It’s never a surprise when a new console launches with a marquee franchise. Nintendo usually has a Mario or Zelda title ready. Microsoft kicked off the Xbox 360 with Project Gotham Racing 3 and Quake 4. Sony brought the Playstation 3 to market with Ridge Racer 7 (sorry, Riiiiiiiiiiiiidge Racer) and Call of Duty 3. These are the staples of any lineup. Still, it was a pleasant, if not totally unexpected, when Sony announced that Nathan Drake would be making an appearance on the Vita right away. Uncharted: Golden Abyss is a fantastic first (and, hopefully, not final) outing on the powerful handheld, bringing a true home console experience to the palm of your hand.

Golden Abyss takes place prior to the events of the first Uncharted title. Victor (Goddamn) Sullivan still has a significant amount of black in his hair and Nate is clearly younger and a bit less experienced. He hasn’t yet figured out what he wants out of his life as a treasure hunter, which makes Golden Abyss crucial to the series. It is here where Nate becomes more idealistic and less capitalistic.

The adventure will mostly take you through jungles and ruins, which reminded me a great deal of Nate’s first outing on the PlayStation 3. There are stunning vistas and the series’ signature dynamic environments, which force you to stay on your toes during climbing segments. Unfortunately, the variety we’ve come to expect seems to be missing. In the first entry, which was the most consistent in its environments, there were the opportunities to crawl through an old Nazi submarine and fight on a tanker.

There are about as many scenery changes in Golden Abyss, which is a step back from what Naughty Dog was able to accomplish in Among Thieves and Drake’s Deception. Of course, Golden Abyss wasn’t developed at Naughty Dog, who is very likely done with the series (if their history with trilogies is any indication). This strong effort comes out of Sony’s Bend Studio (Syphon Filter, Resistance: Retribution), and I’d be more than comfortable seeing more Uncharted out of them… though, perhaps with fewer gimmicks.

The roof, the roof, the roof is on fire!

You didn’t really think that a first-party launch title, especially one in a AAA series, wouldn’t shoehorn in every possible feature of the system, did you? Thankfully, most of the inclusions work quite well. The rest, you can simply turn off or ignore all together. In the plus column, is the use of the gyroscope. I turned this off for regular aiming, but found the motion controls extremely precise when using the Dragon Sniper. I had no problem racking up headshots on enemies using this feature. What made it even better was having the option to use the rear touch screen to adjust the zoom. This was quick; faster, in fact, than any other variable zoom feature on a sniper rifle in any game I have played. I was able to move from target to target, zooming in, popping off a shot, and then pulling back out to find my next victim. This feature is also used when lining up pictures with the camera. These can be taken at any time, but there care specific photo collectibles, too.

The front touch screen is used for a variety of functions. This is how you’ll pick up and switch weapons, throw grenades with precision, create charcoal rubbings (another type of collectible), examine artifacts, manipulate padlocks and complete QTEs. Yes, Uncharted: Golden Abyss has quicktime events (sigh). You’ll need to finish melee combos, react quickly to crumbling handholds and chop down bamboo all by mimicking arrows on the screen. These are frustratingly omnipresent and utterly unnecessary.

Duck and cover!

The best and most interesting use of the touchscreen, though, is the ability to “paint edges.” You can either handle climbing sections the traditional way, with the thumbstick and buttons, or you can draw the path you would like Nate to take. I found that this was entirely welcome in some instances, but as the game went on, I used it fewer and fewer times. It’s a neat feature, especially for people that would like to move through the climbing sections and get back to the story and gunplay.