Wednesday, June 12, 2024

Uncharted: Lost Legacy Is Fun And Probably Queer

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The Uncharted franchise is more or less the poster child for “Movies That You Sometimes Play” in the video game industry. It’s fun, it’s charming, but ultimately the gameplay segments are often the least engaging. The writing itself has never been anything super impressive or groundbreaking, but the motion capture (mocap) performances and meticulously hand-crafted facial expressions by the animation team elevate the narrative beyond an otherwise paint-by-numbers script. There are brief exceptions to that, of course, where the script truly does shine, but they are few and far between.

As for Lost Legacy, the standalone discounted adventure where you play as fan favorite Chloe Frazer (Claudia Black) alongside the secondary pseudo-antagonist of Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End, Nadine Ross (Laura Bailey). It’s pretty fun. Sure, it’s once again the single most gorgeous video game ever created but that’s literally just another Naughty Dog game in the modern era. But does Lost Legacy do anything different?

It’s a MacGuffin.

In terms of gameplay, not really. Aside from a few clever puzzles and one pseudo-open world area, at least. You move some carts for platforming (just because they poke fun at the mechanic doesn’t mean I hate it less), you drive around in a 4×4 and winch stuff, you use a half-baked stealth-mechanic (this isn’t Metal Gear Solid), you solve platforming puzzles, you shoot a bunch of bad dudes, you destroy priceless artifacts, you board an aircraft that you then bring down, you find a lost city. You chase a train and fight your way through the train. You swing like Tarzan with a rope and stab things into weird rock walls to climb up higher in certain places. It is, in short, all of the Uncharted games rolled into one…ironically with the single most grounded narrative in the franchise. Even if it is one of the most predictable.

See, this time there’s no magic or mystical curses or immortality fruits. Now it’s just a hidden city in India with lots of lost cultural knowledge that you don’t actually destroy somehow. Unlike El Dorado, Shamba-La, Iram, and Libertalia, our protagonists Chloe and Nadine manage to not blow everything up. Which, viewed from a certain perspective, kinda sounds like a commentary on how men are often socialized to destroy things while women are…kinda not. I mean if it is, it’s certainly not subtle.

The real hook of this game is that it stars two rather well characterized women of color. Chloe Frazer is half-Indian and Nadine Ross is South African. And they both get the absolute shit kicked out of them over and over and over again, leaving them bloody, bruised and sweaty by the end of the game. There isn’t a single moment where they are sexualized, not even by the antagonist or the ~~surprise cameo~~.

If it had to be anyone for them to snark at for the rest of the game…

Also, whether intended or not, Lost Legacy reads as not straight at all to me. I mean, it looks pretty queer. Chloe and Nadine start off not really knowing one another at all, progressing towards friendship and then something clearly deeper than that at the end. Considering all the insane crazy shit they do for another, this “something deeper” is so far beyond professional courtesy or just basic friendship feelings.

Nadine, for starters, was the head of a PMC called Shoreline that the Drake brothers sort of…blew up during Uncharted 4. As it turns out, this was a family business she got from her father after he retired. Which is like super intriguing because what kind of person sees a PMC as a family business?! Apparently Nadine does. She’s here on this mission with Chloe because she needs the money to take it back. She’s a hardass at the start, and still is one at the end for the most part, but she softens up to Chloe once they pull each other out of the fire and just never stop bantering.

Which is apparently like, how queer women flirt with one another. It also happens to be Chloe’s only mode of communication to everyone in the entire series. So there’s that.

They’ve both shtupped men before, and it’s something they discuss in a rather humorous conversation. For Nadine, it’s framed as “a means to an end”, since the dudes she’s banged that she actually mentions are the current antagonist and the previous game’s antagonist. Because they wouldn’t take a woman owning a PMC seriously, apparently. We basically saw Chloe bang Nathan Drake early on in Uncharted 2, as they had an off-again-on-again sorta thing, but again they could like, both be bisexual women of color? Not like we’ve never seen that happen before.

Naughty Dog hasn’t exactly shied away from depictions of queerness in their games as of late. They had three queer characters in The Last of Us (two of which got an entire DLC dedicated to them), and considering how The Last of Us: Part II is gonna have Ellie be the protagonist, seems like this ain’t an issue for them. Or something they’re exactly nervous about.

Seriously, when you die in the first half of the game, Nadine yells “Frazer!”. But after a certain point, she gets way more emotional and starts screaming “CHLOE!”. And also they end the game agreeing to be partners in future treasure hunting endeavors, a few days after a conversation explicitly pointing out how refreshing it is to do this kind of job with another woman instead of like…Nathan Drake. I get that this is a meta-joke, but still.

To be perfectly honest, Lost Legacy would make less sense if it wasn’t a burgeoning love story.

Anyway, as for individual characterization, it’s all, y’know, good and Naughty Dog fair, but there’s one thing about Chloe’s backstory that confused me. See, when the first Uncharted was in development way back when, they were stumped on the name. They couldn’t figure out what to call it since the game they were making was basically “Tomb Raider, but with a dude”. So the working title was actually Dude Raider.

Thing is, Chloe’s whole thing with her dad and ~~spoilers~~ the lost city they’re trying to find being the one thing he was obsessed with and got him killed, that’s like, that’s Lara Croft? That’s just Lara Croft. It confuses me as to why they’d lean back on what they didn’t do the first time. It could easily have been changed into her mom being the archaeologist and her dad being the one who raised her. But that’s not what we got. I dunno, maybe I’m just kind of bored with Daddy Issues. Nadine doesn’t seem to have any, so clearly it can work.

Ultimately, Lost Legacy was a fun romp filled with gorgeous visuals and what is ideally a very honest development of a queer relationship between two women of color. Hopefully we’ll get some sequels with them fighting nazis or something. Oh! And also it has a photo mode where you can freeze any cutscene and make Chloe change her facial expression to something totally ridiculous.

And this is just one of like a dozen different options

Worth the discounted $40? I’d say so. I guess there’s a multiplayer component too, but I don’t have PS+, so I have no idea how that plays. It’s probably fine.

Final Score: 7/10

Images Courtesy of Naughty Dog

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