Ten years after the first entry of its much-lauded action-adventure series, developer Naughty Dog released ‘Uncharted: The Lost Legacy’. The 2017 game was originally slated to be additional downloadable content for ‘Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End’, but evolved into a stand-alone title with a self-contained story, different playable protagonist, and an unrelated geographical setting. As ‘The Lost Legacy’ was conceived as an expansion, it is unsurprising that it is quite short, particularly when compared to the marathon that is ‘A Thief’s End’. However, this results in a more focused adventure and a return to the brevity and fun of the series’ earlier games.
Before delving into ‘The Lost Legacy’ any further, it would be remiss not to address its immediate predecessor in more depth. ‘A Thief’s End’ certainly is an excellent and highly-polished piece of digital art, so Escape & Adventure readers may wonder why it does not feature on our recommended list of games. The reason is that it includes several sections that do not feel like cohesive parts of a rollicking classic adventure. The narrative’s focus on the realities of domestic life and family obligation results in main protagonist Nathan Drake coming across as a more serious and shackled shadow of his former self. This diminishes the feeling of lighthearted escapism the earlier games provided. In addition, ‘A Thief’s End’ has an overabundance of flashback levels and long emotional cutscenes, which negatively affect its pacing—and more crucially—the momentum of the adventure at hand. When compared to the purity of ‘Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune’ or the series’ best and most exciting entry, ‘Uncharted 2: Among Thieves’, ‘A Thief’s End’ seems somewhat diluted in spirit.
‘The Lost Legacy’ has no time or space for this; it allows the player to get straight on the path of adventure and stay there for the entire duration. Despite leaving most of ‘A Thief’s End’s’ cumbersome baggage behind, ‘The Lost Legacy’ retains its elder sibling’s best assets, particularly the jaw-dropping visuals and finely-tuned gameplay mechanics. This leaves the player with a mouth-watering gaming experience, which combines the sense of adventure of the series’ earliest titles with some of the eighth console generation’s best graphics and controls.
This adventure is predominantly set in India’s Western Ghats, a sprawling expanse of biodiversity consisting of dense foliage-covered mountains, shimmering lakes, and tremendous waterfalls. The natural beauty contained within this paradise makes it easy for the player to suspend belief and take a hiatus from normal life. Although many other action-adventure games have featured aesthetically similar locales with luscious tropical greenery, ‘The Lost Legacy’ feels refreshing because of the civilization to which its setting and story are connected.
The Hoysala Empire, which existed in southern India from the tenth to the fourteenth century, is not particularly well known and it would be unsurprising if most people outside of the Indian subcontinent had never even heard of it. The go-to locations of many video games with similar environments seem to be Central and South America, and as a result, the average gamer probably knows much more about the Maya, Aztec, and Inca cultures. Basing ‘The Lost Legacy’ on a less popular civilization is a welcome change, as it provides a genuinely interesting backdrop that will be fresh to most players, giving them the chance to discover and learn something new.
The location’s natural treasures are on full show throughout ‘The Lost Legacy’, with its colourful flora and fauna displayed in vivid eye-popping high-definition detail. When combined with Naughty Dog’s careful rendering of the many Hoysala ruins scattered across the levels, the player is presented with a finely-crafted and visually-appealing environment to explore and enjoy.
The wildlife we come across on our adventure includes bright pink flamingos, chattering monkeys, and majestic elephants. The former are first encountered idling in a tranquil pool surrounded by dramatic waterfalls. Equally as impressive as this picture-perfect scene is the way they gracefully fly off as the protagonists approach in their vehicle. During one of the game’s more mysterious and atmospheric levels, there is the opportunity to ride on an elephant as it lumbers over the terrain, which excites and unnerves its precariously-positioned passengers in equal measure.
The Hoysala architecture found in the game is well detailed and consists of ruined cities, temples, towers, and fortresses. These serve as great climbing, shooting, or puzzling environments. Perhaps most impressive are the gigantic statues of Hindu gods, which seem to have been abandoned to eternity. Several of these appear in a level entitled ‘The Great Battle’. Their sense of scale is awesome and is best experienced by grappling and swinging from one to the other in intrepid leaps of death-challenging faith.
The adventurers who partake in these risky high jinks are Ms. Chloe Frazer and Ms. Nadine Ross, both of whom have made appearances in previous ‘Uncharted’ games but never as main protagonists. In ‘The Lost Legacy’ it is Chloe who replaces Nathan Drake as the playable character, but the inclusion of Nadine is equally as important. This is because one of the factors that makes the narrative endearing is observing how their relationship develops naturally through snippets of conversation, banter, and exposition that take place during gameplay.
Chloe and Nadine are on the hunt for a fabled artifact, known as the Tusk of Ganesh; both of them have personal reasons for their search. Being of Indian heritage, Chloe’s is closer to heart, but divulging too much here would be a disservice to readers who have yet to play the game. The protagonists’ motivations are gradually revealed to the player through Naughty Dog’s skillful implementation of character conversations. From their interaction it is apparent that Chloe and Nadine have very different personalities and watching how the two extremely well-crafted and capable female leaders learn to work together for their shared goal is enjoyable.
Facing off against them as ‘The Lost Legacy’s’ main villain is a man named Asav, who is one of the series’ best antagonists to date. He is powerful, intelligent, and threatening. Asav leads a revolutionary group of insurgents that is locked in a war with India’s authorities for control of the country. He has his own army and a vast pool of resources at his disposal, many of which are set loose upon Chloe and Nadine throughout their adventure. From the outset it is implied that he wants the Tusk of Ganesh to use as an icon to draw people to his cause. However, this turns out to be not quite as straightforward as it initially seems.
Whatever their differing motivations may be, all of the characters mentioned above are determined to get their hands on the Tusk of Ganesh first, which results in a topsy-turvy race to the finish line.
Although the majority of gameplay takes place within the Western Ghats, the opening few levels are set in a combat-ravaged district of a large unnamed Indian city. The game’s first area, where we find Chloe killing time in a small market stall with its likeable young attendant, serves as a fantastic example of digital world building. The extent that Naughty Dog has gone to in ensuring the authenticity of the local Indian environment is staggering; the products in the stall are bursting with so much detail and colour that they seem real. Through the open storefront we can hear a cacophony of market trader hustle and bustle, into which Chloe subsequently plunges as she takes the first few steps along the path of her grand adventure.
Establishing a suitable atmosphere in the digital locations that they create is one area in which Naughty Dog particularly excels. The game’s second and third levels clearly highlight this. Once Chloe has left the market and made her way to the part of the city where most of the conflict is taking place, she must stealthily infiltrate a building deep in the danger zone. This section of gameplay is set at night and exudes an atmosphere that is in perfect harmony with the tenseness of the task at hand.
The war-torn district has been vacated by most of its former occupants, but a number of citizens have remained in place throughout the civil strife. Some of them can be glimpsed scurrying through narrow gloomy lanes as they attempt to make it home safely before they barricade themselves inside for the evening. Others are shown being harassed and brutalised by Asav’s security personnel. These small but important scripted events lead us to believe that we are trespassing in an area we really should have avoided. Of course, where there is treasure to be sought there is adventure, and on the path of adventure there are always dangerous trials to face—so we push forward—around the next mysterious corner and into the unknown night.
In some of the game’s later sections the developers have used weather effects as a tool to imbue an area with their desired atmosphere. During a level called ‘The Gatekeeper’, the full power of a tropical storm is unleashed on our protagonists. The cracking sound of thunderclaps and graphical fidelity of the rain are superb, transforming a location that had once been bathed in kind sunlight into a seething cauldron that seems like an evil version of its former self.
Some of the game’s levels are quite linear, but others are open affairs that provide multiple paths for the player to investigate. The most obvious of these is ‘The Western Ghats’, which has been designed as an expansive open world sandbox. The player is given a jeep to drive, and navigation is aided by a map and significant landmarks. Although some may feel that the level slows down the pace of the story somewhat, there can be little doubt that its exploration-based gameplay helps with immersion and realism.
The developers have also used this level to inform the player about the finer points of Hoysala history and culture. While driving around from one point of interest to another, Chloe and Nadine engage in casual conversation, which often consists of Chloe imparting her knowledge of Hindu mythology and the Hoysala civilization to Nadine. It is a great device with which to educate the player in what feels like a spontaneous and natural way. It should however be noted that Naughty Dog has taken quite a few liberties with the game’s narrative at the expense of historical accuracy, in order to tell the story they wanted.
Throughout the game there are numerous chances to skirmish with Asav’s forces, which allow the player to test the extensive supply of weapons available. During shoot-outs the guns’ pleasing punchiness is emphasized by the high quality of their sound effects. If one prefers a stealthy approach to combat encounters, the level design also caters to those who enjoy sneaking up and incapacitating their foes quietly. As with other ‘Uncharted’ adventures, there are several puzzles to solve along the way; most are relatively simple, but there are a couple that require a fair amount of thought and patience.
It is apparent that the Naughty Dog team carefully considered exactly which aspects of previous ‘Uncharted’ titles worked best, and included them in ‘The Lost Legacy’. This is true of the exploration, combat, and puzzling, but is also the case with the series’ renowned set pieces. One level towards the end of the game, set aboard a speeding train, is an obvious homage to the famous ‘Locomotion’ and ‘Tunnel Vision’ levels from ‘Uncharted 2: Among Thieves’. In addition, there are several references to people from previous games and even a surprise cameo appearance by a certain shady character.
The timing of the game’s biggest set pieces, in relation to the development of the story as it reaches its conclusion, sets up an exciting finale. The increase in action coincides with the rising stakes, and we are propelled at breakneck speed to a satisfying and adrenaline-fuelled climax—just as we should be with all the best adventures. The talented individuals at Naughty Dog deserve great credit for having been able to include so much concentrated quality content into such a short game. By taking only the best ingredients and distilling the ‘Uncharted’ formula down to its very essence, they have produced an experience and an adventure of which the series can be proud.
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