Uncharted: The Lost Legacy is a Mixed End for a Beloved Franchise
July 26, 2019

My reaction to Uncharted: The Lost Legacy says more about me than about the game itself. Ever since the seriesí main protagonist Nathan Drake first smirked incredulously at his own death-defying exploits, the Naughty Dog developed series has been one of the most consistently great franchises in games, with Uncharted 2 standing out as a particularly iconic title from the previous generation. For certain, Uncharted 4 was at least a couple hours too long, but it managed to send off a beloved character with an appropriate level of style and sincerity. The time had come to wrap things up. Nathan Drake and his way of doing things had run its course. I didnít realize how true that statement was until I played Uncharted: The Lost Legacy.

Lost Legacy was the sole add-on for Uncharted 4, and the main selling point for this standalone story is that the story is focused on two of the seriesí most prominent female characters, the charming rogue Chloe Frazer and the mercenary leader Nadine Ross. They come together to find this gameís archaeological MacGuffin, the Tusk of Ganesh, a signal of power from the late Hoysala empire (a real-life empire that existed in India for four centuries) that is also being chased by a villain whose name I donít remember, backed by a paramilitary group with an endless supply of guns, grenades, and rocket launchers. Theyíve come together for strictly professional reasons - they both need the money - but the evolution of their relationship is one of the highlights of Lost Legacy. They begin the adventure as unnatural foils, but if youíre embarking on a potentially fatal expedition to find buried treasure while being hunted by hundreds of mercenaries, what else are you going to do but develop a sincere friendship with your business partner? The internal conflicts that bring them together are slightly cliched - they both have complicated relationships with their fathers - but the performances of the voice actors and the proficiency of Naughty Dogís facial animations enliven the dialogue and keep you invested in learning about each characterís histories. The way Chloeís face scrunches up and anxiously shifts her eyes when Nadine first asks about her father says as much about her state of mind as the scenes when Chloe opens up and speaks directly about her past. Years after release, itís still impressive.†

Technical excellence has always been one of the trademarks of the Uncharted series and that tradition is continued here. This virtual version of India remains one of the most photoreal environments you can find on the PS4. The opening act is set in a cramped and downtrodden neighborhood beset upon by an aggressive military presence before swiftly moving the action to the sprawling jungle filled with puzzles to solve, soldiers to kill, and secret cities to explore. The sense of scale on some of the more fantastical segments is staggering bordering on ridiculous. I know that these games have always been interactive roller coasters that subscribe to the action movie idea of what human beings are capable of, but even by those standards Lost Legacy puts Chloe and Nadine in situations where only Kratos, a literal god, could handle. It didnít take me out of the experience as much as it reminded me that those situations are never as dangerous as the game wants you to think that they are. I noticed myself questioning the game design more than I have in these games. Iím not saying I could have designed any better than the actual professionals that did the work, but there are so many times where you can throw a rope at a serendipitously located tree at the last moment before it stops being exciting. There isnít a moment in Lost Legacy that isnít astoundingly impressive in the objective sense. The level of detail remains remarkable. And yet, it left me as cold as any Uncharted game ever has. That skepticism bled down into the rest of the gameplay.†

The gameplay is the same as it always has been in these games - a lot of climbing, stealth, and shooting - but the mechanics never bored me the way they did while playing through Lost Legacy. Itís no surprise that DLC for the fourth game in a series is largely the same as it ever was - a cinematic mix of climbing, puzzle-solving, and murder - but that didnít soothe the slowly increasing tedium very much. There are some improvements, primarily in the form of Nadineís surprising helpfulness in stealth situations. Sheís a better teammate than most AI partners; sheíll ping enemy soldiers and even take them out if they get too close. But none of the other tweaks have that same effect. Lost Legacy also includes the ability to take photos of specific vistas and locations with Chloeís in-game cell phone, and while itís quaint that these two women would take the time out during this important mission to pose with a group of Indian elephants, itís a feature in search of a purpose. The most ambitious aspect of Lost Legacy is a much-discussed chapter that turns Uncharted into an open world sandbox where you can complete objectives in whatever order you want and find collectibles hidden in landmarks scattered across the map. Itís novel considering how linear this franchise tends to be - and what it says about how the environments in The Last of Us 2 are going to work - but it loses when its sparkle when you remember that almost every big-budget, single-player game essentially has to have open-world elements just to get made anymore.

It also suffers from a lack of an interesting villain. Much like the last Tomb Raider, the game attempts to deal with the inherent cultural appropriation of these games. Setting the game in India makes the conflict bigger for Chloe, and some plot revelations revealed throughout the story really drive that point home. The gameís villain whose name I still donít remember is generically evil until the final boss battle where he delivers a scene-chewing, vaguely racist speech about his plans that would be interesting to dive into if it werenít revealed minutes before the credits roll. Thereís never enough downtime where you arenít in grave danger of death or rushing to get somewhere to get into the grey areas of this story. Why does Asav (finally remembered the name!) want to do any of the things he does? Does Chloe think differently about her chosen profession now that the culture being plundered and damaged is hers? (Judging from the final cutscene, probably not.) And Lost Legacy still suffers from the same lack of editing that has plagued the latter-day Uncharted games. The most frustrating example of this was in the second-to-last chapter where, after spending a half-hour slowly taking out a dozen soldiers without breaking stealth, I was immediately shoved into a combat sequence against another group of soldiers (with a helicopter scoping me out from above) in the exact same area when there was little narrative reason for that to happen. I had to put the game down for a few minutes because I was so annoyed by this. But Lost Legacy could do with an hour or two of downtime to make the plot revelations more impactful. Itís too much telling, not enough showing.†

The game ends with an extended sequel to the awe-inspiring train sequence of Uncharted 2 where each of the game's main mechanics gets its due. Itís fun, itís impressive, but it also makes it crystal clear that Naughty Dog is running low on new reasons to justify continuing this series any longer. Itís impossible not to play Uncharted: The Lost Legacy and not feel the effect of diminishing returns. Itís clear from the ending what the future of Uncharted would look like. Whether it should return any time soon is the bigger question.

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Masters Masters - July 26, 2019 (09:00 AM)
This is a great review; I enjoyed reading it. How come it's not a 'review' review?

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