Uncharted: The Lost Legacy

Year: 2017
Platform: PlayStation 4
Developer: Naughty Dog
Genre: Action/Adventure
Review Date: 9/14/17
Rating: ****

Following the events in "Uncharted 4: A Thief's End," this game features female protagonists Chloe Frazer (Claudia Black) and Nadine Ross (Laura Bailey) exploring ancient ruins in India searching for the fabled Tusk of Ganesh. A military insurgent named Asav (Usman Ally) is also after the tusk, which sets up the familiar "gifted archeologist vs. military juggernaut" conflict. Sam Drake (Troy Baker) also makes a special appearance in the third act, which mixes up the character dynamics quite a bit and injects more series continuity into the story.

It's interesting to note how much the "Uncharted" series owes to "Tomb Raider," and at the same time how much "Tomb Raider" has borrowed back from "Uncharted." In fact, "The Lost Legacy" looks, feels, and plays more like a classic "Tomb Raider" game than any of the last several TR games. The game looks fantastic and everything about the production is superb. The art direction and architecture are breathtaking and exploring the spectacular environment at your own pace is extremely rewarding. The balance of exploration, puzzle solving, and combat feels just about right, and the controls are simple and easy to use. The game has a staggering number of options and a wide range of difficulty settings. I played on the "Light" setting, which provided challenging, but not frustrating combat. Walking and running feels right, but the speed of Chloe's Jeep is less than ideal. It only has two speeds: stop, and too fast. Even though the accelerator uses an analog trigger, it only registers as full speed. The only way to maintain a reasonable speed is to constantly pump the trigger so that you're continually accelerating and decelerating. A minor complaint in an otherwise amazing game.

Chloe and Nadine are wonderful characters and make a great team - most of the time. They are both smart, strong, skilled, athletic, and fiercely independent. Their interactions feel natural and evolve organically, and their sharp and witty dialog is excellent. Their character models look fantastic, combining athleticism with femininity in realistic proportions, and clothed in contextually appropriate outfits (complete with sweat stains!). They bring a welcome and much needed feminine touch to the action/adventure genre. Having Nadine as a partner is extremely helpful, as she warns you about enemies you can't see and sometimes offers clues when you're not sure what direction to go in. She's also useful in combat, but you can't just sit back and let her do all of the work. The voice acting and motion capture are superb, and the actors give outstanding performances. It took me about fifteen hours to play through the entire game, and another five hours to finish collecting any treasures that I missed. I managed to get all but one of the optional conversations, and at some point the game made them unavailable whenever I would restart a chapter. Reportedly, when you finish the game a bonus menu is supposed to become available that exposes extra options, features, and costumes, but it never showed up for me. I found that a bit disappointing, because I was looking forward to some of those extras.

While I thoroughly enjoyed the game, it starts a little rough and takes several chapters to really find its groove. Both Chloe and Nadine aren't particularly likable for the first 2-3 hours of the game, and Chloe comes across as a mean, selfish, abrasive, and arrogant bitch. She's annoyingly chatty and her relationship with Nadine is very antagonistic. They become a lot more endearing by the middle of the game, when their relationship opens up and they start working as partners rather than just working together. Another thing that bothered me about Chloe was her disregard of the environment. She has no qualms about destroying ancient ruins and tearing up the landscape in her Jeep. She's first and foremost a treasure hunter, not an archeologist. I guess she's sort of like a darker and grittier version of Lara Croft, although they both seem to have the same penchant for violence and combat. Much like Ms. Croft, Chloe is unquestionably a cold-blooded murderer, and my stats at the end of the game reported that she had killed over 200 soldiers and mercenaries in her quest to obtain the Tusk of Ganesh. Of course, we can argue that everything took place in the midst of a lawless war zone, and that Chloe's heroic efforts saved thousands of innocent lives, but that still doesn't change the fact that she's a hardened and remorseless killer.

There are a few other minor points about the game that are worth mentioning. Naturally, with the incredible amount of detail in the game, the loading times can be oppressively long. Thankfully, once you're in the game, levels transition seamlessly, but that initial load is long enough to go fix yourself a sandwich. There's an artifact called Queen Mary's Ruby that can help you track down treasures, but it's twice as loud as anything else in the game and scares the crap out of you whenever you're near a treasure. I really wish there was a way to turn that down or somehow make the indicator more subtle. There's also a dynamic hint system that kicks in if you spend too much time in one place. While it's well intentioned and actually came in handy a couple of times, it's also a huge distraction when you're just exploring and taking in the beauty of your surroundings. It's like a constant reminder to stay on task, when you'd rather be immersing yourself in the rich environment and lore. The music is pretty sparse and not memorable, and mostly boils down to transitional stingers when something dramatic is about to happen. And finally, the controls for rope swinging can be pretty tricky. While there's a lot of forgiveness with sticking your landings, sometimes the camera angles force you to your death if you don't don't take advantage of your initial arc. Overall, these are exceedingly minor issues that are only apparent because the rest of the game is so top-notch.

Up until now, I've avoided the "Uncharted" games because they feature a male protagonist and I'm much more interested in playing female oriented games. However, given the amazing experience I had playing "The Lost Legacy," I definitely want to check out Nathan Drake's earlier adventures. I'm almost positive it will be time well spent.

Memorable quotes:
"I like monkeys."
"Hurray, physics!"
"Holy mother of shit, this is heavy!"
"That was a close one! Nearly destroyed my pants."

And my personal favorite, which is Nadine's appraisal of my fighting ability:
"I'm impressed, all things considered. The way you run around like a complete maniac shooting everything in sight, without any combat training or sense of control."
Yep, that pretty much describes my playing style and skill level to the letter. I wonder if that was context sensitive based on my performance, because I haven't seen that quote online anywhere.