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Uncharted: Legacy of Thieves – how PS5 improves upon a last-gen masterpiece

When Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End was first revealed during E3 2014, Naughty Dog presented a stunning teaser trailer featuring Nathan Drake waking on a beach… the detail was unprecedented and astonishingly, it was running at 60 frames per second. Of course, that 60fps dream never came to pass – beyond multiplayer mode – but 30fps was just fine, bearing in mind the quality of the final game. That said, we were left wondering what might have been. Certainly, simulated 60fps gameplay using the game’s slow-motion mode looked absolutely beautiful – but now, thanks to PlayStation 5, it’s running at 60fps in real-time. Or 120fps, if you prefer.

Revisiting Uncharted 4 and its Lost Legacy spin-off – both remastered now for PlayStation 5 – reminds us of the sheer level of achievement delivered by Naughty Dog in the last generation. Both are impressively executed games that essentially perfect the cinematic action formula, delivering strong characterisation, stunning locations and exceptional set-pieces. Across the PS4 generation, the studio proved time and again that it had mastered the balancing act of delivering engrossing player agency within a tightly-defined cinematic experience.

So what does the Legacy of Thieves collection actually offer? Going into this project, I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect: the trailers never made it clear whether there would be any changes or improvements to the core visuals, beyond resolution and frame-rate. After examining the game, however, I can confirm that there ARE some improvements and changes to the presentation, but the headline feature is the inclusion of three different gameplay modes: quality, performance and performance plus.

Uncharted: Legacy of Thieves gets the full Digital Foundry tech review treatment in this video content.

Firstly, quality mode renders at a fixed 3840×2160 resolution with a frame-rate target of 30 frames per second. This is predictably the sharpest mode but the advantage in pixel count wasn’t as significant as I expected – Naughty Dog’s temporal super-sampling anti-aliasing really is very good, while its post-process-heavy aesthetic doesn’t rely on super-intricate pixel detail. Performance? It’s essentially a flawless 30 frames per second presentation, with unerringly even frame-pacing.

In performance mode, 60 frames per second is the target, with only occasional, single-frame drops (essentially unnoticeable in play). Resolution here is on par with the original titles running on PlayStation 4, and indeed The Last of Us Part 2: that’ll be 2560×1440. Basically, this delivers an experience similar to the PS4 Pro game, but with twice the frame-rate and with all of the performance issues of the original game ironed out. The final mode – performance plus – drops resolution again to 1080p, but the move to a 120fps target is quite remarkable. Yes, there’s a noticeable loss in clarity this time, but the improved motion resolution makes this an Uncharted experience I found most compelling. Delivering this at a rock-solid 120fps isn’t possible, but the drops aren’t too common and where they do happen, they’re not too intrusive.

All three options have their uses, I’d suggest, but the one disappointment here lies in the lack of dynamic resolution scaling. This is something we’ve not yet seen in a Naughty Dog title and this has a direct impact on the selected rendering resolution. I believe PS5 could handle resolutions above 1440p or 1080p in their respective modes, but not for the entirety of the game’s content. Thankfully, the game’s TSSAA holds up well, but DRS could have opened up another potential option – a 40fps fidelity mode with the display running at 120Hz (as seen in Ratchet and Clank: Rift Apart).

Each of the modes has its charms, but the good news is that Naughty Dog has embellished the visuals too – and these changes are in place on all three modes. These enhancements are admittedly quite subtle outside of direct head-to-head comparisons, but they’re welcome nonetheless. Firstly, LOD distance has been increased – in numerous scenes, you’ll now see things such as foliage drawn further out into the distance. The end result is that you’ll see less visible pop-in and improved overall detail levels, which is nice to see.

Secondly, there is a change in overall brightness and contrast that is slightly mystifying to me – basically, the game appears to have stronger contrast on PS5, perhaps related to how PS5 handles SDR content. It’s not entirely clear but it does seem to impact areas with bloom the most. The new game winds up looking slightly punchier than the same content running on PS4 Pro. There are also subtle changes to the way specific elements are shaded, while some texture assets appear better defined. Shadow and reflection quality also seems to be improved in some areas.

Tweaks are also made to motion blur: firstly, the camera rotation blur has been dialled down. When comparing the two 30fps modes on PS4 Pro and PS5, the blur is far more exaggerated on last-gen consoles. Personally, I’d love an option to restore this on PS5 but, in this case, I suspect most people will prefer the new implementation. Beyond this, the quality of the blur itself has seemingly been improved with less visible artefacting. In addition, motion blur does not scale as I’d hope with higher frame-rates – at 120Jz, for instance, it becomes nearly invisible due to lack of shutter speed adjustments.

It should be noted that The Lost Legacy exhibits all the same changes I mentioned in regards to Uncharted 4 itself. The same LOD improvements are even more noticeable due to the proliferation of vast vegetation-filled environments. There’s less pop-in throughout as a result of these changes but otherwise, it still looks very similar.

Another major feature is fast loading times. These are spectacularly improved, but it should be stressed that a direct linear playthrough on last-gen systems is mostly seamless – data streams in the background as you play, so you won’t encounter loading screens outside of pressing continue. However, the faster loading radically improves accessing gameplay from the chapter or encounter selection menus. In one instance, a load takes 48 seconds on PS4 Pro, reducing to 32 seconds when running the same content on PS5 under backwards compatibility. PS5 native? A mere 2.4 seconds. The game simply fades to black then fades back up. This makes it possible to replay scenes you enjoyed in the game without constantly bumping into loading screens.

Naughty Dog also delivers 3D audio and DualSense controller support. On the former, I mostly prefer playing my games using a home theatre set-up – and these two games have always featured an exceptionally high-quality sound mix that takes full advantage of surround and subwoofer channels. On PS5, the new 3D Audio features are, as always, designed for headphone users or, to a degree, TV speaker users – the idea being to bring surround-like experiences to an audience that doesn’t have full access to a high-end multi-speaker setup.

The end result is impressive: lower frequencies shine through and there is a genuine sense of 3D space within the soundtrack. The introduction sequence for Uncharted: The Lost Legacy is one of the best examples – the sounds of war echoing in the background contrast beautifully against near field audio. The marketplace shootout is also a great sequence – the sound of gunfire and breaking objects is convincing. Essentially, Naughty Dog has managed to translate the original surround sound mix to headphones and it works really well. The game wasn’t really designed for this feature either, so it’s a nice example of how it can be effectively adapted.

The DualSense functions are perhaps less exciting – trigger pulls now feel slightly more convincing and the sensation of carnage can be felt within the pad itself. I’ll admit, what most sold me on these features is the PS4 version – while capturing comparison footage, I was switching between them to ensure I was gathering matched sequences. Going back to the last-gen version, it was clear to me that the DualSense implementation did, in fact, have a positive impact on the game. It’s certainly nothing game-changing, mind you, but it’s worthwhile for sure. Even simple things like tapping up and down in the menu now have an associated controller response – a nice touch.

I can’t help but feel that Naughty Dog could have unlocked the frame-rate on the existing PS4 Pro code and delivered a locked 1440p60 experience – in the way that the studio’s PS5 patch for The Last of Us Part 2 worked – and much of the audience would have been perfectly content with that. However, the $10 upgrade does give you multiple modes, enhanced visuals and far better loading. And as a collector of physical media, I’m happy that we now have a complete version of both of these games, fully patched up and enhanced – it’s basically an archive version of Uncharted 4 and The Lost Legacy, which I greatly appreciate. It’s not unlike buying a deluxe 4K UHD Blu-Ray movie of a film you had on normal BD. I really enjoyed returning to these games and look forward to seeing how these upgrades scale when the remastered collection hits PC some time in the future.

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