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Environmental Contextualization: Image
Uncharted: The Lost Legacy is the sixth entry in the Uncharted series, and as of the writing of this is also the last. I find the title of The Lost Legacy interesting because it has a meta quality to it. While it does reference themes and story beats in the game itself, I feel like it also references the rest of the entire series. Whether this is intentional or not is still up for debate, but nevertheless it feels like the game is addressing the fact that in some ways it's a departure from its predecessors. While it retains Uncharted 4’s controls and combat, the structure and storytelling has been changed. Typically, Uncharted adopts a linear, cinematic form of storytelling. Players have no agency over the story being told, they simply enjoy what's already there. And while that is technically still the case in The Lost Legacy, players have the ability to change the storytelling itself. Much of this has to do with how it’s structured as a video game, and how it abandons Uncharted’s linear design.
Previous Uncharted games use the environment to somehow reflect the current situation of a specific character, or even the relationship between characters. Lets call it Environmental Contextualization. For example, Nate's journey in Uncharted 4 often parallels pirate captain Henry Avery and his legendary treasure. Avery’s lust for more power and gold sent him down a path that eventually led to his demise, hinting at Nate's possible fate if he repeated it. The game brings up several signs of this outcome, with him needing to lie to his wife Elena and risking not just his life, but his father figure Sully and his long lost brother Sam. To bring this point home even further, Nate discovers a large painting of Avery with the word liar painted across it.
The Lost Legacy uses a similar storytelling tool. One of the larger themes explored is the relationship between Nadine Ross and Chloe Frazier, the game's protagonists. For example, Naughty Dog uses the now famous Elephant scene as a way to visually represent Chloe and Nadine mending their relationship after their disagreement over Sam Drake. After reluctantly pairing back together to complete their mission, they come across a young elephant that's trapped under some wreckage. After having to work together to free the elephant, they ride on its back and eventually forgive each other. They then return the elephant to it’s family where Chloe then states, “Well, if we accomplish nothing else today, at least we reunited a family”.
This statement has more than a few meanings in the context of the entire game. While returning the elephant to it’s family is the obvious one, it also mirrors Chloe and Nadine’s reunion as well. Not to mention these events practically run in parallel with each other. Nadine even offers to take the picture for Chloe, to represent their reformed connection. Additionally it could refer to you finding all of the Hoysala king pendants and returning them to the map, thus reuniting them after so many years apart.
Another example is within the myths that Nadine and Chloe are following. Ganesh is often mentioned, as is his famous axe. In Hindu mythology, Ganesh’s axe is meant to represent the karma that is passed down to you. The axe is meant to cut this connection and have them fade away when you reach enlightenment. This directly correlates with Chloe and Nadine’s adventure, as the legacy their fathers left behind is directly linked to it. The tusk of Ganesh was what Chloe’s father died trying to find, only to have her finally finish his work years later. During the last section of the game, Shoreline appears and trades the tusk for a massive bomb the main villain intends to detonate in a nearby city. Here, both Chloe and Nadine have to cut ties with their father’s past. And incidentally, this happens after they swim through the water that was part of a cleansing ritual.
Now that we have seen how The Lost Legacy adopts the visual storytelling methods from its predecessors, let's look at how it evolves this technique and provides the player with the tools to create their own story. For this analysis, Ill be focusing on Nadine and her backstory specifically. The biggest difference lies in the open ended section that begins near the start of the story. The goal for the protagonists is to climb these towers and unlock the massive stone door that hides halebidu behind it. Rather than take the player through a linear environment that places the towers along the way, the game opens up and allows them to approach these towers in any order that they want. The twist is that while the order of the towers may be different, the cutscenes they contain at the end do not. What this means is that the Environmental Contextualization that I talked about earlier changes massively depending on which tower you decide to travel to.
As this is heavily reliant on the cutscene being shown, let's briefly discuss the three in question. To simplify things, they can be described by having one focus on the two protagonists, one mostly focusing on Chloe, and one on Nadine. Each gives a glimpse into their relationship with their father, and how it eventually leads them to this mission. Chloe talks about how her father went on countless expeditions to find Ganesh’s tusk, leaving her and her mother behind until his death later on. As for Nadine, she opens up about her inheriting Shoreline from her father and completely loses control of it in the process. So given these cutscenes and how Uncharted handles environmental storytelling, one naturally begins to connect each location of the tower to the current cutscene. Thus, the environmental contextualization begins. Let's take Nadine's scene and apply it to two different tower locations and how they could be interpreted differently.
For example, the tower signified by Parashurama’s Bow involves climbing up steep cliffs and dodging enemy fire along the way. Before they enter the tower, Chloe explains to Nadine who Parashurama is, that being a highly trained warrior trained by Shiva. It’s said that Parashurama was fierce, aggressive, and often involved himself with warfare. Here, a clear correlation is made with Nadine, who shares many of these traits. As you climb the cliffs in this section, it begins to resemble Nadine’s struggles with both her training as well as her leadership over shoreline. So when she begins to talk about why it’s important to her, we can feel in some way her frustration as we have felt the struggle that she has. All that work and training to reach the top with ultimately nothing to show for it. This seems to be the most logical place to put this end cutscene if this were done in Uncharted’s traditional linear fashion. But because we have the option to choose, this sequence of events could not exist entirely in someone's playthrough.
Now let's look at a different Tower, this time signified by Shiva’s Axe. The main obstacle here is to find the correct pattern of platforms to reach the end. Every three steps will cause the large, moving statues to swing their axes. If you make a wrong move, you're thrown off the platform and have to try again. The visual of the axes is reminiscent of what Shiva stands for, that of removing yourself of old attachments, or as Nadine says, “bad habits”. In this case, you could interpret this as Nadine refusing to let go of her attachment to shoreline and indirectly, her father. So now, the same cutscene carries a slightly different meaning due to the trials beforehand. Now, we view this scene as Nadine attempting to justify her iron grip on Shoreline, not wanting to let it go.
This change to the Uncharted formula is quite subtle, but in the bigger picture it actually has quite an impact on the storytelling. While the information that's given is the same, the way that it’s delivered is not. It’s definitely an interesting change of pace for Naughty Dog, as their games have been very structured and linear in the past so that they can tell the story they want to tell. Many players in the past have been turned off by this iron grip that they tend to use when directing players on the path that they made for them. And to do so with a method that hasn’t been used very much in video games as a whole. When players hear the phrase “make your own story” games such as The Witcher and Mass effect come to mind as they have full control over what their character does and how it directly affects the story. Naughty Dog has instead decided to focus on how the storytelling is changed by the player, rather than the story itself. In hindsight it’s very interesting to go back and discover the slightly different ways this story could have been told. And the beauty of it is that it’s placed completely in the hands of the player, often without them even noticing to begin with.
Environmental Contextualization: Services
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