There is a common saying that goes, “If it isn’t broke, don’t fix it”. In this age of remasters though, the issue now becomes, “If it was perfect, how can we make it better?” This applies mostly to a game’s visuals, though many developers have their own interpretation for how they want to better the classics of yesteryear. A common consensus in the gaming industry seems to be to opt for 60 FPS and 1080p resolution, but thankfully, Uncharted: The Nathan Drake Collection isn’t doing just that. The PS4-bound compilation is a means to prep fans for Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End, which releases in March 2016, but developer Bluepoint Games is doing plenty across the board on all three of Naughty Dog’s action adventure shooters.
After comparing footage from Uncharted 2: Among Thieves on the PS3 and PS4, we noted a variety of improvements. Though environmental deformation wasn’t quite up to snuff, we noted better particle and alpha effects (particularly in transparency). Texture details, from metallic sheen to cracked pillars and clothing on characters, looked great in 1080p resolution. We detected some frame rate drops but for the most part, Bluepoint seemed close to cracking the constant 60 FPS puzzle.
Now, footage for Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune – the game that started it all – has become available, showcasing the sequence where Elena busts Drake out before transitioning to a high speed chase in the jungle. It should be noted that Uncharted 2 was already leaps and bounds above its predecessor when it came to graphics and animation. This is because the first Uncharted marked Naughty Dog’s first foray into PS3 development, which is no easy feat when you consider the challenges the Cell processor presented. Naughty Engine 1.0 still benefitted from the console’s GPU to employ pixel shaders, real-time shadows, advanced water simulation and more while animation blending was created to pile various realistic expressions and animations into the experience. Even when reviewing the PS3 footage all these years later, the animations in Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune were clearly ahead of their time. If anything, it feels even more fluid when viewed in 1080p resolution and 60 FPS.
Comparing the PS3 and PS4 footage side by side, it’s amazing just how revamped the textures have become. Drake’s hair looks more like actual hair while various environmental details, like moss growing on the floors, crumbling bricks, rusted metal bars and foliage look better. The cloth textures alone for all the characters are better on closer observation and thanks to the lighting system, character models themselves move and blend with the environment more naturally than before. Edges are smooth overall with a custom post-process anti-aliasing in play.
The lighting is no longer a heavy yellow shade illuminating characters and settings. In some scenes, like the chase through the tunnels, the sun rays and dust particles – which reacted dynamically to the environment – melded together while also illuminating the nearby vegetation. Light sources themselves cast multiple shadows in environments and it was interesting how it worked differently for indoor settings. In the PS3 version, the single torch functioned as more of a hard light source. In the PS4 version, the light emitted from the torch is less harsh, resulting in shadows blending with characters’ features and clothing in a more nuanced fashion.
I honestly didn’t find the difference in overall texture quality and lighting for Uncharted 2 on the PS3 and PS4 to be as significant as Uncharted across both console generations. It isn’t limited to texture quality either – while the original ran at a locked 30 FPS frame rate with very noticeable screen tearing in action-heavy sequences, the PS4 version runs at a smooth 60 frames per second for the most part with no screen-tearing. One could say there was greater room for improvement than in the sequel but its changes like this that really help bring Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune in line with the rest of the trilogy. The 1080p resolution further helps in delivering all that crisp detail.
Then again, there are some drawbacks. As with Uncharted 2, the environmental deformation didn’t look like anything “next generation”. While it is improved over the PS3 version, it doesn’t really stand out all that much, even as particle and alpha effects like explosions and fire come across better than before. The structure of environments on the PS4 version hasn’t been messed about with either and they’re still very similar to the PS3 version.
At the end of the day though, Bluepoint Games continues to refine its work on the Nathan Drake Collection. While Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune may run at a rock steady frame rate, Uncharted 2 and 3 may still be optimized up until launch day (not that Uncharted 2 was all that far off anyway). We still haven’t had a look at Drake’s Deception on the PS4 so there’s still more to anticipate in the coming weeks. If the collection thus far has proven anything, it’s that the developer is retaining the look and feel of the original games while significantly updating them for the PS4 (with a 60 FPS frame rate in mind, of course). Even if Uncharted: The Nathan Drake Collection doesn’t end up running at a locked 60 FPS, the work that Bluepoint has put in to get it that close is an achievement in itself.
As with Uncharted 2, it’s hard to fathom going back to Uncharted at 30 FPS after this collection. It also makes one wonder how Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End will fare in that regard, seeing as its single-player campaign is capped at 30 FPS and 1080p resolution. Regardless, with Uncharted: The Nathan Drake Collection releasing on October 7th in Europe and October 9th in North America, this journey to Drake’s debut on the PS4 has seen nothing short of high quality.
Note: This is a work in progress analysis based on the recent footage released by Sony.