In Review – Uncharted: The Lost Legacy

I have a weird, complicated relationship with Uncharted, but one I’m sure is shared by many. I hate these games. I honestly detest the first three in the series. I couldn’t, with a clear conscience, say they were any good until Uncharted 4, and yet, here I am, having played five of them (I’m not counting the mobile game, which I have played, and like, but just uses the franchise as wallpaper, nor the Vita game, which I have no real interest in). What keeps drawing me back in, what compells me to return to these games of which the majority I dislike?

To be fair, there’s plenty to praise about the series. If you want Game As Movie, it’s your best bet. The setpieces have always been spectacular and memorable, the dialogue is genuinely charming and funny, and new things are always attempted with each installment. Naughty Dog has and continues to make an indelible mark on games that cant be easily imitated. They’re masters of their craft. They’ve landed on a successful formula that keeps even a grouch like me quizzically coming back for more.

Lost Legacy is a testament to that formula. It sits on a precipice point, stands almost as the thesis statement for this era of Naughty Dog, looking both fondly back and forward to new experiences.

After four Crash Bandicoot games, ND obviously wanted to attempt new things. The same followed with the Jak and Daxter games, and now so too are we standing audience and participant to ND’s continued evolution with Uncharted, Lost Legacy very likely being the last installment from the studio. It’s a fitting one. Spoilers ahead.

Lost Legacy (hereby LL) follows Chloe Frazer and Nadine Ross, two supporting characters from previous games, as they search for the fabled Tusk of Ganesha in civil war-stricken India. They’re a classical odd pair, Nadine playing the straight man to Chloe’s funny man. Luckily, the two have excellent chemistry, and it’s very easy to accept and go along with them being thrust together despite never interacting in previous games.

It almost feels like officially sanctioned fanfiction, in a way, especially so because the idea of a AAA game with not one, but two leading women still feels fantastical. It exists, though, and it’s frankly quite good. It’s further testament to ND’s major strength as a developer: their drive to listen, learn, and try new things with their games.

Nadine and Chloe are allowed to get dirty and grimey, are allowed to have visible muscle, are allowed to be both professional and emotional without it ever being cast as an indictment of their gender. They’re fully realized women with inner lives shaped by that but never limited to it. After four games with Nathan, who’s about as generic as a rogue adventurer can get, it’s so refreshing to have protagonists I’m actually interested in learning about.

The biggest advantage Chloe and Nadine have lies in their origins as supporting cast. There was never any pretense that either of these women were good people, and that moral ambiguity follows them into LL. This alone makes it a more cohesive and coherent narrative than any previous Uncharted game despite following the same basic story structure: Nathan is unquestionably cast as a Hero, his countless murders conveniently ignored. For Chloe and Nadine, murder is an accepted risk. They know what kind of people they are and don’t shy away from it. The witty dialogue and jokes feel less jarring, less dissonant here.

It also helps that there’s simply less gunfights overall in LL. I got through approximately ninety percent of encounters with stealth alone, and those I couldn’t avoid were faster and more intense, keeping the game from slogging through ultraviolence.

LL is lean, and feels very much like a Best Hits Collection of Uncharted’s various setpieces and small moments. There’s callbacks abound, but they’re actually cool, or funny, and never overstay their welcome. It’s a very self-aware game without being insufferable about it.

This self-awareness extends to the narrative’s themes and the protagonists’ character arcs. LL is itself a metacommentary on gender, on, well, the legacies left behind by men vying for power, truth, and control, legacies left on the doorsteps of women then demanded to prove themselves and contextualize their relationships with them.

Likewise, what is an Uncharted game without Nathan Drake and his ultraviolence? Well, a damn good Uncharted game that confidently stands on its own, one that acknowledges the franchise’s legacy while being happy to leave it behind. A very bittersweet one, because LL is the game I wish Uncharted had been from the beginning. It feels like a starting point, an origin story for a team I’d gladly devour comics and pulp novels and cartoons and more games of, games that, in an ideal world, would push the narrative and mechanical concepts of Uncharted even further, into something that feels less formulaic and more thoughtful. Uncharted was never meant to be a puzzle game or thief simulator, but why only in the last game are these parts actually expanded upon? Why only in the last game are basic mechanics layered into something even slightly more mentally engaging and physically involved?

It’s frustrating, but at least it’s there. Lost Legacy is this frustration encapsulated, a solid experience, the best in a franchise, yearning for more, squandering potential but good at what it does do. It makes me excited to see what Naughty Dog will do next. Here’s hoping That Last of Us 2 blows LL out of the water.