Uncharted: The Lost Legacy Review
Last year’s Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End, was not only one of the greatest PlayStation exclusives this generation and a compelling action adventure game, it was also a surprisingly touching swan song for Nathan Drake, Sony’s most iconic character in what has become their biggest franchise. It was a bit of a shock for some, then, that Naughty Dog insisted that Nathan’s treasure hunting days were over. We were assured this wasn’t the end of the franchise, so who was going to take up Nate’s mantle, and how could it possibly measure up to what came before? Uncharted: The Lost Legacy answers both those questions with style in this budget-priced, standalone expansion.
Set roughly a year after the events of Uncharted 4, Lost Legacy finds the series' femme fatale Chloe Frazer in India shortly before she meets up with the mercenary Nadine Ross, as the two track down an ancient, priceless artifact known as the Tusk of Ganesh. Also on the trail is the leader of a band of Indian insurgents, known as Asav. These two groups bump into each other in short order, snarky dialogue is exchanged, and bullets start flying, setting in motion a mad dash to find the treasure before the bad guys. If you’ve ever played an Uncharted game, this is familiar territory; you’ve been here before, and despite the change in the game’s leads, you’re not going to see much you haven’t seen in previous games. For better or worse, Uncharted: The Lost Legacy is mostly more of the same. However, when you’re dealing with a franchise as consistently good as Uncharted has been over the past ten years, more of the same really just means top notch visuals, intense gunplay, smart traversal mechanics, and witty banter.
Visually, Lost Legacy is as impressive as Uncharted 4 was, which is no surprise given that it uses the same exact engine, right down to character animations. Muddy trails are spotted with hundreds of tiny rain puddles, birds flock off en masse whenever you get too close, the sun plays across all the ruined architecture, and waterfalls abound. Lost Legacy combines this striking realism and attention to detail with the fantastical, storybook settings the series is known for, but far grander in scope. The result is a game world that feels lived in, real, but also logically impossible. Previous games have accomplished similar feats, but not quite as successfully as Lost Legacy.
One notable change to this formula is that Lost Legacy mostly sticks to the forgotten, overgrown jungles of India, as opposed to the globe-trotting set pieces of past games. Almost immediately you’re thrown into a huge jungle valley, far bigger and more open than any map in Uncharted 4, where you will spend the vast majority of your time. The nature of this more open world affects the gameplay in that the typical puzzles that usually dot your path in an Uncharted game are replaced by one larger maco-puzzle that will consume the first 3-4 hours of your game. Outside of that sort of difference, this is still your basic Uncharted adventure. You will always get to key locations immediately before or after your adversaries do, and you’ll have the choice between engaging them directly or using stealth to pluck them off one by one. Invariably you will be spotted before you can quietly dispose of them all, and gunfights will ensue. Thankfully, Naughty Dog seems to have finally paid attention to the complaints of an entire generation of gamers, as Lost Legacy’s enemies are not quite the bullet sponges they used to be. You’ll still burn through ammunition in short order, though, forcing you to swap weapons with those you’ve killed to continue the fight. Eventually, grenades and even C4 will become available as you tackle tougher enemies, then RPGs when the real heavy hitters show up. The combat plays out, and scales in difficulty, exactly as you’d expect at this point; the key difference is who’s pulling the trigger this time around.
Some people were, inevitably, upset at Nate’s retirement. Video game characters can’t get too old, so they should never have to hang up their boots, the argument goes. It’s true that video game characters don’t age, but they most certainly do get old, and boring, if you revisit them too often. Naughty Dog made the right call in changing up the cast, in part because of who they picked as replacements. Chloe, a wise-cracking, occasional partner of Drake’s and longtime fan favorite, was an obvious choice. Teaming her with Nadine Ross, however, isn’t as immediately understandable. Nadine’s only prior appearance in the series to date was as the taciturn mercenary leader best remembered for constantly and thoroughly beating Nate and Sam into bloody pulps. She’s gruff, mercurial, and doesn’t seem to like anyone, including Chloe. How did these two meet? Why did they decide to work together? The game is content in never fully answering questions like these, and they soon cease to matter as the game slowly, organically builds a meaningful relationship between the two. As fantastic as this franchise has always been at characterization, it’s a breath of fresh air to see protagonists who don’t feel the need to constantly hide behind quips and ripostes. There are real moments of genuine bonding and growth in this game that we just never got in earlier installments. Naughty Dog tried several times to lay this kind of foundation for character relationships through flashbacks, but a few snippets here and there of young Nathan and Sully isn’t the same as watching that kind of friendship evolve in real time over the course of an entire game. The writers at Naughty Dog don’t just prove that Chloe and Nadine deserved this kind of spotlight, they are indeed the one real, positive difference that makes this game worth playing.
There are a lot of moments in this game, between these two women, that are worth sharing, which makes the newest addition to the Photo Mode all the more fun. On top of all the usual tweaks you can make to any screenshots you can take, such as camera position, brightness, and saturation, you can now also dictate the facial expressions that Chloe makes in any given situation. It sounds asinine, and kind of is, but it's also a surprisingly fun way to let you personalize your mementos from the game. It also adds a little levity to what is, ultimately, a more somber, downbeat, but personal experience than before.
In fact, the game’s only real flaw is the poor sound mixing that sometimes leaves you wondering what was just said, and more frequently reaching for your TV’s remote control as you try to adjust the sound as it goes from deafening gunfire to too-quiet personal exchanges. There are also parts of the game where Nadine and Chloe inexplicably try to have personal conversations despite being too far away to hear each other, resulting in hasty attempts to backtrack and find your partner just to hear what she said. It was always slightly odd that Nate, Sully, Elena et al could swing through trees and shimmy across cliffs and swim through caves all while having a casual chat that was, impossibly, perfectly understandable, but at least it was an understandable design decision that allowed players to progress through levels without having to stop every five feet to hear the conversation. For a game that relies so heavily on the relationship between its two leads, Uncharted: The Lost Legacy too often fumbles on the delivery with unintelligent audio choices.
The multiplayer would qualify as another issue, except that it's as useless a feature as it's always been, with generic, overlong matches featuring unfair advantages for players who've invested more time. There are the usual playlists for games such as these, with Team Deathmatch, Bounty Hunter and King of the Hill playing out exactly as they sound, only longer. Matches can often seem interminable, as can the wait for matchmaking to find you a suitable game in the first place. There's potential here, something almost reminiscent of the good old days of early Xbox Live multiplayer shooters, but it's buried under mounds of nonsense and crippled by a small player base.
When you get right down to it, there isn’t much that needs to be said about this game, because you've heard most of it before. After five entries in the franchise, spanning ten years and three different systems, you know if Uncharted is your kind of game or not. If you’re new to the series, this isn’t the place to start. This is a standalone expansion to Uncharted 4 and plays like it, hence the discounted price tag. The Uncharted Collection for PS4 is what you’re looking for, as it contains the first three PS3 games in one package, remastered for your PS4. If you’re part of the majority that played and enjoyed Uncharted 4, you’re going to find plenty to like in this expansion. If you’re part of the minority that did not, this is not the game for you.
8/28/2017 Ryan Hartmann