I got a good look at Uncharted: The Lost Legacy at a Sony preview event, and I’m happy to report that you won’t be stuck underground crawling through claustrophobic tombs all the time.
Sony and developer Naughty Dog showed a beautiful, vast level in the jungles of India, where the main characters, Chloe Frazer and Nadine Ross, are hunting for ancient treasure. In fact, the open space of the level was so big that I made great use of the jeep — and its all-important winch — as I played.
The jeep and the winch were useful accessories in Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End, but there was very little room to drive as you labored uphill in muddy jungle terrain, only to lose your jeep at a waterfall. I nearly wept as the jeep went over the edge in that game. It was a cruel joke by the game designers.
But while Nathan Drake and Elena are gone, the jeep and the winch are back, and you can finally make use of them in the vast play spaces of the game.
Lest you think I’m nuts, I will note that this game is about a lot more than a jeep and a winch. The writer Josh Scherr and the other developers at Naughty Dog faced a tough task in elevating both the game — which was originally downloadable content — and the sidekick characters into a full-blown, standalone game with fleshed-out characters and a big story. That’s the really important stuff, and I could see some of the effort to give this game some heft in this level.
“What was always interesting to us, though, is that unlike Drake, who has a bit of a hero complex, Chloe is more interested in self-preservation, almost pathologically so,” Scherr said in an interview with me. “To the point where, if the heat starts getting turned up too much, she’s more than willing to bail on her partners and leave them holding the bag. Which is partially what happened in Uncharted 2.
“What we thought would be interesting was to team up this person with somebody else who — whenever you have a side character, you want to have someone who’s a good counterpart to their philosophy, or at least somebody who brings that out in them. That’s why we gravitated toward Nadine. Apart from having the distinction of being the only Uncharted antagonist to survive to the end of a game, she’s someone who is very by the book, very tactical, and here she is being forced to work with somebody who likes to fly by the seat of her pants.”
Chloe and Nadine are searching for an Indian artifact called the Golden Tusk of Ganesh, a symbolic treasure created by the Hoysala Empire, which ruled southwestern India from the 10th to 14th centuries. While Nathan Drake and his sidekick Sully trusted each other, Chloe and Nadine clearly don’t.
“It’s incredibly valuable. Chloe wants it for her own reasons,” Scherr said. “Nadine wants it for her own reasons. They’re racing against an Indian warmonger, Asav, who has followed the Hoysala society – their ancient kings and their more hardcore beliefs and ways of ruling – and he wants to topple the Indian government to bring that kind of philosophy back.”
That root story is very much at home in the Uncharted series, where there is always a cool backstory for treasure-hunting fans. And in this level, I got to see a lot of the ancient material woven into the landscape. I also got to see the relationship between Chloe and Nadine, who don’t really trust each other. Nadine pretends to dislike Chloe, who wants to be liked. And there’s a moment in the interaction where Chloe asks, “Was that a compliment?” in response to something Nadine said.
At the start of the level, I drove up to an ancient tower dedicated to Ganesh. Playing as Chloe, I climbed up the tower in record time. At the top, I pulled a lever, and it revealed a piece of the puzzle. Chloe looks around the landscape, and she sees four fortresses that she and Nadine must search for artifacts. But they also see Asav’s men guarding each of the fortresses.
In the level, I had to go to each of the fortresses, take out Asav’s soldiers, find a key piece of the puzzle, and move to the next location. I couldn’t take out most of the soldiers in stealth. So I tried ambushing a couple of them, and then I had to engage in a firefight, with Nadine helping me. I got killed quite a few times, and it reminded me that I had to be careful and take cover.
I enjoyed one part where we had to swim underwater to avoid detection. Then we had to jump out and pull some of the guards into the water, dispatching them as we did so. That part of the stealth was fun, but some of the guards were heavily armored, and I quickly remembered some of the painful firefights from previous Uncharted games, where there were nearly unbeatable enemies.
I still loved just about everything in the preview. The draw distances are huge, so you can see nearly forever into the beautiful jungle and mountain landscape. The water and mud animations are superb, as are the character facial animations. The combat is still slightly clunky, but you have to compensate for that by becoming more stealthy and skillful in your shooting. And the grappling hook becomes useful as you traverse above the enemies and make impossible leaps.
I’m looking forward to the game, and I really do hope that Naughty Dog delivers as full of a game as it has promised.