Uncharted without Nathan Drake is still Uncharted. Lost Legacy wins big with a shorter, more focused, campaign.
By BigSocrates 0 Comments
Uncharted 4 felt like an event. Here was Nathan Drake, star of arguably the biggest franchise from the last generation of consoles, making his leap to the PS4. After a mostly lackluster exclusive lineup (Bloodborne obviously excepted) Sony was bringing out the big gun. And it was going to be Drake’s biggest adventure yet. His brother was brought in to push and challenge him the way none of the other NPCs really had before, there was a new globetrotting adventure, some new mechanics to, finally, try and freshen up the traversal. Vehicles. Semi open-world segments. The end to Nathan Drake’s saga! It was the perfect summer blockbuster for 2016.
Uncharted: The Lost Legacy has none of that hype. It’s DLC quietly expanded to full game size (the eight hour campaign is short for an Uncharted game but not out of line with other modern shooters), with the same mechanics we saw in 4, the same shooting we’ve done 4 or 5 times before, and constrained to a single geographical location and culture. It didn’t even introduce a new main character, instead plucking Chloe from her role as the more interesting girl Nate ditched in favor of buzzkill Elena and setting her off as the main character with a recycled villain as a sidekick. Uncharted: The Lost Legacy doesn’t even try to build the kind of deep supporting cast and complex relationships that the mainline games after the first put together; there are probably a dozen characters with a significant number of lines in the game and that includes the little girl trying to sell you clothes at the very beginning of the game.
And yet it works. It works really well. Uncharted: The Lost Legacy is still Uncharted. It may not have the scope or the emotional resonance of Uncharted 4, but that’s because it’s setting out to do something different from that game. It’s showing us what it’s like to play an Uncharted game without Nathan Drake and setting up a new core of relationships and adventures to possibly continue even while Nathan cools his heels in retirement. Nathan Drake is so closely associated with Uncharted that he became the face of the Sony console family but it turns out that his series can survive and even thrive without him. In the Lost Legacy he is reduced to a few jokes about what an annoying dweeb he is, and the game soldiers on without him just fine.
Part of that is because of how well Chloe steps into Nate’s shoes in this game. Chloe was a fan favorite in 2 and 3, and played by the amazing Claudia Black she was a sexy, fun, exciting character, and a natural choice to head up the next chapter of the Uncharted franchise. As a substitute for Nate Chloe does a fine job. She’s quippy and charismatic like he was but more pragmatic and task oriented, without the dreamy ideas of noble discovery that so often clashed with Nate’s killing sprees. She plays exactly like Nate, down to effortless propelling her body, weighed down with long guns, by upper body strength alone, boosting up her companion and insisting on driving the jeep because “it’s a control thing.” In some ways Chloe is almost a little bit too much like Nate in this game; since you can imagine the script having been written for him and reworked a little for her (not that I think that’s the case) and she plays exactly like Nathan did. At times I wished Chloe was differentiated more from Nate than just by having a much, much nicer posterior and less concern for the ancient settlements she’s trashing than Nate did. But that’s a minor complaint. Chloe’s a great character and I didn’t miss Nate at all during the 8 hour adventure.
As for the supporting cast…I thought the villain was good and…beyond that there’s pretty much (though not entirely) just Nadine. Nadine’s fine. I don’t dislike Nadine. But I also didn’t think she reached the heights of Sully or Sam or even Chloe herself in 2 and 3. The game goes through the expected notes in Chloe and Nadine’s relationships, including bonding, falling out, making up, and exchanging quips back and forth between them as they kill 250 enemies over the course of their adventure. This all works, but I found Nadine’s stoic toughness to be a little bit of a buzzkill compared to Sully’s garrulous warmth or Chloe’s gentle, sultry, mocking. Nadine has to carry a large part of this game’s dialog and while she’s up to the task I didn’t fully warm to her until close to the end of the game. Also, the optional conversations in the game are mostly just trivia, with Nadine saying at one point that she got the information from Wikipedia. It’s an odd choice, and character interactions is probably the place where this game falls the furthest short of what I expect from an Uncharted title. It’s good stuff but it’s not great stuff, and with Naughty Dog this stuff is usually great.
We also don’t hear anything about Charlie, which is too bad. I liked Charlie. Charlie is kind the enigma of the Uncharted story, showing up in 3 as a buddy to Nate and Sully and friend to Chloe, and then kind of disappearing for good. He had good chemistry with Chloe. I miss Charlie. They should bring back Charlie!
Charlie’s not in this game though, and Chloe and Nadine do a fine job together on their adventure, climbing, shooting from behind cover, hiding in tall grass, and doing all the rest of that Nathan Drake stuff without Nathan Drake. It’s a good time. It starts with a quiet walk through a gorgeous urban environment with lots of NPCs around (the game engine is still top notch) and extremely high production values. You feel exposed and vulnerable as Chloe, alone, with no combat controls in that beginning sequence, and there’s a real sense of unease as you watch soldiers abuse civilians and others run and hide in the warren of rain-slicked streets. It’s a look the Uncharted series hasn’t really tried before, verging on Cyberpunk with some of the neon lighting and ominous shadow. I wish they’d stuck with it longer. But soon enough you’re out in a verdant area, looking for ruins that look like they are straight out of Uncharted 4, driving around a jeep that feels like the Uncharted 4 Jeep, including winching “puzzles” and climbing towers that are like the Uncharted 4 towers but without quite as high production values.
It’s a fun, well-worn, formula and it fits like a favorite pair of jeans. The combat style, mixing stealth and melee with cover shooting gunplay, is functional and probably the best it has ever been. The traversal is still a little boring but the grappling hook is back and that at least adds some interactivity to the proceedings, which require you to chain hook jumps together and swing towards the appropriate hand hold. There are some timing based obstacle courses that actually require you to use this system decently well, which is nice. The stealth has also been made more viable by the addition of a silenced pistol, which means that impatient players like me can pick guys off and create approach routes, as opposed to constantly focusing on sneaking up on the target they want to take down and getting spotted by someone else. These are incremental improvements to an already good game, and while I will never put Uncharted at the top of my “best playing franchises” list, there’s a huge difference between this and something like The Order:1886.
If Uncharted 2 plays just okay it looks fantastic. The environments can be a bit samey (and are not well distinguished from those of Uncharted 4) but they still look great. The facial animation is fantastic. The frame rate is steady and everything is incredibly detailed and seamless. It's an objectively beautiful game with huge environments, great animations, and impeccable art design. The sound is a bit more mixed. Sound effects are great and voice acting is, of course, truly spectacular, but the music is curiously lacking. The Uncharted theme is NOT in the game, which is understandable given Nate's absence, but in its place is some pretty generic sounding music that makes very few appearances in the game except for the combat theme. It really could have used some music on the level of the Uncharted theme, or really any memorable music at all. Nobody comes to Uncharted for the music, of course, so some people might not notice the absence, but to me the Uncharted theme is a part of the experience and I was sad not to find it here.
Uncharted: The Lost Legacy does add a few additional small improvements over 4. While there’s a mini open world section again, this time it offers actual optional objectives instead of just treasures to find. It still feels empty and pointless though. While the Uncharted team has figured out how to make small open world maps they still don’t know what to do with them. They basically consist of pockets of hand-built content scattered through a kind of boring open driving area. You drive up to an encampment and kill some guys. You drive over to a puzzle and solve it. The driving is never that fun and the map feels cramped and confusing. The optional objectives offer some of the better puzzles in the game (this game’s puzzle design is a cut above the last few outings in general) but they should have just been in the game as critical path. The driving just doesn’t add anything and while in a languidly paced game like Uncharted 4 it fit okay and gave characters time to breathe. Here it’s just annoying. This is a tighter, more focused, game and doesn’t need the interruption. Not that there isn’t good dialog during the driving sequences, because there is, but the whole thing is momentum sapping. There is a nice call back later in the game, though, which helped me see a little better what the developers were going for. I just don’t think it was worth all the aimlessness.
While the open-world design part of Uncharted 4 is a bigger part of Lost Legacy than it was of 4, the set pieces are slightly toned down. I’ve read reviewers saying that this features the same production values as Uncharted 4 and I think that’s not quite right. Everything feels just a little bit..smaller…for lack of a better word compared to some of the flashier sequences of destruction or mayhem from Uncharted 4, or even 3. If Uncharted 4 is the $200 million blockbuster tentpole movie then Uncharted: The Lost Legacy feels like its $85 million cousin with a slightly pared-back scope. It still looks fantastic and impresses, but a little bit of the bombast and scale is missing. That’s not to say that such bombast is totally missing from the game, but it’s not quite on the same scale as 4, and a lot of the bigger set pieces are concentrated in the last third of the game, like a movie with a somewhat limited budget that knows it has to conserve resources so it can end with a huge bombastic finale (Which Lost Legacy definitely does.)
What’s in the place of the variety and bombast of Uncharted 4 is a more focused, smaller scale story. Uncharted The Lost Legacy reminded me a lot of Uncharted 1. One main location. One villain (though Uncharted 1 sort of had two). Shoot shoot shoot, climb climb climb, quip quip, puzzle, there’s your game. There’s a little less of everything than last time, but that’s not a bad thing and there’s enough shooting and climbing and puzzle solving to make for a satisfying and memorable experience. It’s a good formula. It works. It’s a good game. I like it. I would play another of these next year if they put it out, but I hope they give the series a little bit of a break. Come back with something bigger in scope in a few years, with some upgrades to the gameplay to keep it from going stale. I'd play another game this size, but I'd love to play something that matches the size of Nathan Drake’s later adventures. I’d be happy to play it as Chloe, and I’d be happy to play as another character connected to the series. Perhaps the best thing to be said about Lost Legacy is that it left me wanting more, even five games into the series. I count that as a strong recommendation.
P.S. This game would make a decent introduction to the series for a newcomer. You'd miss some of the references to the old games, but you can pick up the stuff that matters, and it has all the modern gameplay advances that 1 lacks, without the length and reliance on the old games that 4 has.