Face-Off: Rise of the Tomb Raider on PS4

Improved over Xbox One, but PC still offers the definitive experience.

By Richard Leadbetter. 13/10/2016

UPDATE 23/10/16 09:14: We're pleased to confirm that input latency issues have been fixed in the PS4 version of Rise of the Tomb Raider, via patch 1.04. Unfortunately, the issue remains in the original Xbox One version.

Original story: One year on, Rise of the Tomb Raider is finally available on PlayStation 4. For many, hopes were high for this one - perhaps based on the vast performance improvement for Sony's platform we witnessed in Tomb Raider: The Definitive Edition. However, the bottom line is that we're looking at more iterative improvements this time around, with the big boosts to image quality and performance reserved for the upcoming PlayStation 4 Pro edition.

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There are content differences, however. PS4 owners get the full 20th anniversary celebration package, meaning that the base Rise of the Tomb Raider adventure is bolstered by additional material - namely a new level set in Croft Manor (also playable from a first person perspective in PlayStation VR), which also plays host to a nightmare mode, where Lara takes on waves of zombies within her ancestral home. There's also a new endurance mode - a survival-based affair where players can play together in co-op for the first time. All of these extras - bar the VR element - are available to PC and Xbox One owners as DLC for just £6.99/$9.99.

However, our focus here is on the technical elements, where it's safe to say that Rise of the Tomb Raider takes the strong console foundation found in the Xbox One game and introduces further technical refinements, mostly derived from conversion-smith Nixxes' existing work on the excellent PC game, or else sensible upgrades to leverage the PS4's additional GPU power. For example, while both PS4 and Xbox One releases operate at full 1080p during gameplay, only PS4 retains the full pixel-count during cut-scenes - the Microsoft platform drops here to 1440x1080. The differences are minor though, owing to the heavily post-processed image.

And there's also the sense that there are some real missed opportunities here. For example, the post-process anti-aliasing solution found in the Xbox One game - which causes heavy shimmering on foliage-heavy areas - remains untouched here, and bearing in mind the processing overhead that must surely be available, it's a real shame that Nixxes didn't consider adding a temporal anti-aliasing component to clean up the intrusive artefacting. There's also no improvement to texture filtering either, which means that both PS4 and Xbox One versions of Rise of the Tomb Raider actually exhibit lower levels of anisotropic filtering than the Xbox 360 version.

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Those hoping for an unlocked frame-rate, similar to the Definitive Edition, are going to be disappointed too. Rise of the Tomb Raider runs at a completely locked 30fps - pretty much in line with the Xbox One game. The difference comes down to refinement. Certain areas of the game - the Geothermal Valley in particular - were prone to dropping frames on the Microsoft console, whereas the PS4 title retains an absolutely rock-solid performance level. But even here, the performance differential isn't exactly vast - in fact, running the same content on Xbox One S takes us back up to the 30fps level.

The Geothermal Valley is an interesting level though. Crystal Dynamics employed some custom optimisations on the Xbox One code to make this most demanding on levels hit its performance targets. Motion blur is disabled to increase frame-rate, while the implementation of shadows sees some bespoke cutbacks - specifically, tree shadows are substantially pared back. In both of these scenarios, the PlayStation 4 game utilises the higher level of GPU power available to restore these features, bringing the new edition more into line with the existing PC game.

There are other improvements and changes that extend across the whole game, however. For example, in terms of ambient occlusion - the process of applying additional shading to nooks and crannies - the Xbox One version of Rise of the Tomb Raider uses a bespoke technology actually developed by Microsoft: Broad Temporal Ambient Obscurance. Nixxes rolled out its own SSAO solution for the PC game, along with HBAO+ and Nvidia VXAO options. The PS4 version uses standard SSAO, which generally provides a nicer look overall than BTAO, though it definitely falls short compared to both of the higher-end PC options.

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