I’ve spent the last week grinding through two AAA titles that couldn’t be more different: Destiny 2 and Uncharted: The Lost Legacy. Destiny 2 is an open-world RPG with a fairly brief campaign and an expansive post-campaign life. Gameplay is always online and cooperative and I play the same levels over and over again to power up my character. Uncharted, on the other hand, is a more traditional platformer that is singular, guided, and focuses on exploration and plot rather than leveling up. After playing Destiny, I find myself loving Uncharted’s well-defined levels and great interactions between the leading characters. The experience is singular and structured and it works really, really well and its final stage – where your heroines are charging after a runaway train – is one of the best gameplay experiences you’ll find in 2017.
Uncharted introduces its final level in a manner meant to excite gamers. Your heroines find the villains loading a train to make their escape surrounded by various vehicles providing support. Seeing a train/plane/convoy in a Uncharted game is like a gun in a Chekov play; you just know that sooner or later your hero will be scrambling to get onboard. Getting onboard here is exciting enough, but its not long before you’re forced to abandon the train for the faster supporting vehicles before returning to the caravan. The game adjusts the gameplay here to allow for a little wiggle room in your leaps from vehicle to vehicle so you don’t die as often as you might expect. Leaping between vehicles, swinging back on to the train, and battling enemies from all sides is both thrilling and perfectly executed. Meanwhile your NPC partner makes her own way through, appearing to assist you sometimes and requiring your help other times. The two of you then team up for the final throw down while the train races towards its fiery destruction. It’s exciting and fun and perfectly designed. No other game provides any kind of experience like this.
Uncharted: The Lost Legacy is notable for a number of reasons. The game casts two women in the leading roles (which shouldn’t be an issue in 2017, but still) and keeps the action as intense as it always is. The two heroines also develop one of the most believable and interesting friendships I’ve ever seen in a game. The game also peppers in those little moments of humanity we’ve seen in other titles (think the giraffes in The Last of Us) that make a big difference in a game like this. Beyond that, one could argue that much of the rest of Uncharted is fairly outdated. You kill a LOT of people, you solve some simple puzzles (involving ridiculously massive machinery) and you pick up little treasures along the way. Much of the game remains the same as it was ten years ago. And, to be clear, the gameplay elements are starting to grate against the plot elements; having characters act this human while also racking up a body count to rival the Terminator is a little jarring.
But at least there’s a human here to think about, as opposed to my silent, killing machine over in Destiny. Maybe it’s for that reason that I’m finding that gaming in 2017 requires playing more than one title at a time. Uncharted’s linearity is a little irritating sometimes as I grind through stage after stage. Destiny’s open world and loot system inspires continued exploration but also feels a little unfocused. As I spend so much time exploring the same environments again and again in Destiny, I really appreciate Uncharted’s ability to surprise me with a beautiful vista, or an interaction with a wounded elephant, or an amazing final level that Destiny – by design – can’t hope to top. The gaming world may be moving to open-world, always-online, games-as-service models, but thank goodness there are still developers out there making games with human characters, beautiful vistas, and powerful action-packed experiences. And, for my money, Uncharted and Naughty Dog are the best of the bunch.