So, the year that for a while looked like it would just go on forever is almost done. It’s varied between hard. awful and ‘DOES IT HAVE TO BE THIS MUCH FUN?!’. Congratulations for getting here.
And to celebrate, I’ve got a couple of pieces about some of the cultural bits of the year that weren’t unlawful. Starting with Uncharted: The Lost Legacy, quietly the strangest, and sweetest, game where you kill lots of unnamed thugs released in years.
Uncharted: The Lost Legacy a little while ago. It’s the fifth game in the franchise and the first to feature a really interesting gear change. The first four games all focus on profoundly luckless treasure hunter Nathan Drake. Nate is Indiana Jones with less preparation; completely charming, endlessly self confident and always a quarter second from horrible death.
The franchise has done two, almost unprecedented things. The first is that it’s written Nate out. The first four games follow him through the last four jobs of his career and through the growing realization that he’s, if not getting too old for this shit, he’s certainly getting too mature. The ending of Uncharted 4 is legitimately one of my favorite pieces of fiction. It’s a breath let out, an ending that no one expects and is both a definitive ending and anything but. To say any more would be to spoil a genuinely lovely experience.
The second brave thing the series has done is continue. And do so with two female leads.
Chloe Frazer has been a fixture in the series since Uncharted 2. A hard-changing, morally flexible Australian treasure hunter Chloe’s arc across the series has been really subtle. She’s moved from antagonist to reluctant ally, now to lead character. Likewise her partner, Nadine Ross started off as a villain. The owner of Shoreline, a private security firm hired by the real villain of Uncharted 4, Nadine loses her job when the vast majority of Shoreline is shot out from under her by Nate, Chloe and Nate’s brother Sam.
So, an intensely private, morally mutable treasure hunter and a soldier of fortune without an army.
What could possibly go wrong?
Everything! In the funnest way possible!
The Lost Legacy isn’t just a great Uncharted game complete with the exact climbing, jumping, exploding, exploring action the series is best known for. It’s also a Bechdel-shattering female buddy movie that could be read as a romance and manages to fold in a nuanced subtle approach to the supernatural as well.
The game revolves around the search for a pair of lost cities, both of which are wrapped up in a story that focuses on Ganesh, the Indian god of Wisdom. The elephant-faced god is a constant presence thanks to a token Chloe is playing with and the colossal buildings you get to climb and frequently fall off and plummet to your death. He’s also, quietly, Chloe’s chosen god. She apologises to a statue of him at one point, says thank you to one at another.
And then, maybe, meets him. Or at least a friend of his.
Nadine’s trust issues and Chloe’s fundamental inability to not tell the full truth collide at about the two thirds mark. This leads to Nadine running off in a huff, Chloe following her and the pair having an argument that shows they’re both equally right. Or at least, equally in the wrong. As they talk, they realise the villain of the piece is using explosives to blast his way into the city. In doing so, he’s trapped an elephant under some masonry.
Still pissed at one another, they help the animal out without a second’s discussion. And the elephant promptly stands up, walks the pair of them to the next location and gives them time to start working through their problems.
Or to put it another way, Chloe spends the entire game trying to save a pair of cities dedicated to Ganesh from being turned into plunder, and gets a gentle helping hand in return. Or to put it still another way, you do Ganesh a solid, Ganesh does you a solid.
It’s a lovely moment, made all the better by the fact you can read it literally or spiritually. It’s not that it’s a piece of game architecture or a mild supernatural intervention, it’s that it can be, and is, both. This is the sort of ground Uncharted excels at exploring; just a little past what we know, just a little outside the campfire and into the deep, dark woods where something amazing and dangerous is always waiting.
Oh and this happens too.
Better still, it puts the games solidly in the Indiana Jones wheelhouse they’ve always toyed with as well as subverting how it approaches that idea. Previous games have included an ancient bio weapon, actual yeti and some hilariously inventive booby traps. This time, you get the same sort of approach to the past but the danger doesn’t come from Ganesh himself. Rather, it comes from how people perceive the stories around him. A pivotal moment involves Chloe mimicking him exactly and her entire arc in the game is ultimately about making her peace with her past, her dad and her friendly, obtuse chosen deity. It’s intensely personal and at times very moving, as well as giving you the opportunity to have a punch up in a crashing helicopter. And who doesn’t want that?
Uncharted: The Lost Legacy is smart, funny and FUN. And Gods know we all need a little fun right now. So, if you can, go spend some time with Chloe and Nadine. Not just because its a great game but because its a textbook example of how to deal with the supernatural, and issues of faith, with subtlety and compassion. And Ganesh-assisted helicopter punching.