I’m not one to spend much time thinking about graphics technology. I like it when things look good, sure. Who doesn’t? I can even appreciate the clarity of 4k resolution, especially when it’s plopped down in front of my face via PC monitor. But I am not by and large impressed by resolution or framerates. I don’t care if something was upscaled if I can’t tell the difference just by playing it. I can admire particle effects only when they’re obviously adding something to the scene. I even prefer 30 fps from time to time. I drag myself unwillingly into hardware revolutions, hoping that developers choose to use the new hardware for gameplay effect rather than sharper visuals. And then, inevitably, some game comes along and makes me remember that yes, graphics technology is important. That new leaps forward in hardware can produce gamescapes of unparalleled beauty. For the 2017, and for Sony’s PS4, Uncharted 4 is that game.
It was the shirts that did it for me. An early scene inUncharted 4 sees Nathan Drake and his brother Sam willingly imprisoned in a Panamanian jail in order to get at the ancient ruins behind it. They both wear blue prison shirts, unbuttoned and swaying in the wind. And what shirts! They looked like fabric in a way that I’ve never quite seen in a game, moving just enough to let you know that they weren’t just static polygons. And two chest pockets to boot, fully rendered rather than flat textures. It’s those details that do it — that Naughty Dog style that never quitecalls attention to the obsessive, incredible technological work the team has done, instead just letting it sit there, knowing full well what’s been accomplished, just points you in the right direction and lets the game do its thing.
A later scene sees our heroes in a wine cellar — the light shatters as soon as Nathan turns it on, as if Naughty Dog is saying: check this out. Sam takes out a lighter and the rest of the scene is lit by that flickering gaslight, chasing just behind Nathan as it dances over wine barrels. Drake makes it out of the cellar and onto the rooftop, an endless Mediterranean sea stretching out before him, all the more captivating for that flippant way Drake tends to interact with it all.
And that’s besides the basic stuff: the facial animation and motion capture that makes the characters in these game come to life in a way I’ve never quite seen before, even the attention to detail paid to small things like the treasure or the clutter that takes up the interior spaces. And that’s the magic here: the most impressive thing about Uncharted 4 might be that it’s not a graphical showcase. It can be that if you want it to be, sure. But there’s never a moment when I felt like the tech was getting in the way of the experience, or when I felt like the game was guiding me to visuals rather than story or gameplay.
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It is not the only thing about Uncharted 4 that I like, but it deserves to be called out. I don’t know if this is the most technically impressive game I’ve ever seen, but it’s the best looking, and it would be worth checking out even if that were the only thing.
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