Uncharted 4 Multiplayer - Preview
It has been over 6 years since the gaming world was blown away while simultaneously starting the PS3 climb back from a weak launch. But more so than this it pushed Naughty Dog and the Uncharted trilogy into the forefront of both Sony exclusive franchised and development houses.
With such a perfect cinematic flair mixed with fast, fluid and enjoyable traversal and combat action all wrapped up in visuals, presentation and production values that set the benchmark at the time within the industry. Since then ND and others have upped these levels as is always the case, but even from the recent improved Collection from Bluepoint games that cemented themselves as one of the single most proficient and technically accomplished porting teams,still impressive whilst allowing an entire new audience to revel, enjoy and ultimately fall in love with the franchise while also allowing those that had played the game back in 2009 to revisit and play it just as the rose tinted specs remember it.
But one of the biggest losses from the remaster and equally as loved with the original PS3 game launched was the chaotic and superb MP addition to the game. Allowing the same vertical combat, satisfying gunplay, cover system and fluid traversal within altered arena’s taken from the single player it was played long after the epic single player story had been completed ( most likely on multiple difficulties ). But this has been addressed and updated with Naughty Dogs very first ground up PS4 game in Uncharted 4 that brings the tales of our most cherished thief, frequent flyer and serial killer to a dramatic and fitting end. With the production values and sheer cinematography/visual impact taking another generational leap in the single player that I will cover shortly, but with this targeting a 1080/30 metric the MP has moved to a 900/60 target so that it can keep the fast/fluid action needed for competitive multiplayer combat. We have had a chance to get our first hands on with the new game and get a glimpse across 2 maps of what the team have achieved so far and just what we can expect in the final release with likely more improvements to come.
First up we can talk about what we have to play here and the 2 maps available in the beta are unsurprisingly based on levels from SP we have already seen. The jungle from the original PSX gameplay reveal and the mountain top village seen from the ground shaking E3 demo. Starting with the jungle level we see that ND have used the resource balance well to incorporate much from the single player game while also doubling the framerate. Remember in actual performance and resource use the MP is asking more of the engine and the PS4 than the 1080/30 single player campaign. This is due to the fact that no matter if you target a 33ms or 16ms frame-time some parts of your budget would be fixed. So with a 100% increase in budget afforded with the 30/60 split it means that these fixed portions become a smaller percentage of your overall budget. Again refer to my Witcher 3 Hard drive video where I talk about how a games performance and targets are based on much more than just GPU or CPU.
This level allows again a great mix of standard run/gun and cover along with the series trademark verticality offering up high vantage points with a good trade off in cover to compensate. In addition one of the biggest new additions to the game is the use of rope/hook at fixed points across the level allowing much faster travel along with some dramatic take-downs. With it allowing a full range of motion and linking multiple points together you can cover a good distant while doing your best Spiderman impression. Like most maps it runs from a centre hub than has many routes in and out to form the basis of multiple levels.
The second map is a more industrial build again offering up vertical and horizontal traversal, rope anchor points and follows a more symmetric split across the 2 sides with a raised and open area allowing ambush from above to be of use or concern in equal measure.
Aside these differences the matches play out in a similar fashion with a team of up to 8 vs 8 on each side facing off in the only game mode available, good old fashioned team death match with the first team to 35 declared the winner. The village map gives a very Modern Warfare feel to both its layout and design in play which is not a bad thing, memories of epic throwing knife kills still put a smile on my face, but the lack of time defying knife melee is a welcome omission. But the MW influence is not only felt here, with the introduction of perks as we saw in previous games allowing faster reload, longer life span when downed. But it gets to more so here with the new sidekicks and mystical power boosts. These can be bought from the store with in-game credits earned from pickups in matches or kills, downs. Tapping the touchpad or being offered the choice before a respawn you can purchase heavy weapons (set from the loadout section before matches) locking you in with a pre-set selection.
So far so Modern warfare and it works well with the choice of perks, weapons and skins, perks all being unlocked as you work through the game and rank up. But as per the warfare matches it is a love or hate divide on how successful these additions are in play. The totem pole for example will hit all enemies within range until dead no matter what cover you are behind. Again sidekicks can snipe, gun or grab you or others in play and at times can overpower the combat to make it very one sided, not helped by more than one player able to drop the same killstreak bonus in conjunction with others, meaning you can find yourself quickly downed with no real solution to stop it. It is not a huge deal and I am sure with feedback these and other areas will be tweaked by the team. Maybe limiting only sidekicks per team and powers, along with other defence options to give a more tactical balance to these. But it successfully captures and improves on the Uncharted MP action that at present misses the story introduction we saw in 3 but this may come in other game modes to be shown later and in the final release. The tight controls, weighted and recoil from the guns delivers both responsive and satisfying combat and with great level design allowing the rope sections across the maps to have a balance of trepidation and satisfaction.
So with the gameplay out of the way just how does the new engine and game perform? I hear you ask, well that is a very valid question and one I aim to answer thoroughly.
As I covered in previous videos ND are certainly bringing much into the game and engine across the board and MP is no different. First thing is this is a beta so performance is not something I will dwell on but we can see that the game delivers a pretty solid but not locked 60 fps update. With a fully V-synced display we have a very stable image with no tearing present which pleases me and many more I am sure. But in the bigger actions sequences with particles, alpha sprite smoke and mystical powers we can see some dips into the high 40’s at the very worse but only briefly. We also get sections of maps that can cause these dips with no action in place which may be occlusion/over draw bugs or other areas that I am sure will be fixed come launch. From the 2 maps we do not see any more or less draw on either with an even balance across both showing a very promising display and with the beta receiving regular updates to patch issues ( this is of benefit to the team and working as we play ) with the latest one being the 9th so far. You can see the metrics in the video which should ease any worries of how solid the final release will be.
But what about that resolution, does it ruin the image? Of course not as I have said many times resolution is only part of the conversation and is not as big a deal as other areas. It is about the pixel quality far more than it is about the quantity. And again as I said before in many videos the AA solutions are now thankfully changing with teams trying new and more important temporal stable solutions. Ryse showed at the launch of this generation that 900p with a great noise filter in place can deliver very crisp and more importantly stable IQ.
And here Naughty Dog are most certainly using their own temporal solution as we saw and I covered in the E3 demo, but with more time and helped by the increased frame rate we have image quality that many would think is full native, pretty much free of subpixel breakup and frequency issues, best highlighted in the jungle level as you move slowly through the tree’s with such thin alpha edges usually the bane of image quality highlighting breakup, shimmer but here we get very clean and solid edges with most of the interference masked by the solution in play. What that is at the moment is an unknown but it surely is using previous frames data along with an EQAA adjustable sample pattern to detect both geometry edges along with colour sampling which successfully delivers one of the cleanest displays on the platform, something that helps deliver overall impressive results in the MP. If we compare the original 1080/30 Single player PSX reveal here to the best I can get within the MP you can see that it delivers visuals on par with that showing and confirms at the time the target was still 60, but single player needed more.
But even then a comparison with the E3 demo shows a game not that far from the SP quality, but with the direct source capture compared to release footage not to be used for image quality overall simply a solid example. This solution is not only very successful but also key in delivering the clean lines and Off-line CGi looks that are becoming more common and in demand. The Order 1886 still stands out as one of the best and cleanest games I have ever played, along with Battlefront that both capture this look incredibly well although the AA solutions used in The Order are more solid and convincing they both are standout games so far this generation.
But as expected Naughty Dog have more than thrown their hat into the ring, and the results we will see in the Single player I am sure will equally improve and impress that what we see here. As the multi-player already looks cleaner and less artefact prone that the E3 demo, this is still a work in progress so the base we have here should aisle the worries of the 1600 x 900 resolution. Now the solution and reasons for this are to be explained but I will cover some of the signs I have picked up here and in the footage shown recently in another more technical look at the game in another article I am currently working on, and expect this too become increasingly more common throughout this generation.
But visuals are not all about the numbers and it certainly has other areas in which it shines very brightly with animation being a not unsurprising high point. The 16ms frame time means that sample rates are very high and in conjunction with procedural animations, great blending, high key frame count and skeletal frames means that all character movement feels and looks not only natural but convincing. You can see the same care and attention we see in single player is lavished in the game from idle animations, cover reactions when shot at to the swing from ropes or mocking animations. Very smooth in blending between frames and sets with variable timing, even the location of the character within the world is pretty solid. These little touches from the squeezing of the trigger within a DoF pass as you aim, to the flinch and delay from a grenade all add such often missed detail that you can almost miss and take for granted. This continues within the world as you can chip of parts of cover when shot, leave decal added footprints in mud. Parts of the world also involve physics and destruction with pillars breaking and even killing you from explosions to chairs, pots and leaves all swaying, bending and breaking based on impact or force, something I hope they incorporate more into both MP and SP alike and in other game modes. A rope bridge type section with a destructible section to extend the map would work superbly I think.
Actual character models and shader quality along with texture quality is obviously lower than the Single player and even more so the eye scorching real-time cinematics but this does not been by any means that they are not impressive. You can chose from a choice of skins that have Nate/Sully and Sam in a Tux to snow wear, you can even slap on a grandad cap or aviator sunglasses for the 80’s action hero look. Volumetric light is used across both maps most likely of a quarter resolution but looks great as it peers through the tree’s and must be noted is not a screen space solution most likely like previous methods a geometry based one in action it adds a nice visual touch. Pyrotechnics also offer up nice touches with alpha effects used for powers, smoke and explosions complete with a particle system that bounces chunks and sparks from grenades and bullet impacts which also have a plume of smoke as they hit. With the levels being a fixed time of day we also see light bounce GI solutions used in areas with most likely an Image based lighting method in use that we will see used far more in the single player. Screen space reflections are largely absent here with the probe Cubemap solutions used across water pools and other reflective surfaces. But we do see the same ambient occlusion methods the team used in Uncharted 3 and TLOU that gives a soft contact shadow as characters draw closer to walls. In addition to this on reflective surfaces like the sheet metal of the village map the capsule proxy displays for your character and others that SSR could not achieve within its current form, and it looks good in play, but with the game still being in development you do get some pop and mip loading errors at times.
Shadow quality is good for the games target rate and has a good cascade level within the frustum allowing higher resolution sample points to be used as you draw nearer or more towards the centre of your view. With such a hyper realised art style many would think that the game may not use a PBR based pipeline but is does, with skin showing a very convincing light diffuse and bounce. Equally metal objects bounce specular within a Fresnel range along with mud, wood, stone and others all absorbing and diffusing based on a more approximate rule. Across both maps the jungle level is the most impressive with its more obvious use of bloom, volumetric light, swaying foliage aided by its colour bleed touch from the green hue or again in the village when within the green tented area or blue cabinet. This strong use of light and bounce was seen in the E3 reveal that I covered in my videos and again here and in other recent games is a great addition and one I am very happy to see more of.
With such a visually impressive, fast paced game along with superb image quality, smooth framerate and both dynamic and reactive action I have really enjoyed my time with the MP. From stringing together fast takedowns of multiple enemies to swinging in time and time again to bring the hammer down never gets old.
The team have not disappointed at all with its new improved PS4 engine and with the split of 60/30 for the MP/SP means that no matter your persuasion or preference you should be happy. The next question only remains to see just how far, even more impressive and bombastic the single player tale is going to be, with such an epic & daring action hero and the possibilities of the team and engine I am sure they will exceed all expectations. One thing is for sure I have my ticket bought for the final ride and I would not miss it for the world.