Along with Bloodborne, Naughty Dog’s Uncharted 4 proved to be one of the killer apps of its platform. As with the previous entries, it received nearly universal critical acclaim as a storytelling experience that far surpassed those of its peers. This caused many gaming enthusiasts to buy a PlayStation 4 for themselves in a parallel to how Uncharted 2 caused people to gravitate towards the PlayStation 3 in the previous console generation. Uncharted 4 was advertised as the series’ finale, as it gave its central protagonist, Nathan Drake, a conclusive sendoff.
However, shortly after the game was released in May of 2016, Naughty Dog began working on a new campaign within the same universe. Though many ideas were thrown out, Naughty Dog ultimately cast Chloe Frazer, a side character who debuted in Uncharted 2, as the lead. This campaign was billed as downloadable content for Uncharted 4, though it ultimately got a standalone, physical release when it debuted in August of 2017. This game, titled Uncharted: The Lost Legacy, didn’t exactly garner the same level of critical acclaim as Uncharted 4, with some outlets criticizing its lack of innovation and short length. The decision to continue a series after promising the previous installment would conclude it is a tricky proposition. Considering that mainstays such as Neil Druckmann and Bruce Straley had little input for this game, it would indeed appear to be a recipe for stagnation. Was this new team able to do this critically venerable series justice?
Analyzing the Experience
WARNING: This review will contain unmarked spoilers for both Uncharted 4 and The Lost Legacy.
Shortly after the events of Uncharted 4, a treasure hunted named Chloe Frazer travels to the mountainous regions of India. The area is in the midst of a conflict sparked by Asav, a ruthless profiteer. Making her way past several insurgents, Chloe meets up with her contact, Nadine Ross. As they venture through the city, Chloe explains to Nadine that she wishes to recover the Tusk of Ganesh, an artifact alluding to the Hindu deity sought by her late father to the point of obsession.
However, Asav also wishes to find the artifact in an effort to fund his machinations. In the face of this fierce opposition, it is up to Chloe and Nadine to locate the tusk before Asav can plunge the country into chaos.
Having been initially presented as downloadable content for Uncharted 4, Uncharted: The Lost Legacy plays identically to its direct predecessor. It is a third-person shooter that strongly encourages players to attack from behind cover. As Chloe takes damage, the colors will begin to desaturate until they are entirely monochrome. A well-aimed hit in this state will spell her demise, forcing her back to the most recent checkpoint. If she takes a hit, a red tinge will adorn the screen according to the direction from which the attack was launched. If you find a safe place after Chloe has taken damage and wait for a few seconds, the colors will be restored, which indicates a full recovery.
Chloe is allowed to carry a sidearm and a two-handed weapon at one time. Sidearms are generally weaker, but their small size allows Chloe to use them even when hanging onto a ledge. Meanwhile, two-handed firearms require her to be on the ground to use. She can also carry four grenades at a time, which comes in handy whenever the enemy is firing from all directions and popping out of cover is too risky. Occasionally, she can utilize C4 explosive charges. They function similarly, in that you throw them, but rather than exploding after a few seconds have passed, you must manually detonate them. Fortunately, if you place them improperly, you can retrieve them easily enough. In either case, an arc will display onscreen before throwing the explosive, allowing you to gauge where it will land.
Though undoubtedly an experienced fighter, Chloe isn’t as survivable as some action-game protagonists. As such, you may want to resort to stealth when dealing with any potential conflicts. If the enemy hasn’t discovered Chloe’s presence, she can hide in tall grass to avoid detection. If they catch a glimpse of her, a kite-shaped meter will appear over the soldier who saw her.
When it completely fills, it turns yellow, and the soldier will begin to investigate the area. They will also do this should they stumble upon the dead body of one of their comrades. If he turns up nothing, the meter will disappear, and he will resume his normal patrol. Should they spot Chloe, the meter will turn orange, and a gunfight will break out. It’s possible to lose them either by finding another hiding place or dispatching enough soldiers, but being discovered will often result in them calling for reinforcements, making it difficult to pull off such a feat.
By now, people invested in the series would know that Uncharted doesn’t settle for merely being a third-person shooter set in exotic locales; platforming elements also abound. Like Nathan Drake before her, Chloe is quite athletic, and she is able to navigate ledges by grabbing onto them. By paying attention to her character animations, you can tell if the next ledge is safe to jump to, though some will collapse anyway as a logical consequence to many of these areas having been exposed to the elements for centuries. Similarly, passages will often cave in, and ancient devices won’t always work as intended, forcing her and Nadine to find creative ways to circumvent these setbacks. At one point, Chloe will gain a piton. She can use this to pin herself to a craggy wall, and in a nice touch, the game gives you a split second to press the button so you may latch onto it. She also has a grappling hook that allows her to swing from an overhead branch or other sturdy structure. When using the hook, you will know it’s safe to let go when she reaches in the direction of a potential destination.
On the surface, it would appear that The Lost Legacy is another token sequel meant to make money off of the series’ legacy. Although the interface and control scheme are unchanged, actually playing it reveals there’s a bit more to it than that. To begin with, though Nathan Drake was an accomplished thief, his and Chloe’s methods are slightly different. While the former relied more heavily on physical strength, the latter displays more finesse, choosing to pick locks to enter inaccessible rooms rather than trying to steal the key.
When attempting to pick a lock, a graphic will appear onscreen. By rotating the left control stick, you must move the pick until you feel the controller vibrate. If the pick remains in the right spot for a long enough time, Chloe will successfully move the tumbler. Once they’re out of the way, the lock will open, allowing her to open the door. In addition to using it when demanded by the plot, you can also use it on crates left behind by Asav’s insurgents to gain access to their supplies.
There are also treasures to find throughout Chloe’s adventures. When you see a spark on the ground, you can approach it, and once you’re close enough, you can press the appropriate button to take it. They serve no practical value in gameplay. Instead, they’re used to convert into points, which you can use to unlock bonus content. Though the treasure hunt plays out mostly the same as it did in previous installments, The Lost Legacy goes a step further with the idea. Specifically, the fourth chapter in the game notably boasts a more open-world design. This is a stark contrast to the stages featured in the series up to this point, which were, in practice, intricately designed corridors.
To help things along, you’re given a map, which allows you to easily find your way around. Her current position is indicated by a red triangle. Once you find points of interest, she will mark the appropriate spots on the map. Though there are three symbols representing puzzles meant to solved in order to gain access to the next level, you will find a strange fourth symbol. By following the symbol to a shrine, you will learn that there are structures throughout the area each adorned with insignias representing kings of the Hoysala Empire. By scouring the areas near these structures, you will find a corresponding token. Once they have all been found, you can return to the shrine to receive a reward: the Queen’s Ruby. If it’s in your possession, a sound will emanate from the PlayStation’s controller. This indicates the presence of a nearby treasure. Furthermore, the jewel itself will begin to glow, flashing more rapidly the closer Chloe gets to the treasure. As someone who missed half of the treasures without a guide despite attempting to search every inch of a given level, this is a feature I was highly thankful for.
Though not entirely unprecedented, as a similar stage featured in Uncharted 4, this sidequest was a great change of pace, giving the series something it truly lacked. In a game centered on exploration, a stage where you’re allowed to do that with minimal plot interference fits the tone perfectly.
As was the case with the rest of the series, the gunfights are still somewhat lacking in that getting through them alive is more of a trial-and-error process which only allows you to pass once you’ve experienced them enough times. I also feel that, with the game being as short as it is, it lacks the same level variety its predecessors had, which often took place in multiple areas around the world. Luckily, none of this detracts from the fun, and getting through the various gunfights and platforming sections makes for an engaging experience.
No assessment of a Naughty Dog game past the original Uncharted would be complete without commenting on its story. When the project was formally unveiled at the PlayStation Experience event in December of 2016, fans were somewhat taken aback. It wasn’t because Naughty Dog made Chloe the protagonist, but rather because the deuteragonist happened to be Nadine Ross. She was notable for being the only villain in the series who survived without redeeming herself.
I myself was highly skeptical of this development, as one problem plaguing Naughty Dog’s approach to characterization since the seventh console generation is that they seemed to assume their audience would unconditionally identify with their leads. In the original Uncharted, this premise didn’t work, and in the face of the ensuing criticism, Naughty Dog made their protagonist more benevolent in the next games. However, this problem came back with a vengeance in The Last of Us and Uncharted 4, which both featured central characters who came across as far less sympathetic than intended, yet were expected by the writing staff for the audience to find likable regardless. The takeaway from this is that going into The Lost Legacy, I was fully expecting this to be a repeat performance with Nadine. Therefore, it was to my great surprise when I discovered that her character actually worked really well in this game.
The reason I can say this is the case is because she and Chloe have an excellent dynamic. Nadine’s reserved, comparatively stoic personality is a great foil to Chloe’s more excitable, impulsive demeanor. Though I believe that Naughty Dog had trouble handling morally ambiguous characters, this is was a case where it made for an intriguing source of underlying tension between the two. Before this game, Chloe had been an ally to Nathan Drake in two of his adventures whereas Nadine served as a major antagonistic force in his final one. These two characters would find themselves on the opposite sides of a conflict had the circumstances leading up to this adventure been even the least bit different, yet they learn to put that aside and work together to accomplish their goal of finding the tusk.
Chloe herself is an excellent lead, serving as an interesting contrast to Nathan Drake. Nathan explored uncharted territory as a tourist, albeit one operating outside of the law’s confines. Meanwhile, Chloe takes more of an interest in the region’s historical aspects and their relevance to her family, being of Indian descent herself.
To complement this new development, the puzzles in The Lost Legacy stand out from any of the previous ones by telling a far more vivid story, drawing heavily from Hindu mythology. Through solving them, you learn of a conflict involving three deities. Parashurama, the sixth avatar of Vishnu, was gifted an axe from Shiva, the destroyer of evil. Parashurama in turn used the weapon to cut off one of Ganesh’s tusks, weakening him. During the final puzzle involving these deities, it’s revealed that Ganesh let Parashurama attack him. The former recognized the axe as belonging to his father, Shiva, and though he could easily have struck Parashurama down with little effort, fighting back would make the weapon appear weak. The solution involves moving the arms of a statue representing Ganesh down so it may take the brunt of the attack. The axe’s path appears to pass through where the device control the statue’s arms are situated. It’s a clever instance where the answer is outright explained, yet you’ll be questioning whether it’s truly the right thing to do.
One of the strongest aspects about this story is how the writing staff finally manages to use their previous canon to a far greater effect than in any installment thus far. It’s revealed around halfway through that Chloe’s informant is none other than Sam Drake, the brother of Nathan Drake. Understandably, this causes a lot of friction between Chloe and Nadine, and the latter responds by taking off with their ATV. They do end up working together again and even rescue Sam, much to Nadine’s chagrin. Sam was another character I had a problem with in Uncharted 4, as lying to his brother led to an astounding amount of drama that could have been avoided. Because of this, I was wary when he made an unexpected appearance. Impressively, he wound up melding well with the dynamic the two leads built up. While Chloe and Nadine were characters who could have clashed with each other under different circumstances, Nadine and Sam actually had in the past, thus taking my earlier observation to its logical extreme.
I also commend this game for how it handles Nadine’s arc. At the beginning of the game, she wants nothing more than to revive her mercenary company, Shoreline. It’s an interesting situation where the player might find themselves wanting to help her succeed even though she and her squadron caused no shortage of trouble for them in Uncharted 4. Later on, however, Asav manages to get ahold of the tusk whereupon his motives for obtaining it are revealed. He traded it to Nadine’s second-in-command, Orca, in exchange for a powerful bomb. With it, he intends to plant it onto a train, detonating it when it reaches the nearby city. It is through this terrorist action that he intends to start a full-blown civil war. To punctuate the later stages of this arc, Nadine, without any hesitation, takes out two of her own men and helps Chloe and Sam deal with the rest of the Shoreline mercenaries. In the face of my biggest concern, I applaud Naughty Dog for making her redemption believable. For anyone who played Uncharted 4, this development was skillfully foreshadowed when Orca proved his willingness to betray his boss nearing the end of that game. His fate in The Lost Legacy provided ample closure to this plot thread.
As many good things I can say about this story, there are a few issues that remain. As per usual, Naughty Dog wrote in a way that often fails to acknowledge their story is in a video game. It’s still jarring whenever the protagonists are made to engage Asav in combat before the final chapters, ostensibly having control, and losing no matter how well you do. It’s meant to be in service to the plot, but in this era, Naughty Dog wasn’t particularly good when it came to preserving their villains organically.
To their credit, the protagonists have personalities that complement the third-person shooter genre more effectively than Nathan Drake, thereby making the divide between story and gameplay less severe.
One commonly cited problem with the game concerns its length. It’s difficult to contest that, for even someone who isn’t particularly skillful at the genre can clear the game in six or seven hours. Compared to those that came before, this game isn’t fleshed out as well as a direct result. However, I would argue that the game’s short length is simultaneously its greatest weakness and the biggest reason why Naughty Dog’s signature flaws didn’t have a chance to properly manifest. As of the original Uncharted, a reoccurring problem with their games is that they often didn’t know how to end their works on a satisfying note. Uncharted had an annoying final boss, the later levels of Uncharted 2 clearly didn’t have as much effort put into them as the earlier ones, Uncharted 3 ended rather abruptly, the ending of The Last of Us was woefully misbegotten, and Uncharted 4 reintroduced the dreaded quick-time events after four games of being largely absent. Keeping this in mind, I was once again shocked to discover that after five games which failed to stick the landing in some capacity, The Lost Legacy pulled it off without a hitch.
Defying the conventions of a typical Uncharted game, Chloe, Nadine, and Sam successfully recover the treasure they were looking for. There’s no drawback either; it’s not cursed, it doesn’t have a mystical power man was not meant to possess, and nobody is trying to kill them over it. Despite this, Chloe decides it’s not over, and convinces her two comrades to stop the train before it reaches a nearby city. This action was unequivocally the single most altruistic thing any post-Uncharted Naughty Dog protagonist had ever done. For that alone, Chloe can claim to be a more intriguing protagonist than her predecessors. This is especially true when one considers that she could just as easily have walked away from the situation knowing she personally would not be responsible for the tremendous loss of life.
What follows is an incredible sequence that puts many of Nathan Drake’s exploits to shame. Naughty Dog does pull off their standard action movie-inspired trope of magically taking Chloe’s weapons away whenever she’s in Asav’s vicinity to ensure that the proceedings aren’t ended with a single, properly aimed bullet. Thankfully, the final confrontation with him feels mostly like a real challenge that relies on the player having good reflexes without dragging on any longer than is necessary. He still dies in an impractical, over-the-top fashion, but the events leading up to it were genuinely exciting enough that it was easy to overlook this time.
Drawing a Conclusion
One of the biggest problems I had with the Uncharted franchise was that once its second installment firmly established itself in the public eye after a decidedly tepid debut, Naughty Dog stopped at nothing to try to top themselves with every subsequent installment. As it turned out, many of the ways in which Uncharted 2 shined could only have realistically been pulled off a single time, and repeat performances consequently led to diminishing returns. Though The Lost Legacy continued Naughty Dog’s tradition of implementing ideas only after they were provably sound, this new team managed to provide a solid, succinct experience that strikes a reasonable comprise between experimenting with their own conventions while staying true to their strengths. The result is one of the stronger games in the series, accomplishing what Uncharted 3 and, to a lesser extent, Uncharted 4 couldn’t given twice as long of a development cycle.
After hearing Naughty Dog brag about having strong female characters and how they ran counter to the AAA industry culture at the time, it was refreshing when they finally cast one in the lead role, as showing, especially through gameplay, is far more effective than telling. In doing so, I feel this game also succeeds where The Last of Us fell short with its own female lead in that Chloe Fraser is every bit as capable as Nathan Drake, yet the narrative rarely, if ever, calls undue attention to the fact. Recommending this game is slightly tricky because while I do think it’s good, I also believe that it’s highly dependent on how invested you are in the series. If you haven’t played through the rest of the series starting from Uncharted 2, many of the references will be lost on you. Though you could still make sense of the story, it was very much a reward for longtime followers. On the other hand, if you have played all of those games, I can easily recommend it – even to those who merely thought the series up to this point was okay. The Lost Legacy may not have been particularly innovative, but it is was a risk insofar that it took two side characters and expected them to live up to the reputation of a protagonist who starred in some of the most critically acclaimed games of their respective console generations. It would appear to be an impossible task, but I believe this game to be the breath of fresh air the series never knew it needed.
Final Score: 7/10