Is Uncharted The Nathan Drake Collection A Worthy Remaster?

Bluepoint brings its A game with all three remasters.

Posted By | On 09th, Oct. 2015 Under Article, Graphics Analysis

Naughty Dog’s Uncharted series has been worthy of praise and commercial success ever since Nathan Drake embarked on his first adventure eight years ago. The series’ mix of clever writing, memorable set pieces and beautiful visuals has resonated with gamers, earning it a spot in gaming’s pantheon. With Uncharted: The Nathan Drake Collection, Naughty Dog and Bluepoint Games will be looking to re-acquaint PS4 players with the franchise while offering revamped visuals, multiplayer beta access to Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End and a tool to promote the upcoming PS4 exclusive for its release in 2016.

The question, as always, remains: How heavily revamped have the visuals been? We’ve been keeping track of Bluepoint’s remastering work for Uncharted and Uncharted 2 over the past few months but we were very curious to see how each game would pan out on release.

Let’s start with Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune. Given its PS3 roots, it couldn’t have been easy for Bluepoint Games to remaster the game. Drake’s Fortune is renowned for Naughty Dog’s introduction of new development tools and pipelines, especially in layering different facial expressions and animations together to achieve the desired results. It’s also known for being a rushed title on what was a complicated GPU-CPU architecture at the time. At this point, Bluepoint already has an immense task ahead of it to hit 1080p resolution and 60 frames per second.

Head to head comparison between PS4 and PS3 versions of Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune. Select 1080p and 60fps for best possible video quality.

Nonetheless, that’s exactly what they’ve done. The frame rate is nearly locked at 60 frames per second with only a few frame drops noticed. Oddly enough, these occur when transitioning from gameplay to cut scenes and vice versa. Regardless, whether you’re involved in a high speed shoot-out or exploring the jungle, the frame rate stays solid at 60 frames per second during gameplay. Bluepoint has also added ambient occlusion to go with its shader improvements. Combined with anisotropic filtering, the image quality definitely comes across as sharper and more appealing than before.

Bluepoint has also worked to significantly improve on the character models for Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune and it feels like a big departure from the “waxen” look of the PS3’s models. Not only does Drake’s face and hair resemble his model from Uncharted 3, which many will prefer, but it ends up fitting the series’ realistic tone overall. At the time, Naughty Dog was coming off of Jak & Daxter so it must have taken some time to acclimatize to a more realistic style (hence the slight cartoonishness of the PS3 version’s models) but they’ve come a long way since then. If you don’t know what we’re talking about, compare Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune on the PS3 to Uncharted 4’s characters and you’ll see what we mean.

The lighting engine has been significantly revamped, which changes the tone of scenes quite noticeably. Shadows are now properly cast on water surfaces with ripples and waves, and the wave effects themselves have been updated. Some areas also include better foliage and volumetric effects, though this doesn’t extend to the entire game. Many textures have been reworked along with skin shaders and we even spotted sub-surface scattering on characters’ skin at places. Even Drake’s clothing textures have been reworked. The overall effect is subtle and should be viewed side by side with the PS3 version to properly appreciate. Interestingly, along with reworking ground geometry to feature more details, there are places where the depth of field has been removed completely. Perhaps this is to ensure more solid performance but it’s understandable all the same.

Though it’s changes are very subtle, Bluepoint Games has an incredible job remastering the near-decade old game while maintaining excellent performance throughout.

Head to head comparison between PS4 and PS3 versions of Uncharted 2: Among Thieves. Select 1080p and 60fps for best possible video quality.

In 2009, Naughty Dog released Uncharted 2: Among Thieves. Having had the time to master the PS3’s architecture, the developer introduced Naughty Engine 2.0. This built on the engine used in Drake’s Fortune while taking nearly 100 percent advantage of the PS3’s CELL SPUs. As a result, the visuals improved massively over the first Uncharted, incorporating better animations, real-time environments and excellent coordination with Havok Physics. To say that Uncharted 2: Among Thieves has been hailed as one of the greatest games of all time is an understatement.

On the PlayStation 4, Uncharted 2: Among Thieves runs at 1080p resolution and 60 frames per second, once again only witnessing drops when transitioning from cut scenes to gameplay and vice versa. AF 8x has been implrmeneted, leading to some beautiful texture quality, and the enhanced DoF effect looks much better in 1080p. As noted before, the alpha and volumetric effects have been improved which means better weather effects like snow and more realistic explosions. Smoke and debris have also been improved, further adding to the game’s cinematic feel. Draw distances are also better and the revamped lighting engine helps the colours pop all the more. Several assets in Uncharted 2 have been either reworked or replaced, resulting in a better looking game like in Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune.

Once again, subsurface scattering has been observed along with improved skin shaders, better texture filtering and increased details. Cloth shaders and hair shaders have also been improved and we noticed improvements to the material based filtering as well. LOD is balanced pretty well and hence, there’s a low loss of details. Sadly, shadow dithering is still an issue but we’ve pretty much come to expect that in many games these days.

Interestingly, one particular omission is the velocity based motion blur that was present in the PS3 version. The effect has been completely removed in the pre-rendered cut scenes and we actually miss it. It’s especially odd when you consider that motion blur in Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune was done on the GPU while Uncharted 2 offloaded this to the CELL’s SPU units. Given the immense power and easy accommodation of the PS4’s GPGPU, its removal is quite the surprise.

Overall, whether you played it in 2009 or not, Uncharted 2: Among Thieves is an awesome remaster and ably stands on its own terms in 2015.

Head to head comparison between PS4 and PS3 versions of Uncharted 2: Drake’s Deception. Select 1080p and 60fps for best possible video quality.

In 2011, Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception released and was the equivalent of a finely aged wine in a prettier bottle. Though it wasn’t as revolutionary as Uncharted 2: Among Thieves in terms of gameplay or visuals, it was still one of the best third person shooters and action titles ever made. At this point, Naughty Dog had pretty much capped out the utilization of the PS3 hardware, optimizing its engine to extract 100 percent of the console’s power. It makes for an interesting comparison with the PS4 remaster.

The focus in the PS3 version was on improving the action on screen, the material based rendering in the dynamic sand, fire and water effects (perfectly exemplified in the game’s breathtaking ship level) and also incorporating more realistic animations and textures. On a more subjective note, the hair shaders have been completely revamped and we honestly appreciated the original look better. Again, this is a purely subjective opinion and doesn’t affect the visual quality at all.

When comparing the original PS3 game to the PS4 remaster, we noticed subtle changes like the addition of DoF in different places (which is appreciated). Skin scales look crisper, blood has that extra bit of fluidity and the anisotropic filtering is better than the original. Some aspects like the dirt on Sully’s face look cleaner and boast more detail. When observing some of the walls in the original, they didn’t have very crisp looking cracks while the remaster actually has water seeping out of said cracks. It’s little touches like this which add to the overall experience.

Details in the distance have been improved and the 1080p resolution goes a long way towards reducing compression artefacts, thus making nearby objects look crisper and cleaner. The 60 FPS frame rate makes watching the game, especially during the desert section, an absolute treat and we appreciated how the enhanced fire effects make the escape sequences look better.

It should be noted that a custom AA solution is in place across all three remasters and hence takes care of per pixel aliasing. Shadow dithering is an issue in some places despite the implementation of ambient occlusion. AF x8 is also present and does a great deal of justice to all the texture detail.

Though Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception is perhaps the best example of the PS3 being pushed to its absolute limit, the remastered version manages to look even better. As a whole, Uncharted: The Nathan Drake Collection features three classic titles which have had their visuals improved significantly while implementing a solid 60 FPS frame rate and 1080p resolution. Even if you’ve experienced all of these games several times over, The Nathan Drake Collection is a great incentive to go back and relive the magic once again.

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