It's controls - not graphics - that make Uncharted: Golden Abyss such an interesting point of discussion. True, this is probably the best looking handheld game of all time, but it's the game's unification of three very different control inputs that warrants attention. By touching, tilting and tapping Sony's newly christened handheld, players are encouraged to adopt their own style of play.
Should you get bored of shimmying Drake from ledge to ledge with the analogue stick and X button, there's always the touch-screen alternative. With a thoughtful swipe of your finger, you can plot a route through the decaying architecture that stands between you and your destination. Draw a metaphorical line through the ruins, and Drake will scramble from ledge to ledge to follow that path.
At one point during the demo, a gaping chasm dissected the wall I was trying to cross, putting a stop to Drake's monkey antics. This proved little trouble, however. By tilting the device to the left, Drake glanced over his shoulder and leaned backwards, where a quick tap of the X button (or tap of the screen, should you prefer) sent him flying across the gap.
The game never forces you to do anything you don't want to. Don't get on with touch screens? Fine. The game won't play out any differently if you choose to ignore them. This seems to be a crucial philosophy for Sony with the Vita: while the option for new-fangled touch screen malarkey is always on offer, it's never rammed down your throat. It's all about options.
The end of the demo brought combat into the equation, and with it the first proper use of the two analogue sticks. With L bumper to aim, R bumper to shoot and the left and right sticks used for moving and aiming respectively, Golden Abyss handles in a very similar manner to its big brothers on the PS3 - but not quite as competently, I hasten to add. The sensitivity was a little off, meaning that getting a shot on target was more of struggle than it should have been. That said, this was my first time wrestling with the nubs, and it probably takes a little while to adjust.
At the start of this preview I offered the sensational claim that Golden Abyss is the best looking handheld game of all time. Quite. The rustic ruins that Drake was jaunting about looked fantastic, with vegetation crawling out of cracks in ancient walls and birds circling blue skies painted with the occasional wisp of white. I'm not sure where this was supposed to be - India or Thailand, perhaps - but it was distressingly pretty. And smooth. Very smooth.
The upsettingly brief demo offered nothing in the way of story or cutscenes, but it's clear that narrative is still a big focus of Bend Studio. Remember: this isn't a port, remake or other meaningless cash-in. It's a prequel designed specifically for the Vita. It's an Uncharted game, and the same high production values that apply to the console versions apply here. Naughty Dog is overseeing the project to make sure of that.
Uncharted: Golden Abyss is due for release on PSVita in Holiday 2011.