How does Nathan Drake’s greatest adventure benefit from the leap to 1080p/60 FPS?
Some gamers may not want to admit it but Naughty Dog’s Uncharted series undoubtedly holds a special place in the industry despite its relatively short shelf life compared to many other AAA blockbusters. Initially unveiled as the developer’s new intellectual property that graduated it from the cartoonish adventures of Crash Bandicoot and Jak & Daxter, Uncharted elevated the PlayStation 3 as a platform with each successive installment. Perhaps more importantly, Uncharted hasn’t witnessed many of the curses to befall AAA sequels including broken launches, numerous bugs, an oversaturation of DLC and whatnot (and yes, this is keeping in mind that its multiplayer isn’t exactly the best in the world).
However, when players look back on the franchise, there is one game that served as the pivotal turning point and that’s Uncharted 2: Among Thieves. Development-wise, it signified a huge leap for the franchise in terms of motion capture and graphics technology. It marked the debut of Naughty Engine 2.0 and the difference in environments, textures and animation quality was immediately apparent. Screen space ambient occlusion, ambient occlusion and Havok Physics are also present and at the time, Uncharted 2: Among Thieves was touted as using 90 to 100 percent of the PS3’s Cell processor.
Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception further built on the visuals by improving the textures and adding new, dynamic effects. Naughty Dog had fully optimized the game’s use of the PS3 hardware, utilizing 100 percent capacity of the SPUs in question. However, the biggest graphical leap in the franchise was seen with Uncharted 2: Among Thieves.
Fast forward to 2015 now where Sony is planning to release Uncharted: The Nathan Drake Collection. It will feature all three games in the franchise remastered at 1080p resolution and running at 60 frames per second. To exemplify the work done in the remaster, a short clip was released of Uncharted 2: Among Thieves running in real-time on the PS4.
The level in question features Drake and Chloe scurrying across rooftops and then eventually dealing with a Hind helicopter and a group of soldiers. It’s a glance at the work that Bluepoint Games, the studio handling the remaster, has been doing on the franchise. Bluepoint is arguably one of the more reputed remastering and porting studios in the industry today, having handled ports like Ico & Shadow of the Colossus Collection, Metal Gear Solid HD Collection and the excellent Xbox 360 version of Titanfall.
Please select 1080p and 60fps option for best possibly video playback.
From the outset, you’ll notice that the environmental design and lighting are fairly similar across the PS3 and PS4 versions. This is immediately apparent when, for example, Drake is running through an office building and shooting up several baddies among desktop PCs. Environmental deformation on a larger scale also looks last gen even while the particle effects hold up and the subsequent alpha effects look improved (as seen in the glass’s transparency following the destruction of the building by the Hind) compared to the PS3 version. There is some marked improvement overall but nothing to blow today’s AAA titles out of the water.
That being said, Bluepoint Games clearly focused on maintaining a constant 60 FPS frame rate at native 1080p resolution above all else. It achieved that goal well and the difference is quite staggering – it’s difficult to fathom that Uncharted 2 at 30 FPS could look so unnatural compared to the remastered PS4 version but there it is.
Texture details are also improved in the PS4 remaster though it’s the full HD resolution that ultimately makes them look more crisp and detailed than the PS3 version. Drake’s shirt and overall movement, the metallic sheen on weaponry and details like debris, floor textures, carpets and cracked pillars in the environment all look good in 1080p.
It’s worth noting that there are some minor frame rate drops. These occur in the second half of the clip when the action begins to picks up and are likely due to the extensive physics and effects on display and while Bluepoint Games hasn’t currently solved Naughty Dog’s 60 FPS frame rate problem, it’s still managed to leverage the PS4’s power in a way similar to The Last of Us: Remastered.
Of course, this clip represents a work in progress and that too one that is roughly 2.5 months away from release. It’s not unrealistic for Bluepoint to further optimize the frame rate and reduce the number of drops even further. While it’s doubtful that a locked 60 FPS frame rate will be achieved throughout the entire collection – especially in the case of Uncharted 3 since it’s markedly more resource heavy – it does seem like Uncharted 2 will come close to this feat.
Along with the short gameplay clip, Sony also released some ultra HD images to highlight the texture work and how it holds up at higher resolutions. No, Uncharted 2 won’t run in 4K but it’s impressive how the texture detail can upscale so well in still shots.
It’s not wrong to call Uncharted 2: Among Thieves a modern classic both in terms of its gameplay and what it achieved with its visuals at the time. It’s easy to see why Sony wanted a remaster of the original games, not including sales from those who may have missed the original PS3 releases – there’s still a lot of room for the game to showcase its graphical prowess.
The 60 FPS/1080p tagline has been beaten to death but Bluepoint Games seems to be on point with presenting just how much of a difference it can make to an experience. Hopefully this quality of porting will be seen across all three games when Uncharted: The Nathan Drake Collection releases on October 7th in Europe and October 9th in North America.