in the coming weeks.