Naughty Dog never does things by half, does it? Uncharted: The Lost Legacy was originally intended to be downloadable content for Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End, but once it started plotting out stories the award-winning Californian company knew it needed to make a standalone game. But not just any game, of course: Chloe Frazer and Nadine Ross’ Indian adventure is actually host to the largest area in the franchise’s history – and we’ve played it.
Set amid the vibrant greenery of the Western Ghats, we find ourselves in familiar territory: behind the wheel of a 4x4 with the environment stretching as far as we can see. If the memorable Madagascar sequence in Drake’s last ever adventure was the developer dipping its toe into what it describes as “wide linear”, then this represents the studio wading waist-deep into the choppy waters of the nebulous buzz word.
Frazer – apparently now of Indian descent – has a map of the surrounding area, and you’re free to tackle it however you wish. Fortunately, there’s a tower conspicuously sitting in the middle of the location: climb to the top and we reckon you damn well know what happens next. Honestly, it’s laughable that the game so obviously falls into the most obvious of open world tropes, but it is what it is.
The actual exploration fares better. Combing the surroundings uncovers a densely populated environment: ruins make way for treasure, puzzles, and combat scenarios – sometimes all at the same time. Once again you’re free to tackle firefights exactly how you want to, with stealth just as viable as all-out warfare. You can also avoid conflict entirely in some situations – this is wide linear level design, after all.
It’s unquestionably Uncharted, make no mistake about that: a new lock-picking mechanic allows you to open chests, but otherwise you’re effectively playing as Nate with a much more prominent rump. That’s no bad thing, though – especially if you still haven’t gotten your fill of the franchise’s distinctive brand of third-person combat.
And the studio does leverage the larger area to good effect. One example comes in the form of a map that we stumble upon, alerting us to the presence of Hoysala Tokens. As with all instalments in the buccaneering brand, there’s a clash of real-life history and fiction here, and you’re in pursuit of the Tusk of Ganesha, an artefact that’s proving pretty popular with all sorts of seedy characters – including the protagonist herself.
The aforementioned tokens, though, can be found all over the world, gated by environmental puzzles. One sees us platforming our way across water fountains within a time limit to nab one – in another sequence we’re tasked with shooting bells in order to generate the right pitch to open a locked door.
While you’re busy doing all of this, Chloe and Nadine will engage in some trademark Uncharted banter. Perhaps most noticeable is the way conversations meander depending upon what you’re doing: should you get into a gunfight while exposition is being dropped, the characters will temporarily break their conversation, only to return to it when the coast is clear. “What were you saying again?” is a common question.
Naughty Dog tells us that the Western Ghats environment is quite early in the game, so the somewhat slower pacing gives it opportunity to drop tons of exposition as the heroes (or anti-heroes, who knows?) get to know each other. Given how divisive some of the “walking simulator” sections in A Thief’s End were, this seems like a better solution, as you still get plenty of character building but the title keeps you occupied.
Like we say, this is unmistakably Uncharted, though, and you’ll probably already know whether that appeals or not. Chloe can do things that Drake can’t – like take photographs on her smartphone and scroll through them as part of a pseudo journal – but she can also do pretty much everything that he can. Perhaps the most important thing we learned from our hands on time, then, is that this really does appear to be a feature complete standalone story – and a mere year on from Uncharted 4, fans of the franchise probably couldn’t have asked for more.
Do you like the sound of Uncharted: The Lost Legacy’s largest ever level? Do you want the franchise to keep growing, or are you already beginning to miss the linearity of previous entries? Prove you’re this year’s model in the comments section below.