Naughty Dog is at an interesting cross-roads in 2017.
They’ve cemented their legacy as one of the absolute best developers in the world at what they do. As narrative-focused shooters go, they lead the pack. But as the years tick by, their formula, particularly in the Uncharted games, has been well and truly sussed. The Lost Legacy is another gorgeous, charming adventure with solid gameplay and an easy-to-binge run-time, but it’s hard to not feel burned out on the series at this point.
Prior to release, many would have argued last year’s Uncharted 4 was a rickety bridge too far, but the game ultimately recieved adoration for telling the franchise’s most mature story to date.
With Lost Legacy, a $40USD standalone, the series regresses somewhat, feeling a little more Uncharted-by-numbers than last year’s ‘game of the year’ contender.
You play as Chloe Frazer, a fan favourite from Uncharted 2 and 3, who is teaming with Nadine Ross, a cool but underutilized anti-hero from Uncharted 4, to track down the elusive ‘Tusk of Ganesh.’ While the dynamic between the two heroines gradually evolves from frosty to friendly, and will charm you along the way, there isn’t much to sink your teeth into as far as character development goes. Despite inventing a previously unheard of brother out of thin air, four games deep, the last entry’s dynamic between Sam and Nathan Drake was compelling and fleshed out, as was Nate’s parallels to antagonist Rafe. Lost Legacy feels like a step in the wrong direction as the heroes’ odd couple routine is very aged at this point, and worse still, they’re teaming up to fight the most one-dimensional villain of the series so far. Naturally the minute to minute banter is great – Naughty Dog knows how to write likeable characters and genuinely funny gags. But if you were expecting something deeper, such as what ND offered in the previous Uncharted, or the seminal The Last of Us, you will be disappointed.
In the gameplay department, things are similarly showing their age. The cover-based shooting feels like it hasn’t advanced since the earliest days of the PS3/360 generation. While Nadine and Chloe boast some tremendous tag-team animations when engaged in melee combat, the encounters mostly feel like busy work you’re just getting through so you can see the next cutscene. Despite the open combat arenas seemingly encouraging you to grapple, sneak and larp around to your heart’s content, getting creative kills as you go, the bullet sponge enemies go against that. Playing in anything other than a hunkered-down, military, cover shooter style has always resulted in frequent deaths for me.
One sizeable section in the middle of the game gives you a faux open world space to drive around in, with core objectives and side quests you can tackle in any order you’d like. It doesn’t massively change how you’ll play the game, and feels more like a bit of technilogical muscle flexing. But hey, if you’ve got it, flaunt it. Naughty Dog games were always maligned as gorgeous but linear, to a fault; with Lost Legacy they’re encouraging people to engage in some virtual tourism. The space they provide is jaw-dropping. It’s huge, without compromising the series’ trademark detail and weather effects. Coupled with the always fun Photo Mode, you can spend a few hours just looking at the various nooks and cranies of the world, marvelling at how good ND are at making the most of the hardware at their disposal. The objectives scattered across the map are still very typical of the series, and simply letting you tackle them in any order isn’t the Hail Mary that will keep it interesting, but it’s a fun novelty on this occassion.
Puzzle solving is another key ingredient in the Uncharted formula, and in this case it’s one that is still holding up pretty well. There are a decent amount of puzzles squeezed into the eight-ish hours of Lost Legacy, and they’re mostly a perfect balance of challenge and accessiblity. Some sections mix things up by having larger scale puzzles that you’ll need to solve with quick reactions and platforming, so it’s not always a simple ‘line up these pieces of an amulet’ job.
Fans of the Uncharted series will definitely enjoy this shorter adventure. While much of what makes the games great is getting tired, it’s still produced with a level of polish and charm that makes it compelling. The mix of crazy set pieces, including an all-time great in the franchise, puzzles, combat and exploration – appropriately mixed up and trimmed to fit in a less than ten hour experience is hard to argue with. As well worn as the tropes may be, it’s hard not to crack a smile in the company of Naughty Dog’s characters.