Uncharted: Golden Abyss Preview

Draking it in.

It's an Uncharted game, running on a handheld. That's impressive enough in itself, but to understand the implications of that simple statement you've got to appreciate what Naughty Dog has crafted - a series of light-hearted adventures based around solid third-person mechanics, all wrapped up in Hollywood production values and framed within this generation's most sumptuous backdrops.

Sony Bend has studied that formula closer than anyone else. That's because the Oregon-based team has taken on development duties for Uncharted: Golden Abyss. It's a new chapter for Nathan Drake and a game that's fast become the poster boy for the NGP.

Having previously delivered PSP title Resistance Retribution, Sony Bend is in danger of becoming Sony's in-house cover band - but at least it's proven itself to be a safe pair of hands. For Golden Abyss, the studio has mimicked Naughty Dog's own formula while at the same time exploring some of the new possibilities offered by the NGP.

This spin-off's imitation of Uncharted's trademark visuals is its most stunning trick. Uncharted is a series renowned for its looks and here, on that rich 5-inch OLED screen, they're remarkably intact. Some simple numbers underline that fact: Resistance Retribution pushed some 50,000 polygons per frame, whereas Golden Abyss is throwing around 260,000.

Impressive figures, but what really counts for many is how close the game flies to the PS3 originals. Bar the occasional flat texture, it's every bit as attractive as Drake's Fortune (though understandably it can't quite scale the incredible heights of Among Thieves). Real-time dynamic lighting and advanced shaders bring some current-gen flair, and the environments are every bit as glorious as those featured in the console versions.

Drake himself looks equally dashing, especially once he's been plunged into water. He emerges soaking, his damp clothes slowly drying out over time as he leaves soggy footprints in his wake. It's a trick we've seen before, but it's much more impressive when it's playing out in the palm of your hand.

There's more to Drake than wet t-shirts, and the biggest challenge Sony Bend faces is pinning down the breezy charm he personifies. Sony Bend's John Garvin is on writing duties under the watchful eye of Amy Hennig, the creative director whose deft touch has been behind Nathan Drake's other adventures.

Golden Abyss's story is the same matinee fare that's been such an effective springboard for past Uncharted games. Set prior to Drake's Fortune, the game sees our hero on the trail of an expedition lost some 400 years ago. Unsurprisingly there's a mythical lost city to discover along the way.

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