Studio Bend has also gone to considerable effort to pad out the periphery of the Uncharted formula, with Drake's journal transforming from a gentle hints repository for some of the game's puzzles into a fully-fledged almanac of baubles, backstory and trinkets. Alongside a returning bevy of shiny treasures to find - now bucketed into various categories - there is also an abundance of turquoise to gather; so much so that even Nolan North sounds wearied when reading his various lines for picking up lumps of the stuff.
Drake even finds himself taking on the role of an exotic tourist, using an in-game camera to snap a few Kodak moments in choice spots. Then there's the Black Market metagame, which allows you to use Near to trade and exchange items with friends, building up a catalogue of tarot cards, Spanish gold and a general cache of shiny gubbins. Whether you'll actually want to is another question, as the density of collectibles in Uncharted: Golden Abyss is overwhelming to a fault.
These myriad collectibles are designed to flesh out the game's backstory, yet Golden Abyss is often at its worst when attempting to school the player with its overwrought mix of tawdry exposition and pointless chatter. While the script has touching character moments, much of the tale lacks the punch of Drake's previous efforts, and the game's signature villain lacks the psychotic menace of Lazarevic or the sinister edge of Marlowe.
The underwhelming narrative is a real shame, as without the budget, supporting cast or the raw processing power, Studio Bend's gambit should have been on intelligent writing and canny storytelling, two areas unhindered by memory and technical specifications. While Drake is still one of gaming's most likable characters, with more personality in his half-tucked shirt than the entirety of most action games, the rest of Golden Abyss' half-realised world is depressingly forgettable.
The mistake, then, was for Studio Bend to blindly chase Naughty Dog's focus on technical whizz-bang from an inferior position, a situation that would be like a handcuffed Michael Cera attempting to go ten rounds with Wladimir Klitschko. Even at its best, Golden Abyss is considerably behind the strong character work gained from Uncharted 2's Tibetan mountains or the lavish visual feast of Uncharted 3's capsizing ship sequence.
Yet Uncharted: Golden Abyss is a fine ambassador for the PlayStation Vita's impressive capabilities, and Studio Bend's heavy focus on coating its brief adventure with details and variety means there's plenty to see and do in this pint-sized adventure. This is an enjoyable game, and Studio Bend has proved itself capable of competently shepherding Sony's trusted franchises, but its limited spectacle and lacking script also make it the worst entry in the Uncharted series since the original Drake's Fortune.
Version Tested: PlayStation Vita