For almost 15 years now, Uncharted has been taking players on globetrotting adventures packed with thrilling action since the series debuted on PS3 with Drake's Fortune. Mostly spent playing the role of Nathan Drake, a natural born explorer, collector of the rarest of antiquities, and obvious believer that possession is 9/10ths of the law, the series has taken us from one legendary location to the next in the hopes of reaching sacred items before the next villainous mastermind.
Whether on the hunt for the mythical kingdom of Shambhala or the plundered loot of long-dead pirates, Naughty Dog have always managed to keep a signature light-hearted humour while regularly setting the standard for cinematic gameplay and memorable set pieces.
- UNCHARTED: LEGACY OF THIEVES // SIE -
With a Hollywood movie hoping to reimagine some of that for the big screen this February, the two most recent titles in the Uncharted franchise have been treated to a fresh coat of pixels in the Uncharted: Legacy of Thieves Collection on PS5. Getting the usual benefits of DualSense haptic feedback, 3D audio – to particularly stunning effect in cavernous locations it has to be said – and virtually no loading times, the collection marks another opportunity to tempt Nathan Drake out of retirement or to explore the more selfless side of Chloe Frazer in native 4K resolution.
With optional Performance and Performance+ modes also available for targeted 60 or 120 fps, shooting brawling and grappling your way through militarised antagonists has never looked better. The same goes for all of the improbable (read impossible) traversal skills and fascinatingly intricate ancient puzzle mechanisms that the series is known for, offering plenty of gorgeous content for virtual photographers to get stuck into.
Key Photo Mode Features:
Precise depth of field control
Useful image processing options
Manual sun positioning (Uncharted: Lost Legacy only)
Controls & Implementation:
"Legacy" may be something of an apt name here because, while the games have received visual upgrades, the photo modes have not been afforded such luxuries and the available tools are certainly showing their age. Although there are some differences between the options in A Thief's End and Lost Legacy, which has a couple of key extras, the two share some fundamental flaws and often struggle to take advantage of the outstanding quality on offer in the character models and rich environments.
Curious when you consider that L2 / R2 remain completely unassigned...
The fact that access to the photo mode must be re-enabled every time you launch the game gives a telling indication of the level of integration here, but it is the restrictive orbit camera mode that causes the most trouble. Tethered to the playable character and always pointed in their direction, the camera is inherently limited to a behaviour similar to that of the third-person gameplay, and a collision detection that softly deflects the camera around nearby objects makes precise placement a chore.
Some degree of repositioning is possible thanks to vertical and lateral offset controls on the LS, and a variable tether length to bring the camera closer to or further away from the character with L1 / R1, but the flexibility simply isn't there. Actually, the range of adjustment varies with the size of the playable area, being especially limited on narrow rooftops and more generous in open areas, but in any case manages to simultaneously not get close enough for detailed portraits or allow enough freedom to explore the stunning environments.
- UNCHARTED: LEGACY OF THIEVES // CAMERA RANGE -
Of course, the characters can be hidden, as can buddies, civilians and enemies for a clearer view, and the field of view range covering angles of 20 - 100° certainly helps to mix up the composition, but even this is found in a separate menu location where camera offset, dolly & roll become unavailable. It is curious and totally unnecessary when you consider that L2 / R2 remain completely unassigned in the photo mode.
Aside from this and the fact that otherwise complimentary settings are placed so far apart that it conflicts with the workflow at times, the menu UI is actually very clean and unobtrusive. This is made all the better by the freedom to alter any setting while the UI is hidden, allowing you to fully visualise the resulting effects without impediment.
- PHOTO MODE UI // A THIEF'S END -
At this point, the strengths of the Uncharted photo modes start to shine through and once you get to grips with the composition, there are lots of options to bring out the best in the final image. Chief among these has to be the highly effective depth of field control. Although opting against any actual aperture f-stop values and instead using a simple Intensity %, the results are very good and will generate a smooth defocus in both the foreground and background on each side of a manual focus distance. There is simply no difficulty in creating a precise and shallow depth of field, and the effect is rendered with a subtle circular bokeh, albeit quite small on the screen at times.
- DEPTH OF FIELD // A THIEF'S END -
From here on, things are mostly focused on the visual style of the image as a host of colour filters can be faded in individually or used in tandem with a particularly powerful Saturation option to create all manner of tonal results. A similarly effective Brightness option makes it easy to deliberately over or under expose as desired, the sharpness of the image can be subtly enhanced or softened, and the likes of vignette, film grain and chromatic aberration bring authentic "real feel" defects without going over board.
Perhaps the most interesting option, given its scarcity outside of racing titles even today, is Motion Blur. As Naughty Dog have done before in the past, the in-game motion blur effect can be faded into the photo mode shot and will function regardless of whether blur is activated in the game settings or not. Applied exclusively to moving objects, or even just to moving parts of objects, this takes great advantage of the game rendering to add believability and dynamism to the action.
- IN A BLUR // LOST LEGACY -
As far as Uncharted 4 is concerned, that is about it for the photo mode features, but jumping over to Lost Legacy brings a few more surprises. Along with a smattering of extra colour filters, a game logo, and some more of the stylised & border-crop frames, the more succinct spin-off from the main game has a couple of key advantages.
OK, so one of those might be slightly frivolous facial expressions that see Chloe doing her best "YouTube reaction" impressions, but the other is actually quite transformative. As the name suggests, Sun Angle offers the ability to reposition the sun in the sky at any chosen angle and altitude to change the direction of the in-game lighting. This doesn't influence the "time" of day – and doesn't move the visible moon in night skies, only the actual light – but it does mean that many scenes can be dramatically altered to suit a different style of shot, especially when the quality of the game lighting and the way it can interact with things like smoke in the area is taken into account.
- MAKE LIGHT WORK // LOST LEGACY -
It is a shame then, that one of the strongest photo mode features in the Legacy of Thieves Collection is confined to just one of the two included titles. The decision not to revamp either photo mode, or at least match the features of one with the other certainly feels like a huge missed opportunity.
The trademark cinematic style, impressive character models and stunning environments have been given extra appeal...
Missed or otherwise, opportunity is an interesting concept because, even though the camera tools may fall short of today's expectations, Uncharted: Legacy of Thieves Collection still provides enough content that is likely to appeal to photo mode enthusiasts.
Though the camera cannot manage to get closer than a couple of metres away from the main characters, the models are impressively detailed and worthy of attention. Both Nathan Drake and Chloe Frazer are full of charisma that makes them easily relatable on-screen, but be warned that the animations here are not up to the sky-high standards that Naughty Dog notably achieved in The Last of Us Part II, so be prepared for a few awkward looking stances and postures.
- CHLOE FRAZER // LOST LEGACY -
With a bit of thought around character positioning and use of the very helpful options to selectively hide various people in the scene, the supporting cast of companions and enemies also make for interesting subjects. It almost goes without saying, but the same applies to the various environments. From lush outdoor spaces and fascinating ancient ruins, to intricate puzzle rooms and phenomenally detailed indoor locations, there are many different ways to appreciate the surroundings.
- HANGING OUT // LOST LEGACY -
That is of course, when they are not being blown to smithereens by another all-action set piece. Punctuating the quieter moments of exploration, Uncharted has always had a wealth of dramatic moments and many of these offer great opportunities to capture intense action shots. In this department, things are made even easier by individual chapter and encounter selection from the main menu for a convenient way to revisit favourite moments at any time.
It is worth noting though that, just like in the real-time cinematic cut scenes, the camera movement controls are often disabled during predefined animated sequences, something that could be argued encourages the capture of non-original compositions.
- COMBAT ANIMATION // A THIEF'S END -
Come the end of the game, a few bonus features are made available to make further play throughs and continued photographic trips a bit more interesting. Several costumes can be unlocked for each of the main story characters, slow motion and bullet-time mods help with capturing action, and some creative render modes transform the game's visuals with washed out colour, 8-bit pixelation, and an especially good cel shaded look. It would have been a nice bonus if these became directly available in the photo mode too, but instead you'll have to make do with a trip to the game settings menu.
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Uncharted: Legacy of Thieves Collection is a perfect excuse to revisit the climax of the Uncharted series and its more punchy spin-off, or indeed play them for the first time in their most definitive editions to date.
The trademark cinematic style, impressive character models and often stunning environments have been given extra appeal for the virtual photographer thanks to crisp visuals, but unfortunately the legacy photo mode tools often struggle to fully do them justice. You won't quite be left shouting "crap, crap, crap!", but you will almost certainly wish for more license to explore.
Full Feature Set:
(* Uncharted: Lost Legacy only)
Photo Mode Access: L3 & R3 (enabled via menu)
Camera Movement: Tethered orbit
Orbit Horizontal (Pan): 360°
Orbit Vertical (Tilt): 180°
Roll: ± 120°
Field of View: 20.0 - 100.0° (± 0.1°)
Depth of Field: On / Off
DoF Distance: 0.5 - 100.0 m (± 0.1 m)
DoF Intensity: 0 - 100% (± 1%)
*Sun Angle: On / Off
*Sun Altitude: 0.0 - 90.0° (± 0.1°)
*Sun Rotation: -180 to 180° (± 0.1°)
Filter: None + 10 presets
*Filter: None + 17 presets
Filter Intensity: 0 - 100% (± 1%)
Frame: None + 11 presets
*Frame: None + 15 presets
*Logo: None + 4 positions
Vignette: On / Off
Vignette Intensity: 0 - 100% (± 1%)
Film Grain Intensity: 0 - 100% (± 1%) Brightness Intensity: 0 - 200% (± 1%)
Sharpness Intensity: -100 to 100% (± 1%)
Motion Blur Intensity: 0 - 100% (± 1%)
Chromatic Aberration: -100 to 100% (± 1%)
Saturation Intensity: 0 - 200% (± 1%)
Hide Characters: None, Player, Buddies, Enemies, Civilians, All
*Facial Expression: None + 10 presets
Game Menu Settings
Photo Mode: On / Off
Skins: Unlocked after story completion
Render Mode: Unlocked after story completion
Gameplay Modifiers: Unlocked after story completion