It would be so much easier to be cynical about a fifth Uncharted game arriving barely a year after the fourth Uncharted game if Naughty Dog didn't keep doing such a good job of making these things. You'd be forgiven if you worried last year's Uncharted 4--itself coming off a successful PlayStation 3 trilogy that felt like it had already run its course--looked like an unnecessary cash grab. But that game thoroughly justified its own existence in the end by acting as an elaborately plotted and personal coda to Nathan Drake's entire treasure-hunting career. Surely that was it, though, right?
Well, not quite. There's also the raw business reality that these games sell a lot of copies, so here we are 16 months later with the jaunty, budget-priced spinoff Uncharted: The Lost Legacy. Where Uncharted 4 was premised around Nathan Drake putting an end to Uncharted, The Lost Legacy goes a step further in saying that maybe you didn't need Drake to make a good old Uncharted adventure in the first place. In that spirit, the new game puts the sly supporting character Chloe Frazer in the starring role, and teams her up to great effect with Uncharted 4's not-quite-villainous mercenary Nadine Ross for a brisk quest full of twists and intrigue in India that's as well made and enthralling as any previous game in this series.
All the expected blanks are filled in. There's an exotic old civilization to explore (the Hoysala Empire), a mystical whatsit for our heroines to track down (the Tusk of Ganesh), and an articulate psychopath working against them (Asav, a revolutionary who wants the Tusk to incite an Indian civil war). The same is true on the gameplay side; the bulk of this game is made up of exactly what you'd expect if you've ever played an Uncharted before, from absurdly dangerous solo climbing all over ancient ruins, to slightly stealthy third-person cover shooting, to bespoke mechanical puzzles left behind by some long-dead people, and larger-than-life action set piece sequences. Even five games in, the designers still find a few ways to make the climbing and puzzle-solving and action moments feel fresh, by giving you some unique and surprising scenarios to climb on or solve in or run through in a desperate chase.
Don't let this game's lower price fool you; all of the Uncharted in this Uncharted is as good as it's ever been. It also goes down more smoothly in contrast to Uncharted 4, which felt padded out and a bit too long in spots. In that game, I felt like I'd climbed up enough cliff faces to last me a lifetime before it ended, but the overly familiar elements of The Lost Legacy never get a chance to overstay their welcome since the game packs so much into a tight package that moves briskly along. Even hunting for collectibles and stopping to gawk at the incredible scenery, I finished the storyline in well under 10 hours. It feels like a video game page-turner.
It's also worth mentioning a standout early chapter set in the Indian wilderness, which builds on the driving from Uncharted 4 by creating the closest thing to an open world the series has ever offered. Here you drive a jeep across hills, through jungles and over waterfalls as you tackle a handful of small temples spread around the map in whatever order you want to advance the story. This map also contains a large handful of optional collectible treasures, each requiring you to solve a quick, unique little puzzle to grab it, that give you something to do in between the main temples and which give you a neat, useful reward if you find all of them. This whole area will only take you a couple of hours at most to wring everything out of, but it's a nice low-key change of pace from the usual tightly designed and linear style these games usually work in, and a promising sign of how Naughty Dog might be thinking about changing things up in future games.
The other thing that's so endearing about The Lost Legacy is just how well Chloe and Nadine pair up as an adventuring team, working together a bit contentiously and solely out of convenience early on, but building a believable bond as the quest wears on. It's hardly a surprise the two might end up friends in a lighthearted series like this, but the ins and outs of how they get there are interesting enough that I had a hard time putting the game down once it got going. The game spends a significant amount of its short runtime quietly exploring what's going on in their heads. Nadine's fresh angst over losing her private military contractor at the hands of the brothers Drake, and the motivations from Chloe's past driving her to seek out the Tusk give the whole romp a more personal feel than it might have had with less focus on nuanced storytelling. There are also some great large and small callbacks to previous Uncharted games that make this feel like a believable adventure happening in the wake of Uncharted 4, rather than some generic treasure hunt taking place in a vacuum.
The Lost Legacy also ships with the entire Uncharted 4 multiplayer package, which you already have access to if you own that game (same trophies and all). So that's quite a bit of online content for newcomers and... not much for returning players. The one new addition is a revamp of the previous game's wave-based Survival mode called Arena that adds a bunch more objectives, modifiers, unlocks, and so on. As someone who didn't spend any real time with Uncharted 4 online, it was all new to me, and the sheer number of boosts, loadouts, XP types, challenges, and so forth was a little overwhelming at first. This is a decent three-player Horde mode if you're into such things, though my very first time out I matched into a game that seemed to hit on a specific set of modifiers in a late-game round as to be nearly unbeatable with no buffs unlocked. Survival Arena will get you some extra hours out of your 40 bucks if you want to grind a bunch of new multiplayer doohickeys, but the story mode in The Lost Legacy is more than worth the asking price on its own.
I sincerely went into The Lost Legacy feeling like there wasn't much an Uncharted game could do at this point to surprise or impress me, but its tight pacing, likable characters and creative scenarios really won me over and added up to one of my favorite games in the series. It's undeniable proof that Naughty Dog is one of the most talented studios in the world that even a spinoff game produced in barely over a year could offer some of the most grandiose action and bafflingly gorgeous visuals in modern games. This is another reminder that it still feels like a privilege to play a new Naughty Dog game, even when it so strongly echoes the work the company has done before.