Outside of Sony's first party wares present at last week's PlayStation Meeting, there was one third party title that stood apart as an impressive showcase for the fledgling PS4 Pro's 4K prowess - Crystal Dynamics' Rise of the Tomb Raider. Similar to its predecessor, there's an immense amount of scalability built into the engine and the core assets, meaning that the game really shines on a high-end PC with the settings and texture quality ramped up to the very high level. Indeed, there are actually insane-level presets available that actually push beyond this level. So, the real question is, just how much of the full-fat experience has Crystal's development partner Nixxes managed to cram into the PlayStation 4 Pro version?
Well, in many ways, Rise of the Tomb Raider highlights the strengths and weaknesses facing developers looking to work with Sony's new hardware. Tackling the negatives first, 60fps is - of course - off the table for a high-end title like this, with Rise of the Tomb Raider focusing on the console standard capped 30fps.
Secondly, a range of the game's higher-end presets are dialled back - inevitably, shadow quality takes a hit, while specular lighting quality appears to lack the revision made to the PC, resulting in some rougher edges to affected geometry. Meanwhile, the Flooded Archive level's escape sequence suggests that fire effects are reduced, which has an impact on the amount of dynamic light in the scene, and perhaps the level of heat haze too.
But the two most glaring differences come down to key limitations found in the PlayStation 4 Pro hardware itself - the fact that its GPU isn't capable of handling native 3840x2160 UHD resolution, along with the lack of a meaningful amount of additional memory. Developers have access to a number of upscaling strategies for PS4 Pro titles running in the 4K mode, and while Crystal Dynamics wouldn't be drawn on the technique used for this game, what's clear is that the overall presentation is somewhat soft, far more so than the Sony first-party titles we saw that are confirmed to be using the checkerboard upscaling.
And secondly, it's equally clear that the PC version of Rise of the Tomb Raider's very high texture preset offers a significantly higher level of quality on the core artwork. Cherry-pick key scenes from the mere two minutes of 4K footage released by the developer and it looks like a night and day difference when stacked up against the fully enabled PC version. Even if you watch our comparison video at 1080p resolution rather than the native 4K, it definitely stands out.
On the one hand, this highlights a fundamental weakness with PlayStation 4 Pro. Even though developers have access to another 512MB of RAM (presumably swiped for the vast 3GB system reservation), it's not enough to accommodate the 4K texture options that developers are increasingly offering with their titles. So in the case of Rise of the Tomb Raider then, it's no surprise that the PS4 Pro version offers assets in line with the existing Xbox One game, equivalent to the high texture quality setting on the PC build. It's a definite limitation - especially as Project Scorpio from Microsoft seems set to feature 12GB of memory - but on the plus side, in terms of this title at least, the downgrade is only really an issue in cut-scenes.
We've not seen the same Rise of the Tomb Raider content played out at 1080p compared to the 4K offering here, so it'll be interesting to see how the developer's quality and unlocked performance modes stack up against what we've seen here. What's clear is that this is not a native 4K experience as such, but the existing media suggests that it does offer a tangible higher resolution upgrade over the same content seen on Xbox One - which looks great in full HD. Bearing in mind what we're seeing here is coming from a £349/$399 box, it's definitely an impressive showing bearing in mind the high calibre hardware required to get an equivalent native 4K experience on PC.
We've previously been impressed with what we've seen of Rise of the Tomb Raider on PS4, and this higher resolution mode for PS4 Pro is looking good too. Factoring in the other Pro options promised by the developer, we can't wait to check it out once we get our hands on Sony's new hardware - so watch this space.
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