The Playstation brand owes more than it might care to admit to Naughty Dog. This Santa Monica-based subsidiary of Sony Interactive Entertainment has developed a sterling reputation for creating boundary-pushing games. More than that, though, they’re a studio that consistently manages to walk the line between making games with compelling character-driven stories and making games that are fun to play.
And of the games in Naughty Dog’s stable (or kennel, perhaps), there is no series better known for that than “Uncharted.” Billed as third-person action-adventure games that wear their “Indiana Jones” influences on their sleeves, the games follow the exploits of a charismatic treasure hunter named Nathan Drake as he journeys around the world in search of the treasures of various ancient civilizations. As someone who’s been onboard with Drake’s exploits since the beginning, I couldn’t help but feel both satisfaction and woe at the conclusion of 2016’s “Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End.”
Fast forward one year later, and the release of “Uncharted: The Lost Legacy” has left me feeling something different. Previously pitched as a small piece of side-story content for “Uncharted 4,” “The Lost Legacy” has since been expanded into its own spin-off release, no longer contingent on ownership of “Uncharted 4” for purchase. Basically, that small add-on has since become another full Uncharted game, albeit a shorter one. The result is a game that tries to reframe familiar narrative conventions while feeling a little too familiar in other respects (for better or worse).
Regarding the story, the main shake-up in “The Lost Legacy” is that Nathan Drake is no longer at the receiving end of the player’s button presses. Instead, the story focuses on the exploits of Chloe Frazer, an Australian treasure hunter previously depicted as one of Drake’s allies (and short-lived love interests). Set after the events of “Uncharted 4,” Chloe finds herself in India as she hunts down the fabled Tusk of Ganesh (an artifact that her father had sought after for years). For assistance in this venture, Chloe enlists the help of Nadine Ross, a South African mercenary with a mean right hook (previously seen as a secondary antagonist in “Uncharted 4”). Together, the two set out to get the Tusk before a rebel warlord beats them to the punch.
If nothing else, the pairing of Chloe and Nadine makes for an interesting juxtaposition. On the one hand, we have Nadine, a cold and calculated gun-for-hire who keeps her allies at a safe distance (and who ends up being much more likable as a sidekick than as a secondary villain). By contrast, we have Chloe, a sarcastic, self-interested treasure hunter with an affinity for certain ancient myths. For those familiar with “Uncharted,” this probably sounds familiar, and for good reason. In more ways than one, she’s basically just a slightly more sardonic Nathan Drake with an Australian accent. As a result, the back-and-forth between these two opposites over the game’s eight hour runtime is consistently entertaining. Additionally, the writers do a solid job of drip feeding players with new bits of backstory for both leads, which goes a long way toward clarifying how each of them ended up plowing through India’s Western Ghats with a vexing stranger in tow.
As for the core gameplay, it largely adheres to the long-running “Uncharted” formula (with “Uncharted 4” being its closest relative). For the uninitiated, it goes something like this: you climb some walls, you jump from point to point within a series of (very pretty) environments, you get into gunfights with large groups of soldiers and then you might solve a simple (albeit comically elaborate) puzzle or two left by an ancient civilization that probably didn’t like the idea of treasure hunters taking their stuff in the centuries following their downfall. Also, sometimes you swing from a grappling hook. Or drive a Jeep. Or run and jump through a building while it’s collapsing. Also, unlike Drake, Chloe can pick locks, which helps with getting through doors and into boxes (so I guess that’s new).
Now, to be clear, I’m not trying to be too hard on “The Lost Legacy” over this. If anything, its origins as a downloadable side-chapter kinda led me to assume that this would happen. Given this, though, it’s worth reiterating that most of what made “Uncharted 4” fun to play is still present. Climbing and jumping still has its charm, the level design allows for some fun encounters, and the puzzles manage to satisfy more often than not. Additionally, I must say that I did quite enjoyed the game’s final level (without giving too much away, suffice it to say that it’s an amusing way to send the series off).
In some sense, I still can’t shake the feeling that “Uncharted: The Lost Legacy” is destined to be a wildly different thing to different people. For those uninitiated with prior games in the series, I can’t say it’s a good place to jump in (a lot of narrative significance would be lost on a completely fresh face). At the same time, players that have already seen Nathan Drake grab a ledge for the billionth time might not find that much new here. For that latter group, though, I wouldn’t exactly worry that the game might “sour” the satisfying taste left by “Uncharted 4” at its conclusion. General sense of familiarity aside, the game largely succeeds at fleshing out characters that had a lot more left to say than Nathan Drake does by now. If anything, perhaps the best thing I can say is that it gives me hope that prospective entries without Drake might not turn out as poorly as I would have thought.
Featured photo: Playstation Blog