Games: Uncharted aims to go out on a high
Few would argue the Uncharted series stands among the most beautiful games of the last generation. It squeezed every last drop of power from the PS3 as treasure-hunter Nathan Drake sought his fortune in far-flung lands.
As Californian developer Naughty Dog prepares to close out Drake's story with the release of Uncharted 4: A Thief's End next month, players can expect an eye-popping leap in graphical fidelity as the series debuts on the more powerful PS4.
At an Uncharted 4 preview event in London last week, Naughty Dog took great pride in showcasing how cut-scenes are now rendered in the game engine, ensuring a smooth switch between gameplay and story.
A phenomenal draw distance coupled with scrupulous attention to detail in close-up make for an impressive visual smorgasbord.
Lead designer Ricky Cambier, who joined Naughty Dog before Uncharted 3 and later worked on the post-apocalyptic The Last of Us, is enthusiastic about the aesthetic and geographic possibilities of moving to a new generation of console.
"One thing that was interesting about PS4 was that we could keep everything in real-time," says Cambier. "It's incredible that something that was technologically very difficult had such an impact on the game-play, that you don't have this flat screen and a switch to this movie.
"You now seamlessly can just transition right into something that was previously a pre-rendered cut-scene. I think people are gonna be amazed at how it feels as one constant experience."
A quick play-test demonstrates that Naughty Dog hews close to its blueprint for Drake's adventures, with Uncharted 4 offering a familiar blend of acrobatic climbing and cover-based shooting in gorgeous locations.
But it has tweaked the formula, including a driving sequence featuring a jeep and dotted with environmental puzzles. Drake is now skilled with a grappling hook, increasing his mobility and adding tactical variety to the shoot-outs.
Cambier explains that designing much more expansive locations was a priority, to enhance the combat and the exploratory moments. But Naughty Dog also wanted to learn from the emotional punch of The Last of Us.
"We were really curious about where we could slow things down and create these intimate moments," he says. "It was a big thing for The Last of Us. Uncharted is a summer blockbuster, we are this big set-piece game. We do like to have big explosions and do this crazy stuff.
"But we also have this interesting complex character who's very intelligent, who loves history, who loves treasure hunting and also deeply cares about the people around him."
■ Uncharted 4 is released for PS4 on May 10