Uncharted: The Lost Legacy doesn’t feature Nathan Drake, and is much shorter than the other games in the series. It can’t be as good, right?
If Uncharted: The Nathan Drake Collection is the complete, unabridged works, and Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End is Naughty Dog’s tour de force, where does that place Uncharted: The Lost Legacy?
It’s more of a greatest hits album, but that’s not a slight – that’s probably the biggest compliment I could pay the latest chapter of the Uncharted series.
But first, let’s get a bit of admin out of the way:
- No, it doesn’t have Nathan Drake in it – series favourite Chloe Frazer is the star here – but that doesn’t mean we don’t have a lovely time with some old friends.
- Yes, it’s shorter than the main-series games in the Uncharted series – my play-through took around eight and a half, fairly thorough hours – but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
Actually, given The Lost Legacy is essentially a standalone expansion built on Uncharted 4, we can probably take a lot of the review as read. Let’s instead deal with those two key points, the salient differences between The Lost Legacy and its forebear.
A question of character
An Uncharted game is a rollercoaster of explosive combat, derring do, and the sorts of set pieces that health and safety rules wouldn’t allow stunt performers to do in the movies. When you break that cavalcade of action movie tropes down, however, they don’t exactly stand alone.
As a third-person shooter, it’s solid enough. The structured nature of the climbing works, but it can quickly grow repetitive in long stretches. And those set pieces are amazing, but they’re just Quick Time Events; sure they’re the best damn QTEs you’ve ever seen in your life, but at times they’re barely even interactive.
Iteration is present in everything Naughty Dog does, though, and its evident in how far they’ve come with Uncharted 4/The Lost Legacy. You can see it in the panicked, running-towards-the-camera platforming sequences, that are improvements on the early Crash Bandicoot formula. It’s there in the hiding-in-long-grass stealth and brutal hand-to-hand combat, lifted with aplomb from The Last of Us.
The one thing Naughty Dog have never needed to work on, however, is their characterisation. And if you were worried some of that legacy might be lost, or watered down, by the loss of Nathan, Sully and Elena?
Well you needn’t have: Chloe Frazer and Nadine Ross, played by Claudia Black and Laura Bailey respectively, are absolutely magic.
It would be unfair to refer to Chloe simply as ‘girl Drake’ – she’s much more than that – though it’s easy to see why people draw that parallel. She’s the archetypal adventurer thief, educated and knowledgable yet agile and brave, with a mouth that gets her into trouble and the combat skills to get her out of it.
But when we’ve spent time with her in the past, she’s been a secondary character, an additional adventurer to accompany Nathan and a counterpoint to everyone else he’s allied with. She’s not Sully, trying to keep Nate out of trouble, or Elena, trying to keep him alive; she’s a bad influence, egging him on. In many respects, she’s probably worse!
Now she’s been promoted to the lead in The Lost Legacy, there was always the danger that Chloe might just become that analogue, the girl Drake stand-in to fill his wise-cracking boots. Thankfully her relationship with former antagonist Nadine – a stone cold badass, and strong and stern foil for Chloe’s Nate-esque bullshit – and the sense of space and pacing inherited from Uncharted 4, keep things positive.
Wide open space and room to breathe
One of the absolute highlights of Uncharted 4‘s grand adventure is the semi-open world sections, barrelling around the wilderness in a hired jeep with Sam and Sully, or latterly, with Elena. Far from the repetitive climbing or formulaic shooting, the freedom of movement in these jeep sections feel like the first time you’ve been truly exploring in the Uncharted series.
These Far Cry-esque sections, of solving puzzles, hunting down clues, and occasionally taking down enemy outposts, form the lion’s share of The Lost Legacy‘s action. Following a short introductory sequence – which serves as the game’s tutorial, capped off with a bit of exposition and a heart-pounding chase – you’re plunged straight into the jeep with Nadine, and you’ll spend the next few hours there.
Most of the activities you’ll find at the various waypoints of your jeep adventure are more of the same – climbing things, fettling puzzles, trying to stealthily take out as many enemies as you can before it inevitably goes wrong and you have to fight your way out – but it’s the breathing space afforded while you’re behind the wheel that make Uncharted: The Lost Legacy so special.
Spending time chatting, mostly about nothing much at all, is such a treat in a medium that’s so concerned with getting to the next key plot point at breakneck speed. There’s a reason why everybody loves the incidental dialogue and party banter in the Dragon Age games, and it’s the same sort of thing here.
Over the course of The Lost Legacy you’ll see Chloe grow as a hero, and mercenary Nadine – initially as cold and aggressive as you might remember from Uncharted 4 – soften. She even cracks a joke or two, mostly at the expense of the Drake brothers. “How did it work when you and Nathan were together… did you take it in turns, or just talk over each other all the time?” is a particular favourite round these parts.
But when the semi-open jeep sections are done and you follow the linear path to the game’s spectacular conclusion, is Uncharted: The Lost Legacy – at roughly half the length of the game that spawned it – worth the price of admission?
The short answer is, yes. Uncharted: The Lost Legacy is worth every penny of the asking price.
The long answer – ironically enough – is that Chloe’s adventure might actually be the best one in the series, precisely because it is the shortest Uncharted game.
That might be hard to swallow if you’re one of those abject lunatics who can only ascribe value to something in numerical terms, placing frame rates above enjoyment or running lengths above artistry, but if you’re thinking that way you’re missing the point. Quite aside from the reductive argument of value as a coefficient of run-time, it’s easy to forget – unless you’re reviewing them; trust us on this – that there’s untold merit to shorter video games. You can absolutely have too much of a good thing, and if you push that to the extreme? It can become tarnished.
Let’s take the earlier Uncharted games as some specific examples. As much as I adore them, each of the first three games in the series suffers from the exact same issue: they’re overlong, with a painful, drawn out third act, bloated with supernatural crap that detracts from the overall experience. The second fared a little better because its (also overlong) third act linked up with the game’s intro, but honestly, it was a mercy when the first and third ones ended.
Uncharted 4, on the other hand, drops the superstitious hokum. Instead, it’s replaced with lengthy flashbacks and tedious, low-stakes exploration sequences as the Drake children. Perhaps Naughty Dog were keen to add a little credence to the sudden appearance of Sam Drake, a detail not lost on Chloe here. “The brother, he just came out of nowhere,” she quips, in the jeep.
The Lost Legacy, mercifully, doesn’t have any of that. There are no ancient magics or zombie equivalencies, and you don’t have to suffer through protracted flashbacks. This is Uncharted with all of the fat trimmed clean off, giving you the absolute best bits – the exploration, the action sequences, and all of that magnificent writing (with resplendent performances to back it up) – in what amounts to the very best video game supercut.
But don’t forget: this is a supercut made by Naughty Dog themselves. This is legit. This is canon. This is pure, distilled, unspoiled Uncharted, and I couldn’t be happier with it. It really is their greatest hits.
Chloe has a mobile phone now, and – in addition to the glowing, ever-present optional treasures to hunt – Prompto-like photo opportunities litter the gorgeous environments. Combined with Uncharted 4‘s rather special photo mode, this is the best kind of digital tourism, in one of the prettiest games ever. Meta game photo mode photos of Chloe taking photos with the in-universe photo mode? Yes please!
It has some really neat little surprises, too, from a returning character that I really wasn’t expecting – that I’ve taken care not to spoil, but beware social media – to a moment that’s reminiscent of The Last of Us. It’s silly and over the top, but in the best possible way; this is an Uncharted game, after all. Again, no spoilers, but when you get to it, you’ll see what I mean. It’s lovely.
Oh, and Uncharted 4‘s multiplayer modes are included, if you like that sort of thing.
Uncharted: The Lost Legacy
Developer: Naughty Dog
Release Date: August 23rd 2017
Price: $39.99 / €39.99 / £29.99
Uncharted: The Lost Legacy is the real deal, folks. It separates the wheat from the chaff, takes everything that’s great about Uncharted 4 and distils it down to its purest, most brilliant form. Nathan who?