Nothing about Uncharted: The Lost Legacy is reinventing the wheel. One of the most consistent and enjoyable series of the past decade, Uncharted clearly established its world and action with the first installment, Drake’s Fortune, back in 2007, and while subsequent iterations have improved on the graphics and control and spectacle, the fundamental pleasures of the games remain unchanged. Nathan Drake runs, jumps, punches, and shoots his way to adventure and treasure. The newest outing may no longer feature Nathan as the star, but the formula hasn’t changed a whit. And if this is ultimately a relatively lightweight addition to the series, the lack of emotional heft can’t detract from the sheer visceral pleasure of being back in such a fun, fully realized, and gorgeous universe.
The Lost Legacy shifts focus to treasure hunter Chloe Frazer, a standout character from Uncharted 2: Among Thieves whom we last saw abandoning Nathan’s quest in the middle of Drake’s Deception. Here, she’s teamed up with Nadine Ross, an antagonist from A Thief’s End, now having lost control of Shoreline, the paramilitary organization that repeatedly tried and failed to kill the Drake brothers. Nadine has joined forces with Chloe in order to locate the Tusk Of Ganesh, a valuable artifact whose sale Nadine hopes will allow her to regain Shoreline. Chloe, of course, is in it for the money—and the thrill of the hunt.
The game’s central emotional resonance is built around the classic buddy-cop dynamic between the two women, and for a large chunk of the game, it feels shallow and underdeveloped. Hours go by before Chloe and Nadine begin to open up and exhibit actual feelings. This may be a realistic way to slowly uncover the very human hearts beating within these characters who are known more for pragmatism and cagey elusiveness, but it makes for a bloodless experience in the early going. It’s still an undeniable treat to be scaling mountains and solving ancient puzzles, but there’s little to engage with personally until this narrative hurdle is overcome. Once things become more complicated, and we start to see trust and rapport between the two, it’s a rewarding sense of earned affinity. (There’s also a surprise—and surprisingly enjoyable—late-game appearance from a prior Uncharted character.)
In fact, by the end, the Chloe-Nadine relationship is so solid and feels so justly deserved that it only serves to highlight the clumsier introduction of Chloe’s family history. It’s gradually revealed that her father was obsessed with locating the Tusk, a single-minded goal that alienated him from his daughter. This quest gives Chloe a chance to reflect on her father’s behavior, but it never feels effectively integrated. Each completed mission merely gains the player a brief monologue about the Frazer patriarch, delivered like obligatory backstory that never attains the blood-is-bond importance assigned to family in the Drake universe. For Chloe, the relationship that matters is the one we see growing before our eyes, and the game benefits each time it focuses on the two of them, rather than her troubled childhood.
The villain this time around is Asav, a warlord who talks a big game about protecting Indian history but who soon reveals himself to be just another sadistic thug. His mercenaries provide this outing’s bevy of faceless cannon fodder, to be done away with as usual via close-quarters combat or an array of guns, often hidden in crates that put Chloe’s lock-picking skills to the test. There’s an increased emphasis on stealth in the fight sequences, with nearly every—though not all—outpost of armed goons capable of being taken out silently and with minimal ammunition. Given Chloe’s broader moral flexibility, there’s less cognitive dissonance in these areas than there always was with Nathan, which helps them feel less awkward, even if they’re no more inventive than the games have ever managed to be when it comes to interchangeable baddies. And Asav is thin gruel as a nemesis—his fleeting appearances do little to make an impression, to the point that it was only several minutes into a late-game showdown with a minor boss that I realized it wasn’t actually Asav.
The major difference in this Uncharted is noteworthy for how liberally it borrows from the structure of another rousing action-adventure series: Tomb Raider. The largest of The Lost Legacy’s eight chapters—one that accounts for at least a quarter of the entire game—takes place in the Western Ghats, the real-world mountain range and marvel of biological diversity in the Indian peninsula. Chloe and Nadine are given a map that shows three major towers throughout the region, as well as a host of smaller side adventures, and then drive around between them all, knocking out missions one at a time. It’s a fun way to integrate some openness to the series, but it also feels the least like Uncharted for the same reason. While the rest of the game continues the tradition of unfolding like a super-sized Indiana Jones movie, the Western Ghats hits pause on the drama, letting you explore the world of the game at your leisure.
Thankfully, Naughty Dog has lost none of its touch for constructing elaborate and electrifying landscapes and mythos. The jungle canopies and mountainous vistas are as stunning as ever, meaning that while the continuous battles with identical baddies can get repetitive (even with a seemingly improved artificial-intelligence system that makes for a wider range of reactions and coordination among the enemy mercs based on your actions), the geography rarely does. The game’s attention to lush detail means it’s not just the show-stopping set pieces and massive architecture that reward closer inspection. Even tiny waterfalls and muddy grasslands attain a beauty, maintaining Uncharted’s tradition of being a game it’s fun to just ogle. (And in a meta in-joke of sorts, Chloe periodically stop to snap a picture on her camera of the more appealing panoramas.) Similarly, the focus on Hinduism is rich and engaging, and it returns the game to the roots of earlier Uncharteds.
Uncharted: The Lost Legacy can’t measure up to the series’ best offerings, but it certainly doesn’t want for any of the swashbuckling adventure. Branching off with a new set of main characters was always going to mean this arrived with less depth than what was built across the four previous entries, and even integrating the events of A Thief’s End doesn’t do much to lend pathos to people we’re just now getting to really know. It also doesn’t help that the game begins with an introductory level that treats players like they’re learning how to walk for the first time, rather than the fifth installment of a massively popular series. But these early weaknesses are slowly overcome, and the game builds momentum as it goes along, finally culminating in a train-set climax that’s breakneck and thrilling. If it feels more predictable than past iterations, it also delivers jolts of adventure as reliably as a metronome. This isn’t the best Uncharted, not by a long shot, but it’s a worthy entry and hopefully the building block for more rewarding adventures with Chloe and Nadine to come.
Uncharted: The Lost Legacy
Developer: Naughty Dog
Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment
Platform: PlayStation 4