Video Games Review: Uncharted: The Lost Legacy (PS4, 2017) is a glimpse of what the series could be in a post-Drake world

If Naughty Dog is to be believed, Uncharted: The Lost Legacy will be the final entry in their now-legendary series of adventure games. If their intention, then, was to send the franchise out on a high note, mission accomplished.

When Uncharted: The Lost Legacy was first announced last year it was as a chunk of DLC for 2016’s Uncharted 4: A Thief‘s End. As the development on the project continued, the wording used in marketing for it began to shift. No longer was this merely DLC for a popular title, it had moved into stand-alone territory. Indeed, The Lost Legacy is a fully-fledged Uncharted game in its own right, albeit rather shorter and with a few significant changes to what is now a fairly well-known formula.

These changes include a shift of design focus away from the fairly linear titles starring Nathan Drake, to a more open world sandbox in which all the game’s main temples and challenges can be completed in any order the player desires. It works. Not only do these changes make sense within the world of Uncharted, they also allow the game — which features two of the series more popular supporting characters stepping up into lead roles — to better stand on its own.

Indeed, the way The Lost Legacy approaches its updated design ethos, it’s almost like Naughty Dog is running a bit of an experiment or perhaps an information gathering exercise. How do people respond to non-Drake lead characters? To the idea of the series taking on a different feel and form? I’ll be very interested to see where this leads. In my mind, either Naughty Dog (in defiance of their statements to the contrary) have a vision for what the series will evolve into next and are using this as a test bed, or they plan to hand the franchise off to another developer and felt like throwing caution to the wind on a fairly low-risk project the way Bungie did in Halo ODST. Either way, as I said, it works.

The story of The Lost Legacy sees returning anti-hero Chloe Frazer, played with endless charm by Australian actress Claudia Black (Stargate SG-1, Dragon Age: Inquisition) in India searching for a treasure called the Tusk of Ganesh. Because nothing about a job in the Uncharted universe ever goes smoothly, Chloe has begun her search just as India is collapsing into a state of civil war. And because Chloe is a smart arse with poor impulse control, rather than wait for the conflict to pass, she charges headlong into the fray determined to retrieve her prize.

Chloe knows she can’t retrieve the Tusk without help and has found a reluctant partner in Nadine Ross, played by the incomparable Laura Bailey (Critical RoleGears of War 4). Last seen as the head of a private military company and perennial thorn in your side in Uncharted 4, Nadine is very much nursing a bruised ego and looking to keep her head down but Chloe’s promise of easy riches proves too inviting to resist. It makes sense then that you play through the game as Chloe with Nadine as your sidekick. What better way to reinforce Chloe’s reckless behaviour than by putting her in the hands of the most reckless person of all — the player.

In what has become the hallmark of every modern Naughty Dog game, it is the personal interplay between Chloe and Nadine that is the game’s brightest light. They are an odd couple in a way the series has never had before. Chloe is a compulsive fuck-up, refusing to take any situation seriously. She is a perfect storm of reptile brain impulse and selfishness, constantly making things worse for everyone around her even as she insists everything will be fine.

Nadine, on the other hand, is serious and analytical to a fault, making her the perfect straight woman to Chloe’s unbroken stream of Drake-esque quipping. She more than happy to return fire though, totally unafraid to give Chloe a piece of her mind when she deserves it. Black and Bailey bounce off each other incredibly well, their chemistry fizzy, funny and believable throughout — it came as no surprise to discover that the two actors are fast friends in real life.

Narratively, Uncharted: The Lost Legacy is to be commended for addressing a few thing the series has been dinged for by fans and critics in the past. For one, it is one of the few game in the series to draw a direct personal connection between its protagonist, the game’s setting and the item they are seeking. Chloe comes from an Indian background and, while her actions initially seem like a brazen and self-sabotaging act of cultural vandalism, as the story progresses her true motivations for getting the Tusk out of a rapidly deteriorating India become clearer and clearer.

This is not to suggest that The Lost Legacy has dumped everything you love about Uncharted in an effort to be different because it definitely hasn’t. You’ll still spend hours climbing around ruins, solving dead easy puzzles and wrestling with the still garbage shooting system as you mow down hundreds of vaguely threatening gun boys.

The shooting remains one of Uncharted‘s stranger aspects. It’s always been clunky, it’s never been fixed and it’s always seemed like it was there because Naughty Dog felt they had to give you something else to do for a while. This, despite the fact that it doesn’t sit flush with any other part of what they’re doing. It’s hard to regard a lead character who is murdering hundreds of blank-faced soldiers one moment and wise cracking with their friends in a cutscene the next as anything but a sociopath.

In fairness, when the shooting sections to pop up it’s nice to see that Naughty Dog have worked hard to make them as interesting as possible. There’s flanks and cover and high ground and interactive objects, all of which can be used by your enemies as easily as they can be used by you. Each area is designed to keep you and your foes moving and re-positioning for better lines of sight and crafty ambushes. It must be said, and perhaps some of you will find this contradictory, while the shooting is still the game’s weak link, you are certainly never bored. My feelings on this are complicated. I apologise.

As stated earlier, the area where the game changes things up the most is in its open world area, the Western Ghats. Don’t let the marketing hype take you in too much — the Western Ghats have been described as the largest Uncharted level Naughty Dog have ever built and, while that’s certainly true, it is still (mercifully, in my opinion) quite small by sandbox standards. This restraint allows Naughty Dog to pour more detail in the Ghats’ different areas. You are free to explore the Ghats at your own pace, piling into a jeep with Nadine and going for a trundle. Travelling around the map never, ever feels like Naughty Dog are trying to pad the game out (not in the way it does whenever a shooting section appears anyway). Because the map is so reasonably sized, it never takes long to get where you’re going and the reward for doing so is always worth it. I’d also like to add that The Lost Legacy has a series of totally optional puzzles that are far harder than anything the series has ever boasted before and I’m here for it. I mean, I solved them all. But good effort, Naughty Dog, I appreciate you throwing me a puzzle bone.

In between the exploring, climbing, puzzles and occasional shooting, the game likes to remind you that you are still playing an Uncharted title and will throw a climactic, do-or-die set piece battle or escape at you. While I don’t wish to sound churlish (and with the exception of the game’s finale which is utterly spectacular) these sequences aren’t anything you haven’t seen from Naughty Dog before. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing — they are all exciting, eye-popping moments that only Naughty Dog can pull off, and they put their all into them, but they are par for the course and so it costs them a little in terms of impact. This could be why Naughty Dog are ready to move on to other things. I couldn’t blame them if it was.

Uncharted: The Lost Legacy is less a final chapter in the series and more an embracing and celebrating of the things that made it so popular. It winkingly and ever-so-slightly re-opens the book that Uncharted 4 firmly closed, acknowledging what the series may evolve into in the future with a new creative force at the helm. It is a fond farewell. Whoever picks up the mantle from here has no small job ahead of them.

Score: 9.0 out of 10
Highlights: Gorgeous; Chloe and Nadine rule; Smartly designed open world
Lowlights: Shooting still the game’s weakest link
Developer: Naughty Dog
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Platforms: PlayStation 4
Available: Now

Reviewed on PlayStation 4 Pro.