I love the Uncharted series. Warts and all.
I fully admit the gameplay isn’t innovative, and, often, the ludonarrative dissonance is overwhelming. Even Naughty Dog admits as much. But none of that matters. I’ve completed the series at least a dozen times over the years and, coming into this latest remaster, felt no hesitation in doing it all over again. Uncharted is like Indiana Jones to me. It’s my go-to comfort game when I want to experience a rush of overwhelming emotion.
The Legacy of Thieves Collection brings together the two final games in the series, A Thief’s End and The Lost Legacy. The former, on a narrative level, is the best in the series. The latter is probably the most fun to play. Together, they’re a winning combination presented in the highest fidelity available on consoles.
You’re probably expecting a “but” at this point. Well, I’m sorry, but there isn’t one. If you’ve never played Uncharted before, The Legacy of Thieves Collection is a remarkable way to experience them for the first time. If you have, well, you know exactly what you’re getting. There are no surprises in this box.
Granted, that itself might be a slight letdown, especially since these are five-year-old games already. But Uncharted doesn’t really need it. This is more of a victory lap. Almost akin to historical preservation.
Sure, it doesn’t include the incredible original trilogy, but that already has a stellar remaster courtesy of BluePoint. If there’s something to gripe about, it’s probably the lack of a proper “previously on” type of recap.
A Thief’s End picks up some years after Drake’s last adventure. He and Elena have married and settled down. It’s a good, quiet, and uneventful life. Drake works in salvage while Elena writes travel guides. In the evenings they bicker about dishes and play video games.
One day, Sam Drake, Nathan’s long-lost brother thought dead, appears once again. He’s in trouble. After escaping prison with the help of a dangerous drug lord, Sam finds himself indebted to people who won’t take no for an answer. They want the treasure of Henry Avery, the infamous pirate lord who left behind hundreds of millions in gold. The brothers once sought the treasure but came away empty-handed.
It’s not long before Drake is lying not just to himself, but to Elena as well, as he heads out on a new adventure that could be his last.
In The Lost Legacy, fan-favorite Chloe Frazer and Thief’s End newcomer Nadine Ross set out on a search for a lost artifact that could define the future of a nation. Done on a smaller budget and in less time than its heavyweight predecessor, The Lost Legacy is more of an expansion pack turned epilogue rather than a full game.
It’s also got the iffier plot. Uncharted was never good about facing its essentially imperialist and colonialist fantasy origins, and The Lost Legacy stumbles even further into this. Nadine, for example, is a leader of a multi-national army for hire, but the emphasis is on her and Chloe’s daddy-turned-trust issues. They’re in India to stop a military uprising, but it’s all set dressing for their personal growth.
Now, I already said I’m willing to forgive the series a lot for the happiness it brings me, and that’s still true. But even I, an ardent fan of the games, will point out that if you look any deeper, the Uncharted series is a minefield of ugly imperialism and cultural ignorance.
Granted, Lost Legacy has the added benefit of including a meta-dialog about Chloe coming to terms with her half-Indian heritage, and what means for someone whose career is built on stealing from other cultures.
Having said that, once both games get out of their own way, they become far better than their failings. A Thief’s End really soars once we reach Madagascar, where a thrilling chase sequence raises the bar once again. While the game never turns open-ended, certain areas provide much-needed breadth to explore the surroundings.
Similarly, Lost Legacy kicks into a higher gear once the anti-hero duo is let loose on what’s essentially one huge playground. Once, it felt like a promise of where Uncharted could go, but Naughty Dog never followed up on it. With The Last of Us taking all their attention these days, it’s unlikely we’ll ever see another installment in this series.
As for gameplay, there’s little to write home about. Uncharted, for all its greatness, never shined here. Everything is a repetition of shooting, climbing, and looking at things. There’s very little innovation or uniqueness to either game. In this case, that’s fine. This series has always been an excuse for directors to play in making films. After all, that’s what Neil Druckmann really wants to do.
Luckily, both games provide a “story” difficulty option to remedy this. Here, the gameplay doesn’t get in the way of the story. Players receive extra help at every turn, aiming is nearly automated, and the combat is less challenging. For those wanting to see where Drake and co. go next, it’s the perfect option. As Naughty Dog moves closer to crafting its blend of games as films, this kind of addition is perfect for accessibility.
Worry not, you can still play the whole thing on increasingly brutal difficulties as well. I didn’t find any of them fun, but your mileage may vary. There is also a whole plethora of knickknacks to find, should you choose.
On a technical level, Uncharted looks just as amazing today as it did five years ago. It’s already a technical marvel, wringing everything out of aging hardware upon release. The remaster has a “fidelity” option for a persistent 4K resolution, but I found the frame rate inconsistent using it. The “performance” mode is far better. You lose out on a solid 4K, but even on my 65” Sony XH90, I didn’t see a noticeable difference in normal use. Instead, you get a rock-solid 60fps experience throughout, which is the perfect balance of pretty and usable.
If possible, be sure to crank up the speakers for one of the best game-related soundtracks out there, while you’re at it. Henry Jackman’s score is one for the history books. The impressive sound mixing and design make every level feel that much more atmospheric.
One new addition has to do with the controller. Now utilizing the haptic triggers on the new Dual Shock, Uncharted brings an added weight to the gunplay and climbing. They’re not huge improvements, and it took a while to get used to the new way of doing things, but they’re fun.
Those who’ll get the most out of Legacy of Thieves will be newcomers. The next generation of gamers who missed out on Uncharted the first time. For them, it will hopefully be a gateway to one of the best series to grace the PlayStation.
Old fans will likely enjoy another round with the series as well, but I’m not entirely sure if it’s worth the full cost of a brand-new game. If you’ve only just enjoyed the series on the PS4, maybe wait for a sale.
But if you’re like me, and Uncharted sends shivers down your spine just by launching into the first chords of that jaunty theme, Legacy of Thieves is a no-brainer. It’s the best way to experience one of the best games of two generations.
If this is finally a goodbye, it’s the best send-off you could hope for.