Spoiler warning. This article is about a specific thing in Uncharted: The Lost Legacy, and that thing is unfortunately also a spoiler. This spoiler gets discussed a lot and if you read this you will know the spoiler, and cannot unknow it.
Video games have not, classically, had as many female protagonists as male ones (though there have been a number of excellent ones recently). This hasn’t stopped me from loving games, but I do relate to male protagonists differently, because they seem a little more removed from me. I don’t dislike them, it’s just a bit harder to push through the membrane of the screen and refer to them as I, as in ‘I just died.’ Looked at from another point of view: I respond to a male protagonist on a baseline, but a female protagonist has potential access to a different well of affection in me.
For example, when I was asked what I thought of the 2016 Ghostbusters, I just ended up doing an impression of Kate McKinnon’s character busting ghosts in slow motion, and when I went to see Wonder Woman I burst into silent, involuntary tears in the cinema whenever the Amazons did anything cool. Still waters run particularly deep if they’re not drawn that often. I don’t think it blinds me to flaws (that clip of Kate McKinnon has some of the editing problems that the whole film does, for example) but it’s something I’m aware of.
And it’s why I was looking forwards to The Lost Legacy. I really like Uncharted, so it was exciting to see all the raconteuring and adventuring and defying of death done by someone a bit more like me. I could never have been Nathan Drake, but if I’d put in effort from an earlier age I could conceivably have been someone a little like Chloe Frazer or Nadine Ross, which is the difference, you see (though the fact that in this game a black South-African and an Indian-Australian are played by two white women should probably be the subject of its own article entirely).
For the most part, The Lost Legacy handles having women take the wheel of the jeep beautifully. They bond, and the bonding isn’t one of them constantly saying ‘Men! Am I right?!’ or variations thereof; they develop a wonderful dynamic, and the dynamic isn’t the other constantly replying ‘You’re totally right: men!’ There have already been articles about why their friendship is so good and important. And yet.
Around two thirds of the way through, Sam Drake shows up. I was initially alright with this, because I like Sam Drake, Nathan’s older brother who was retconned into existence solely for Uncharted 4. I’ve written about how much I enjoyed the dynamic of Uncharted 4 as a result (plus that bit in the game where Sam grabs a cutlass and says ‘Avast, you dirty dawg!’ really buckles my swash), so I was even pleased to see Sam when he arrived, hands tied and deliberately leading the bad guy Asav on a wild goose chase instead of directly towards the treasure. Doing this seems to be a whole thing for Sam.
When he’s first spotted, Nadine gets very cross with Chloe, because Nadine and Sam spent large portions of the last adventure trying to kill one another, and after the resulting argument the two women split up. An abrupt and kind of tired way to trigger conflict, but fine, I thought, we’re at about that point in the narrative. I expected it to lead up to a set piece: Chloe and Nadine rescue Sam, Sam leaves to get help, and then by the time he returns at the end of the game Chloe and Nadine will have already beaten the shit out of Asav and saved the day. Jolly good.
Except Sam sticks around. He joins the squad. Sometimes he does something vaguely useful, like being tall enough to reach a broken ladder. Most of the time he’s just there.
There are a number of possible reasons for this, which are as follows: A) someone somewhere in the chain of command was convinced that the game needed at least one (1) man, because women can’t front a game without being buttressed by a dude; B) like an ex who ended the relationship in the first place and calls you when you’re on a date with someone else, Naughty Dog is having difficulty letting go of the original Uncharted concept, and wanted to have one of the Fabulous Drake Brothers on board to calm its own anxiety; C) Troy Baker!; D) Sam was included to introduce tension between Chloe and Nadine, and then to better demonstrate that they’re strong independent women who don’t need a man by being an ill-prepared Hawaiian-shirt-and-sunglasses that they ignore, and that shouts ‘Go get ’em ladies!’ on at least one (1) occasion (at which point Sisters Are Doin’ It For Themselves absolutely does not start playing).
And I know, I do, that it was probably a combination of everything from point B onwards, and that it was implemented as point D as much as possible. It would have been so much worse if Sam appeared to save the day instead of being a hanger-on, and Nadine in particular is absolutely withering towards him, which is a saving grace, at one point telling him that if he really had professional respect for her, he’d call her ‘ma’am’, like her mercs used to.
But even with the best will in the world behind him, Sam changed the dynamic between Chloe and Nadine in a way that made it less enjoyable to me, even after the conflict caused by his arrival was resolved. I wouldn’t have minded as much if he’d been in it from the start, we’d known he’d be in it all along, or if he’d been in it a lot less than he is. I wouldn’t even mind him getting his own adventure, because I think he deserves that; he is, as I mentioned, a character I otherwise very much like. The interesting thing is that, when I’ve asked people about it, everyone has agreed that Sam doesn’t add, but the women have said that he took something away. That they actively disliked him being in it. That Sam’s inclusion made the game less enjoyable for them. It’s a point of view that I think bears examining, not just because I share it.
Because when I played Uncharted: The Lost Legacy it didn’t feel like any of the other reasons. It felt like option B. It felt almost like a betrayal: I had been sold on, been promised, a women’s own adventure and Naughty Dog evidently may not even have realised they were making that promise. We were kindly asked not to mention Sam being in the game before it came out, because it’s a spoiler: he was obviously intended to be a lovely surprise for people to enjoy.
But I saw a promise. And now, excuse me, waiter? There appears to be a boy in my soup. Can I not have any soup without boys? I don’t dislike it, I’ve just had it quite a lot and I was looking forwards to something different, and I have fewer options for soup without boys if I want to go elsewhere. I’m sure the menu didn’t say there was a boy. And yet here is a boy. This is still good soup. I just feel a bit weird about eating the rest of it now, to be honest.
To make better soup as a whole I think we need to try and understand each other’s perspectives on soup.
Is this soup thing still working, or nah?