Friday, 19 January 2018

Uncharted: The Lost Legacy - Review

Developer: Naughty Dog
Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment
Platform: PS4

I’ve described Gears of War as the meat and potatoes of gaming; attractive visuals, third-person cover shooter, perfectly passable campaign, online multiplayer, totally forgettable once you’ve finished it. Everything that Microsoft wants to sell with its brand, in particular the Xbox brand, Gears of War is designed to do.

It’s safe to say that Uncharted is Sony’s twist on a meat and potatoes game to sell its brand. There’s differences, a heavier focus on platforming; a holdover from Naughty Dog’s Crash Bandicoot and Jak & Daxter games, a bigger technological push in regards to motion capture as well as a more cinematic focus overall. Still, Sony’s meat and potatoes.

Despite ostensibly being a DLC expansion, rather than a full-fat fifth instalment, Uncharted: The Lost Legacy sticks to this mantra. Go places, platform, shoot some guys, platform some more, rinse and repeat.

It’s a formula that’s been in place for four games now, five if you count the PS Vita instalment. I wrote last year that I felt Uncharted 4 was something of a dull exercise in repeating what had already gone by, suffering both from a sense of “here we go again” and a weird tonal shift that I suspect came from Amy Hennig no longer being at the director’s helm.

That being said, The Lost Legacy does initially seek to shake things up. A neon-stained trek through India during the game’s opening chapter is by far the game’s standout moment, ditching the typical Indiana Jones schtick for something that’s a little different.

Claudia Black reprises her role as Chloe Frazer and is instantly one of the best things about the entire game. She’s by far the best of the series’ supporting cast; a devil on Drake’s shoulder during the second game. Not a bad person, but a subtle contrast to Nolan North’s clean-cut everyman.

The game also brings back Nadine Ross. Ross was a weird character in Uncharted 4, the “sub-boss” if you think of the game as following the Indiana Jones plot formula, and a character that seemed to linger around for far longer than necessary only to not really do anything by the game’s climax.

Her appearance here seems to be to rectify her rather bland writing in the previous game by giving her a little more depth. Whilst you play as Frazer, Nadine is present throughout almost all of the game’s runtime, the two making for an unlikely duo as they traipse across India looking for a new McGuffin, the legendary tusk of Ganesh.

Thematically, this does enable The Lost Legacy to ameliorate some of the series’ issues. Part of the problem of emulating pulpy serial adventures is that you inevitably recreate some of the political baggage that comes with it. Despite Nolan North being as affable as he is, there’s still the awkward act of playing as a white guy traipsing through foreign country after foreign country, leaving it a pile of rubble as Drake loots another priceless artefact.

The game is able to side-step that a little by having you play has Chloe instead. And the game’s script is keen to impress on the play that Chloe’s quest is one not (solely) driven by money, but rather one of family, as both her parents (and her father’s death) are directly tied with the search for the tusk.

All this plays out over the backdrop of the typical array of explosive gunfights mixed in with bouts of exploring and platforming. An early chapter sees the game open up, Assassin’s Creed-style and have the player visit several locations in a non-linear fashion.

Other things remain the same, and it’s here where it’s hard not to just shrug my shoulders and glibly say, it’s Uncharted, you know how it plays already. There’s a slightly heavier focus on stealth that comes from the game’s brief flirtation with open-world gameplay. The looser shooting, along with the “3D” nature of many gunfights means you can be firing at enemies from the side of walls, clambering up cliffs to drop down on them or dragging them off the edge of ledges. In whatever way possible, Naughty Dog make a concerted effort for the game to not become a case of simply crawling forward from cover to cover.

Perhaps the most resounding criticism of The Lost Legacy is just that. That’s it. You’ve played an Uncharted game? You’ve played this one. The original trilogy had a neat visual structure that had each game divided into different environmental types; jungles for the first, snowy mountains for the second, deserts for the third. Here, it’s just pretty vistas in another gorgeous location.

It’s hard not to shake the fact that Naughty Dog couldn’t have done more to mix up the formula. The push to go for a lead cast made of two women of colour is commendable but isn’t matched by any similar progressive or experimental outlook when it comes to the gameplay.

Even the plot itself suffers from the same predictable beats. The villain is cookie-cutter, the pacing dictated by a loud moment, gunfight, set-piece followed by intimate moment as Chloe and Nadine learn a bit more about one another. Rinse and repeat.

Five games in the formula has become somewhat tired and rot. More needed to be changed than simply using a different lead. The game comes across as an exercise in franchise management; a brief reshuffle whilst Naughty Dog work out where to go from here, than as unique experiment for the franchise, something which the smaller development time and slimmer budget would have presumably enabled.

If that’s what you were after. Great! It’s Uncharted, you’ll find it here. If you were after something more original you’ll only find an increasingly old and tired legacy here.