Uncharted has always meant top-tier graphics. Uncharted 2 and 3 were two of the best-looking games last gen. Even Drake’s Fortune, before the series hit its stride, did its job: showing off PS3’s power.
So why does Uncharted 4: A Thief's End seem to have been heavily downgraded?
Charting the Uncharted 4 downgrade
The following timeline of Uncharted 4 screenshots (or is that bullshots?) shows the game’s graphical decline on regular PS4.
June 2014: Uncharted 4 reveal trailer at E3
The Uncharted 4 reveal trailer led with the caption “The following trailer was captured directly from a PlayStation 4 system.” Main character Drake is rendered in incredible detail, with realistic lighting, self-shadows… and an amazing head of hair.
December 2014: Uncharted 4 gameplay shown at PSX
By the time we see actual gameplay a few months later, it’s clear the reveal trailer was just a cutscene… and the real Uncharted 4 will look much more game-like. The game still looks decent, but Drake’s hair and facial detail are much, much simpler.
June 2015: Uncharted 4 back at E3
A year later into development, and another E3 demo shows Uncharted 4’s simplified facial models and lighting is here to stay. The game still looks good, but pushing boundaries?
December 2015: More Uncharted cutscenes at PSX
So far we’ve been comparing the original trailer, which was a cutscene, against gameplay footage. But when Uncharted 4 next showed at PSX 2015, we saw another cut scene with Drake and his brother. On this cutscene, model detail was lower in comparison, as the image shows.
It’s not just that Uncharted 4 has been downgraded – although we think it’s pretty fair to argue it has. It’s also that Uncharted is no longer streets ahead of other adventure series like Tomb Raider or even the PS4/XBO versions of GTA5.
Uncharted 4: A Thief's End is not the cutting edge of graphics on consoles.
So why is that? Have other developers simply caught up with the geniuses at Naughty Dog?
Enter PS4K / Neo and a whole new system to sell
What we do know is that the Sony-owned Naughty Dog team are really close to what’s happening inside PlayStation. Has Naughty Dog simply shifted its attention to PS4K, the upgraded PlayStation that’s all but confirmed to be arriving within months?
PS4K, apparently codenamed ‘Neo’, is said to be about twice as fast as PS4. That might be enough power to restore the lost Uncharted 4 graphical detail we showed above.
Naughty Dog obviously did the work to create those graphics. But, it seems that you won't be able to see them on your current PS4 console. To play the best version of Uncharted 4 – the one Naughty Dog originally envisioned – you might just have to buy a new console.
Was that the plan all along? Who knows, one thing for sure is that the nature of console upgrades such as PS4K will always see game developers switch their attention to what offers them more power. As more and more developers realise better capabilities, we might see more 'basic' versions of games being pushed to PS4 (and Xbox) as developers shift their attention to those that allow them to realise their vision.