Uncharted: The Lost Legacy review: The best driver in the business

Uncharted: The Lost Legacy is a game I’ve been wanting for a long time. Chloe Frazer has been the star of the series in my eyes ever since she was introduced in the Uncharted 2, so a Chloe-led game seemed obvious. Instead, Naughty Dog seemed to forget about her, pushing her to the sidelines in Uncharted 3 and then erasing her completely in Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End.  Given that history, last year’s announcement of The Lost Legacy was a pleasant surprise for me. At the same time, I had my doubts. I didn’t like the way A Thief’s End traded the series’ trademark humour and characterisation for a shallow attempted at a more “grounded” story. What if the same happened to Chloe?

As it turns out, those fears were misplaced. Even though it’s a spin-off, The Lost Legacy is the best game since the iconic Uncharted 2, and it doesn’t just do justice to Chloe Frazer – it exceeds every expectation. This is one of the series’ best.

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Like every Uncharted game, it starts with a McGuffin: the Tusk of Ganesh, a cherished artifact of the Hoysala Empire, said to have been cut from the face of Ganesh himself. For Chloe, and her new partner Nadine, the tusk is little more than a payday – something like that would be worth millions. They also have the advantage of Chloe’s expertise on the matter, inherited from a father who made chasing the tusk his life’s mission, giving them a one up on the violent competition.

Uncharted: The Lost Legacy review

At least, that’s the case at the beginning. But over the course of the adventure, it takes on a much more personal direction for Chloe, as an opportunity for her to reconnect with her Indian heritage. She’s someone who knows a lot about the Tusk of Ganesh, the Hoysala Empire, and the Hindu pantheon, and early on she shares this knowledge with a bitter edge – it’s a reminder of everything that her father put before her. But in coming face to face with the iconography of a side of her identity that she’s never really engaged with before, that disdain shifts towards appreciation. It becomes less about Chloe’s father, and more about Chloe herself finding a connection to her land and her people that she’s been missing her whole life.

I’ll admit that it’s an uneasy start. The whole “daddy issues” thing is an overplayed trope for women in fiction, and one that’s rarely done well, and in The Lost Legacy it really only serves as a convenient backstory. The whole idea of women from Commonwealth nations – Chloe from Australia, Nadine from South Africa – riding in to violently steal Indian artifacts is particularly troublesome, given the history there and the unintended message that kind of setup sends. I get the feeling that Chloe’s Indian heritage was retconned to serve a desire to set a game in India – I can’t remember any previous work suggesting that she’s anything but Australian, and I personally always thought of her as someone with an Indigenous background that she was estranged from. For her to “suddenly” be Indian for the sake of the setting struck me as odd, at least initially.

But once the story finds its footing after the first couple of hours, these issues mostly give way to a genuine, heartwarming tale of a woman without a country finding place to call home. It’s wonderful to see her grow from a “selfish dickhead” (as she’s described by more than one character) who’s interested only in the profit to be gained from the Tusk of Ganesh to someone with a spiritual connection to the land and its history, that it’s that connection that allows her to ultimately complete her mission. I don’t want to say too much for fear of giving things away, but the ending really drives this home – and it does so in a fairly low-key way, too, which is the perfect conclusion to the story.

Uncharted: The Lost Legacy review

Just as moving is the friendship that develops between Chloe and Nadine. The Lost Legacy is Chloe’s story first and foremost, so Nadine doesn’t get nearly as much character development, but this is still a huge improvement on how she was handled in Uncharted 4. She’s a stone-cold military type who rarely laughs, let alone shares her feelings, and she comes across as abrasive and rude. This was the full extent of her character in the previous adventure, but this time around she gets enough screen-time to open up and start to show some personality. She’s never going to be as sassy as Chloe or expressive as Elena, but she has her own warmth and charm that really shows through in her dialogue and behaviour over the course of the game. She had me laughing out loud – literally, not in a LOL text chat sense – on more than one occasion, which is something I never thought I’d say about Nadine Ross.

That said, I would have liked to see more of an effort to flesh out her story. The game touches a little bit on her feelings of inadequacy after losing Shoreline at the end of Uncharted 4, and her own “daddy issues” in relation to that, but these things don’t really get explored. Nadine, delightful as she is, exists to be a companion and a foil for Chloe. She plays that role well, but given how the game’s marketing focused on the partnership and gave the women equal time under the spotlight, it does feel a little bit like Nadine’s been left behind once again.

All of this makes for a more personal, intimate story than Uncharted usually delivers, but without the heavy-handedness of A Thief’s End. The game managed to make me care about Chloe and what she’s going through in a way that none of the other games to date have, as well as loading up all the humour, excitement, and adventure that the series is known for.

One thing I really like is that The Lost Legacy tones down a lot of the wanton destruction of history that the series so often relies on for its entertainment. With a few exceptions, Chloe and Nadine leave only footprints and take only photos (and the Tusk of Ganesh). When there is the inevitable “escape from a collapsing ruin” set-piece, it’s never the result of the treasure hunters’ negligence; the closest they get is setting off a sort of self-destruct mechanism set in place by the people who first built the temple in question. Every other case comes courtesy of the villains, who’d be getting their explosion regardless of Chloe and Nadine. This is no coincidence, either – one particularly memorable scene really drives home the impact of the mindless destruction that Nathaniel Drake trades in. I don’t want to spoil it, but anyone who’s played the game will know exactly which part I’m talking about, even with that vague description.

However, that all makes the series’ approach to collectibles quite dissonant. As always, there’s a collection of treasures hidden across the game that you can collect. That’s fine in itself, but in a game that spends so much time pointing out why stealing ancient artifacts for your own profit is kind of a shitty thing to do, to then do exactly that in side quests is more than a little uncomfortable. Worse still, some of these can be found only by literally blowing up the walls of ancient temples with grenades.

On the other hand, The Lost Legacy introduces a new collectible in the form of photo opportunities. At certain locations with particularly impressive views, you’ll find a button prompt with a camera icon; press the button, and Chloe whips out her phone to take a photo. These scratch that collector’s itch, but do so in a much more narratively cohesive way than the treasures.

Aside from all that, this is pretty much the Uncharted you know and love: adventure, excitement, a wisecracking hero, plenty of humour, beautiful sights, and technical excellence. It experiments a bit with semi open world design in one area – think Rise of the Tomb Raider’s hub maps – which introduces a sense of player-directed adventure, to great effect; aside from that, it’s the same combination of gunplay, light platforming, and puzzle-solving that we’ve come to know and love.

That it manages to be a familiar Uncharted experience, while still pushing the boundaries of the type of stories the series can tell is among The Lost Legacy’s greatest achievements.

Uncharted: The Lost Legacy is developed by Naughty Dog and published by Sony Interactive Entertainment. It’s available now for PlayStation 4.

A press copy was supplied by the publisher for this review.

Matthew Codd

Matthew is a writer based in Wellington. He loves all things pop culture, and is fascinated by its place in history and the wider social context.