A sight to see
Above: Look at that shirt, all perfectly half-tucked and everything
Golden Abyss proves what we all hoped: the Vita is almost as powerful as the PlayStation 3. It's not quite up to par with the home console, and some small concessions will likely be noticed (such as occasionally pixilated backgrounds and weaker facial animations), but it's really close. Uncharted features graphics that are leaps and bounds beyond what the PSP could handle, and a good deal better than some of the games released earlier this generation.
Everything about the game screams high production values, and it managed to pull off the console-like experience without many graphical hiccups or framerate drops. It's remarkable how little had to be cut in order to get the game working on the handheld. You're still exploring lush jungles with wonderful views, fighting dozens of enemies at once, and chatting with likable, well-designed characters.
Missing the ledge
And then there's the caveat. The asterisk. The thing that keeps Golden Abyss from being among the best in the series, despite having a strong story and great gameplay. Though it brings nearly every element of the console versions to the portable there's one huge, glaring omission: the cinematic camera. It's a cornerstone of the franchise, and seeing it left out entirely was extremely disappointing. We kept hoping that it would eventually show up, maybe later in the game, but as the credits rolled we looked back and realized that they were missing entirely.
Above: Drake's adventure feels less adventurous without any cinematic sections
Without the cinematic camera there's no cinematic action. There was nothing even remotely like the airplane segment in Uncharted 3, or the train car opening of Uncharted 2. There were a few times where it looked like things might be leading up to an awesome cinematic moment, but they'd end up fizzling out, replaced with a cutscene or an uninteresting camera angle.
Instead of an enemy shooting a rocket next to Drake and having control as he stumbles off the ledge, the camera would just swing back and show the rocket hit. The camera would fade to black. Drake would get up off the ground, quip about the fall, and then we'd be given control. We don't know if Sony Bend couldn't develop it, or if the Vita couldn't handle it, but whatever the cause is we were definitely sad to see it missing.
Above: You'll be climbing more ladders than falling trains
In many ways, these cinematic moments are Uncharted. They're the thing everybody talks about after they finish an Uncharted game. It's the reason people say that playing Uncharted is like watching a movie, and without it, well, it's just not the same. It might seem like a small complaint, but it's actually a pretty big deal that the closest thing the game has to the cinematic adventures of the console versions are some mediocre quick-time events - something that everyone seemed to agree the series was much, much better without.
Is it better than...
Uncharted: Drake's Fortune? Yes, but not by much. Uncharted was great when it released in 2007, but it had a number of issues we were able to overlook. Namely, the gameplay wasn't the strongest, and there's little doubt that Golden Abyss - which cribs most of its gameplay from Uncharted 2 - handles the shooting and climbing much, much better.
Uncharted 2: Among Thieves? No. Though it's likely closer to Uncharted 2 than Uncharted 3 when it comes to gameplay, the overall experience falls short of Drake's second adventure. Everything that Uncharted 2 did perfectly Uncharted: Golden Abyss stumbles on, from the level design to the cinematic feel.
Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception? No. Some elements of the gameplay are better thanks to the motion controls making shooting segments more fulfilling, and the ability to use the touch screen to climb is certainly fun. Still, Drake's Deception had many more memorable moments, and a story that was simply stronger.
For those who skipped straight to the end
If you boot up Uncharted: Golden Abyss expecting the full console experience you might be disappointed. It's mostly there - the charm, the gameplay, the visual presentation - but there are some key elements missing. The level design leaves much to be desired, and without the cinematic moments the experience simply isn't incredibly strong. It's still an extremely solid cover shooter with a strong story and some fine platforming elements, but as far as an Uncharted game, it comes up short of what we've come to expect.