When Naughty Dog announced that Uncharted 4: A Thief's End would be followed up with a brand new slice of single-player adventuring, nobody, not even the famed developer, expected The Lost Legacy to become what it has.
Fans wondered when it would be set and who it would star, with most assuming the game would follow Nathan Drake's brother Sam. Instead, it follows the odd pairing of Uncharted 2 favourite Chloe Frazer and Uncharted 4 villain Nadine Ross.
Not only does The Lost Legacy tell a story separate from the exploits of the Drake clan - albeit one starring familiar faces - it also arrives as a standalone release rather than the paid add-on it was originally intended to be.
Given the size of the project and the 18 months since A Thief's End was released, The Lost Legacy feels a lot more like a brand new instalment than many would have expected. But just how well does it stand up to the grander adventures of its predecessors?
The Lost Legacy's story takes six to eight hours to complete, a good few hours shorter than the games before it. This is to be expected given the game's price and how marketing has framed it, but it works to the game's advantage as well. The timing isn't right for a full bodied Uncharted game, but this bitesize adventure fits the bill perfectly.
Over the last ten years Naughty Dog has had the benefit of lengthier games to establish characters, the dynamics between those characters and the story being told. The Lost Legacy's story is refreshingly smaller in scale, but that impacts the dynamic between Chloe and Nadine, which often feels like it's skipping along like a jumpy record.
Stars Claudia Black and Laura Bailey give the pair chemistry, and ultimately their relationship is rewarding, but early on they slip too easily from distrustful and spiky to openly revealing their backstories despite only knowing each other a few days.
Chloe is the focus of a story that sees her delving into the ancient roots of her Indian heritage and coming into contact with a warlord by the name of Asav (played by Usman Ally) whose unassuming look belies his brutal, cutthroat nature. He is a serviceable villain for a serviceable story which is to past Uncharted games what a Saturday morning cartoon would be to a quality Hollywood blockbuster.
Which isn't say the game lacks bombast. This is Uncharted, so the action is thrilling.
Uncharted's combat isn't to everyone's liking, but I've always been a fan of the loose nature of its shoot-outs and how that fits with the pulpy tone of the story. This isn't how combat specialists would fight, but how charismatic action heroes living by the skin of their teeth would. Hand-to-hand combat is a real treat too, showing off Naughty Dog's knack for smooth animation that lends a real dynamism to the action.
Over the years the studio - now one of the world's most famous and respected thanks to the Uncharted series and The Last of Us - has honed its craft, working in seamless transitions and character animations that act as visual cues in place of on-screen button prompts. The sense of flow this gives these games aids the storytelling, strengthening a player's connection with the characters by allowing them to follow them through a long, largely unbroken journey.
Players will have seen a lot of The Lost Legacy before, and that's to be expected. This isn't trying to be a fully-fledged sequel but there are new features and ideas on show.
The new lockpicking mechanic is rudimentary, but can be a source of great tension if you're trying to unlock a weapon cache under pressure. There are also certain points where Chloe can take photos of the environment, which has some small sentimental value but seems redundant when Naughty Dog's excellent photo mode is open from the start.
The more notable change to the Uncharted formula is the addition of a large open area in which players are challenged with tackling a series of goals in any order they wish.
Players can drive through the area, which is much like Uncharted 4's Madagascar level, visiting four locations to open up the path to an ancient city Chloe and Nadine are trying to discover. Players can tackle these challenges in whatever order they wish, and there's an optional puzzle to solve on top requiring further exploration.
It isn't exactly the most complex open area to grace gaming, but it's refreshing in the Uncharted series and also, as I'm sure Naughty Dog intended, it helps pad the game without feeling like padding. There is a drawback however.
The exploratory nature of this part of the game highlights how... well... charted the series often feels, how automated and on-rails certain action and climbing sequences can feel when Uncharted is at its most 'Uncharted'. Climbing is a matter of pushing in the right direction and hitting X every so often, and when moments of peril are injected you know full well Chloe will grab a ledge automatically.
My issue with these stretches of the game comes down to pacing however. A large open space to explore leads to the game at its most linear, and the juxtaposition does it no favours. It does open up again later however, not for exploration but in smaller doses for intense action set-pieces in areas littered with enemies, tall grass and options for the player.
These sequences are where the game shines, and there are enough of them later on in the game for it to finish on a high, culminating in a spectacular vehicular chase sequence fans of the series will get a particular kick out of.
The Lost Legacy is a greatest hits collection. A last ride for the series even without its beloved protagonist. It won't sway those who don't like the series, but those who do will enjoy what may strike as a slightly redundant addendum, but which is fun, well-made and worthwhile all the same. A six-to-eight hour adventure is exactly what The Lost Legacy needed to be, and its multiplayer options (including a new horde mode) extend the enjoyment further.
The Lost Legacy is both Naughty Dog's fun farewell to the Uncharted franchise, and a pitch for where it could go next. The smaller scale works for such swashbuckling adventures, and its more open-plan design shows how the series should evolve. Early promise falters around the halfway point due to some noticeable shifts in what the player is able to do in any given space, but it quickly ramps up again to a spectacular finale. The game also serves as a reminder of how strong the supporting cast of these games has been. Chloe makes for a fine hero, and Nadine would have been as well. Perhaps they'll get a chance to return one day.