At Gamescom this week, we finally had the opportunity to spend some time with the much anticipated Rise of the Tomb Raider port for PlayStation 4. When we covered the previous iterations of the game, we were duly impressed - and it's exciting to finally see how it's shaping up on Sony's console. Those expecting a technical overhaul over the Xbox One game may be disappointed, but there are still plenty of new elements to enjoy.
First things first - we were hoping to bring you media of the PS4 version, but we're still waiting for b-roll to emerge. When it does, we'll get back to you with an update, but to get the basics out of the way, we can now confirm that Rise of the Tomb Raider on PS4 runs at 1080p30 - at least when you're not using a PlayStation VR headset. Square-Enix has previously stated that this is its target but anything 'beyond 30fps' is a bonus. This same response was provided during our demo session, initially suggesting that we might be looking at an uncapped frame-rate, similar to Tomb Raider: The Definitive Edition. As of now, however, the build we saw definitely offers a capped 30fps experience.
The Xbox One does a reasonably good job of hitting 30fps but some of the scenes filled with dense foliage or multiple NPCs could introduce mild screen-tear and slowdown. On PlayStation 4, this is not the case at all. The entirety of the demo that we sampled was locked at 30fps with none of the issues seen on Xbox One. An in-depth side-by-side comparison may throw up some visual enhancements (there are plenty to choose from, based on the PC code) but the overall impression of a game that looks similar to the Xbox One original, right down to the slightly dodgy anti-aliasing.
More importantly, the input response is improved over the Xbox One version. We took issue with this lag in the original release but noted that on Xbox 360 and PC, input response was not a problem. We're glad to report that aiming and shooting on PS4 is just as fluid - with latency only limited by the 30fps cap.
The primary mode we played this time was the cooperative endurance mode. This was originally released as DLC for existing versions of the game with a focus on survival - keeping warm and fed while surviving in the wilderness. It's a lot of fun but in this new release of the game, it's now possible to play with a friend. For those that purchased the DLC on other platforms already, co-op will be made available for free.
We also enjoyed a demonstration of the Croft Manor content that is included with this version of the game. Playing out like a large tomb in and of itself, this portion of the game sees players solving puzzles and discovering secrets around the stately home. Played conventionally, this mode presents exactly like the rest of the game, using third person camera at 1080p30. The twist here is that it's possible to play through this content entirely in virtual reality thanks to PlayStation VR support.
We've spent time with PSVR before, but most experiences have been seated. With Rise of the Tomb Raider, we were asked to stand up and walk about. When playing in VR, the game switches to a first person perspective. Two movement options are available - dual analog movement, similar to the main game, and teleportation. In our demo, the developers opted to stick with the teleportation mode as they admitted that free control was more likely to result in motion sickness - something we can definitely attest to, based on experiences playing other titles that utilise this technique.
The teleportation mode actually makes use of the motion sensing capabilities. By pulling the L2 trigger, a teleportation arc is displayed and fully adjustable by moving the Dual Shock 4 around - it tracks just like a PS Move. Simply tap R2 from there, and you're whisked away to the next point from which you can begin to explore by physically walking around. Interestingly, as you approach the limits of the headset tracking, the game displays a border similar to the Vive's chaperone system. It works quite well.
Beyond that, VR mode naturally demands a higher frame-rate and in this case, we're looking at 60 frames per second with asynchronous time-warp enhancing fluidity. It looked and felt natural and definitely made for an immersive experience. While it may seem disappointing that VR support is available only in Croft Manor, it's clear that the complexity of the main game would make PSVR support almost impossible due to the frame-rate requirements. Even if it were supported, it would likely result in severe motion sickness for most players without a substantial revamp of the core gameplay.
Overall, this title is shaping up nicely. Crystal Dynamics and Nixxes have come together once again to deliver what is turning out to be an excellent port. When you couple the same excellent visuals as we saw on Xbox One with the potential for even more consistent performance, plus some new content, it seems like a great deal. We'll have a deep dive analysis closer to the game's release in October.