Uncharted 4: Technical Preview
As we now approach the final straight I wanted to cover the main aspects of what we know of the game and how it looks to expand, improve and entertain in equal measure along with the obligatory impress throughout its campaign.
All spoiler free so long as you have seen most of the media released thus far of the game which is much better than Uncharted 3 which had its heart on its sleeve too much prior to release. Also, just to help the hype levels and emotion I have added a short trailer I have created with the help of the talent of Henry Jackman to set the mood…so hopefully you will stick around at the end to watch.
With this being the 4th entry in the franchise it brings up many firsts for the team and series, Naughty Dogs first new game in nearly 3 years after its colossal TLOU in 2013. The first Uncharted game no longer lead by its main creative director Amy Hennig (busy on the new EA Star Wars Uncharted game) but both Bruce Straley (Artist on Drakes Fortune) and Neil Druckman (Game designer on Drakes Fortune) are still on-board and now lead development as per TLOU. Along with it being the first ground up PS4 game for both the engine and team so as always expectations are high but the talented and committed crew look to have delivered and exceeded those lofty aspirations once again judging by what we have seen.
With a return to the series intended grandiloquent set-pieces mixed with more intimate moments witnessed in TLOU aims to put even more personality and character into the plot and action. With it always keeping as much “on the sticks” as possible without seizing control from the player allowing us to only become even more involved with its expansive cast and tale.
Along with Nate himself all the fan favorites return with some new faces in Sam Nates long lost and though dead brother, Victor Sullivan Drake’s partner in crime, Elena Fisher his equal and now possibly to be estranged or widowed wife. But the bad guys are not forgotten with Rafe Adler the rich and powerful mercenary and a history with the brothers, backed up by an even more imposing adversary in Nadine Ross, South African leader of the Shoreline mercenary army. This may be the boys and girls last ride but it looks to be their toughest yet.
Game play has taken a big shift along with the visuals which I will get to in a moment as it now looks to expand on the choice we saw in the last game. Far more verticality has been added with Lead game designer Emilia Schatz and team working to expand the size, scope and choice of each area as we saw in the PSX demo conflict can now be avoided, line of sight lost and AI as a whole looks to have improved dramatically with some of these now been processed on the GPU we can expect the complexity and dynamic flow of these encounters to be greatly enhanced over previous games and this is as big a leap forward as the graphics. With the use of asynchronous computation made possible by the unified memory structure and GPU command processer alterations in the PS4 it is a great example of the benefits a closed system can produce. With AI not an unknown quantity for GPU work but far from common it is again a showcase of the teams pioneering style as they always aim to maximize what they have and yet always seem to improve on that with each new title. This is something I look forward to enjoying and covering in more detail nearer launch, along with the engines use of Fibres to maximize the 7-cores of the CPU as best they can (which you can learn more about in my technobabble article from last year) ND have again delved deep into the hardware to an impressive degree. As the engine now has a much larger footprint to work in we can see that it is not only the visuals but game design and freedom are benefiting from the extra powered afforded with the PS4.
Water as expected plays a big part in the new game as Nathan searches across the globe for the largest pirate treasure in history fighting mercenaries, mud-slides, waterfalls and now sunken ship wrecks with a possible lost underwater city another possible stop off. It also shows off the incredible leap up in animation as Drake swims across the sunken vessel, joined with some Chromatic aberration to fringe the edges of the scene all working well to give a clear underwater tone without heavy obscurance from over loading the shot with Post Processing it along with the long beach shot really highlight the bright colour tone the game delivers here. Death defying waterfalls complete with focal adjusted Depth of Field, transparency, alpha blending water with rainbow as it most likely blends pulls back into gameplay from this shot really signifies the leap we have taken this gen and one of the main features I harp on about with these seamless shifts into and out of gameplay and story sections mean we never lose the engagement with the character, carry over real-time game choices or have the large visual shift from In-game and pre-renders we have had prior, it is a trend and feature I really appreciate.
This is not to say that the cut scenes do not change or offer a large scope for developers as they do and we can clearly see the strides that have been taken here even from the PS4 release and Pre-renders of TLOU or previous Uncharted games. The colour schemes and texture work prominent in all ND titles has now been fully realized and implemented here with the near concept art pastel colours gloriously demonstrated in these 2 shots alone and the shift of the darker look the early PSX demo had which we saw changed from the E3 demo and close beta from last year, this contrast can be seen well here with a look at the PSX demo aside the new trailer. You can see the changes to the lush green leaves is now much brighter as per the teams normal art direction, but as I covered at the time the lack of any Motion Blur from that demo now masks some of the detail with Per object and Radial camera blur in use here, you can also see the corrections made with the rope prior clipping right through Nate’s arm and now moved further out to wrap around behind him in addition to motion blur.
In fact Motion blur is something within the Post Effects suite that has progressed throughout each of the games showing, with non in the PSX demo, then added in the E3 showings and further enhanced here to offer up far more coverage, more samples and reduce artifacting and background inclusion errors. Although not fully resolved it now does look much better and is a welcome addition in both the 30Hz Single player and as much 60Hz MP and even more so in the simply jaw dropping cinematics. With the rather long and multiple showings of the game throughout its protracted development it has given us a good view of just how things can and do change in all development processes not just games.
If we look at the scenes from less than a year ago at E3 we can see many alterations, artistic choices and changes that have happened that some may have missed and also many mistakenly attribute to downgrades far too often. Watch the video above and check out the Image comparison to see the changes in detail from the previous showings and just how things have changes, improved since the start of its public showings.
Some areas show less or removed post effects like the dock yard shot and it allows us to realize more detail on the ground, background objects along with the Screen Space reflection improvements that the team have looked to nearly remove the occlusion issues present in previous showing and pretty much all uses of the effect. Again the same dithering effect can be seen here as in other areas and this like most section I believe is due to the reconstructed nature of many parts of the rendering pipeline. As we saw in the shadows from previous showings they present clear signs of confidence improvements we have seen before in other games and Sony 1st Party ones also. As you can see here with the fight shot as I slow it down the shadow at first is heavily stippled but with each passing frame more information is built up to improve the quality. This was something I noted in the original E3 demo as the LOD system slowly builds more information into the scene after it starts and we can see these same signs here.
In addition the edges of geometry can still show signs of movement and instability normally associated with adaptive tessellation on the silhouette and I feel more is going on with the teams own solutions. My guess is that they are using a MSAA reconstruction system to create a native 1080p output buffer from a reconstructed quarter size start in various parts of the render. This is not that uncommon with similar techniques used in many previous games already released and I am sure many, many more to come with both Assassin Creed games using something similar as did Rainbow Six, Killzone shadow fall, Until dawn so this is far from a unique process. But the actual detail on this and how it all hangs together we may learn more about at GDC this year, and I stress this is just my thoughts on the signs I can see from the Beta and released footage but hopefully explains why some did not like the look it can give. But it does look like a moving feast here with the team improving its quality with each passing new showing and at no point does this mean we have a Sub 1080 display as the output on the geometry (which is what all pixel counting can only be based on) is and will still be full buffer, this is only how the final output is created but this is not the place to delve into that in-depth just yet.
From the other areas throughout the trailer and showing it is clear the early promise has been achieved and IF (which I now doubt) this original scene makes it into the final game to compare it is clear the level of detail and IQ is very close to that showing even if the final Frame-rate target was shifted to Multi-player only I feel it was and is the correct choice to allow them the scope to impress so much in the game. The fact that the trailer has sequences that show clear gameplay shots like here and here with others that are not so clear but the fact it will be almost impossible to see the seams throughout excites me greatly as I am sure a good portion of you watching this. I am incredibly eager to cover the games extravagant presentation and sheer blockbuster status when I get my hands on with a Spoiler free review and Analysis. You can check out many of my given examples here on our site with our image comparison gallery and tool that will show high quality images for comparison from my high quality feed here.