Uncharted: Golden Abyss import preview hands-on with the full Japanese game

The PlayStation Vita doesn’t arrive in North America and Europe for another two months, but we’re way too excited and impatient to wait that long. Thanks to the earlier Japanese launch, we’ve already got a system in office and we’re already diving into our most anticipated PS Vita games. Visit GamesRadar all this week for updated hands-on impressions with the full imported versions, but note that these may not be the final versions you play in February.

Easily one of the most anxiously awaited launch titles for the Vita is Uncharted: Golden Abyss, PlayStation icon Nathan Drake’s first small-scale adventure. Beyond being a new Uncharted game, which is likely enough for most people, Golden Abyss also gives us a glimpse into the type of graphical prowess we should expect from the new, powerful handheld.

What is it? A prequel to the Uncharted series following the heroic Nathan Drake as he romps around ancient ruins searching for treasure.

What’s new in the PS Vita version? Story is really where Uncharted: Golden Abyss stands out. Drake is younger in the game – more naive. He’s fighting alongside new characters, including a female lead who’s genuinely different than either Elena or Chloe.

How do the PS Vita controls work? Golden Abyss takes full advantage of every single nook and cranny of the hardware. Most of the game can be played like a traditional Uncharted game using the analog sticks and buttons, but occasional instances require the player to use the touchscreen for quick-time-events, or to balance the system when crossing over a log. We can also draw our finger over the touchscreen to guide Drake to climb, which makes the already simple platforming of Uncharted even simpler. It feels forced and completely unnecessary, but, luckily, it works well, and never gets in the way. Other options, like rubbing the back to climb ropes, can sometimes be more trouble than they're worth, and don't really add anything.

The best parts so far: The melee pulls from Uncharted 2’s, which is nice, simple, and works well, and the combat, on the whole, is strong. But for as fun as the gameplay is, the story is the most interesting part of the game so far. The writers have said the game is canon , and that they’ve worked with the writer of the core series to make sure it all fits, so we’re excited to see where it goes.

The not-so great parts: The level design isn’t great. We’re not sure if it’s because of the smaller screen or the new developer, but we found ourselves often getting lost in ways we never did in the console games. Sometimes we were missing a hidden path, but other times we were just not stumbling into the right part of the level to initiate a cutscene, and that’s always frustrating. We’re also unsure about the cinematic gameplay – one of the highlights of the series. There have been a few times so far that we’ve gotten to sections that we feel would have been epic and cinematic on consoles, but, for whatever reason, were simplified into cutscenes in the Vita version.

Above: We play through a section of the game

When can you play it for yourself? Golden Abyss is currently set for a US launch at the same time as the Vita, on February 22.

Is it import-friendly? Once it's set to English it's as if you're playing the US or UK version - all of the menus are in English, and the voice acting is completely done by the US cast. You're not going to get any better than that.

Hollander Cooper

Hollander Cooper was the Lead Features Editor of GamesRadar+ between 2011 and 2014. After that lengthy stint managing GR's editorial calendar he moved behind the curtain and into the video game industry itself, working as social media manager for EA and as a communications lead at Riot Games. Hollander is currently stationed at Apple as an organic social lead for the App Store and Apple Arcade.