Rise of the Tomb Raider: PC Technical Analysis
Taking a look at the latest Tomb Raider title from Crystal Dynamics 3 months after its exclusivity with Xbox, albeit short lived, it was a stunner with even the ageing 360 release still capturing the core aspect of this new game.
You can check out that and how it compared to its younger brother on the XboxOne with my Head 2 Head and technical analysis articles in the links.
I will not cover the visual side/engine and core aspect of the title as I went into that detail in those articles and nothing has drastically changed from then till now. With Nixxies using its close connection with the development team when creating the X360 release, previous Definitive Edition of the prequel, they were and are the best choice to handle the full fat PC release which yet again they have done a commendable job here. So without further ado let’s look at what the PC release offers over its console brethren.
Give me choice
In terms of the much loved PC menu options this is as well-equipped as an explorer’s satchel. You can alter from its pre-set options from Lowest,low,medium, high and very high just be careful here as after Low/medium you will need a much better machine that the last TR game. But you can tweak much more than that including improvements to AA from the FXAA that the XboxOne version had to help smooth out its native 1920*1080 gameplay action. SMAA can now be added that works better on the shader specular shimmer that even though has its own option to change from normal, to high it never makes a huge change and the SMAA is a nice option if not solving it entirely. You can also choose Super Sampling if you do not want to use your Driver panel but again the standard 1080 needs a high spec machine so any ideas of 4K and 60 are well off the table here, as is 1080/60 for the most part. SMAA does improve the IQ as you can see here even on YT from my close up shots to test this, but it does not resolve or remove some of the shimmer seen from the XboxOne release and shows how a clean IQ needs more work on the asset creation than a simple AA injected solution can provide.
Again shadows, Tessellation, Scene detail, Screen space effects and other Post effects can all be tweaked. After some testing we can see that the console release unsurprisingly has some tweaked or at least extended options within the choices offered up here. But we can say that the X1 is mostly High with other options between Very High and medium that you can see the settings that get you a near as damn it XboxOne settings in the video and on the website article. This means that Shadows are nearer High than medium but torch lights, interiors etc. have the same highest settings as PC. Soft shadows from the sun (Remember the game has a time of day) so you can play the same areas across day or night means that the shadows have a soft blur to emulate contact hardening and Penumbra shadows, setting this on helps soften these out, these look to be off on XboxOne across the board. PC also has HBAO+ and although still a screen culled effect like the collaborated Broad Temporal Ambient Obscurance (BTAO) technique from Microsoft and Crystal. But helps improve the darker contact areas of scenery like rocks, bushes and such. It also creeps into the tessellated snow areas but the XboxOne although more unstable than the 2 PC options it does have a better coverage in places than both as you can see. But again HBAO+ is a nice boost if you have the machine to run it, but I will cover what that is later in the video.
As I mentioned at the start and in display this is a great example of specific console development, API control and how much the developers can tweak, change and improve minute areas of the engine and games delivery. Level of detail is an equal with High across all tested areas of the XboxOne version to PC, but in some areas it can be the same as the Highest on PC. But when draw distance and density is pushed then it reverts to the High level. Texture Quality is the same as High with Very High needing 4GB and possibly just above, you can see this in the cut scenes best in the extra detail that can be seen in some of the areas, but these would only be spotted with this detailed look as the XboxOne quality is superb. Aside the aforementioned Snow tessellation that the XboxOne runs the PC can also have displacement maps referenced on certain terrain that adds in extra detail and geometry, a nice bonus but again one only to add for the bigger cards.
Other post effects are all turned on from Bloom, Lens flare, Vignette bloom and Motion Blur and like the XboxOne this is not always on and may be a dynamic choice for performance or a bug but as you can see here the XboxOne has both background blur and Per Object motion blur in action, with the PC version on the same settings not having this at all. We also see areas where the MB can appear stronger than X1 but by and large the XboxOne appears to run Per Object MB and camera more often.
This alteration continues with the Depth of field setting that at first glance the XboxOne seems to run the same as the Highest on PC, but this is not the case at all. The video shows the PC max setting and On have a Circle of Confusion zone Bokeh at play with multiple anchor points and a stronger strength/longer focal length. The XboxOne can at times have a simpler square Bokeh with lower strength and sample points, it always carries coverage at the same level as the highest on PC, with On looking quite flat at times in comparison to XboxOne. But with this change not being uniformed as even within the same scene you can get the same Bokeh just at reduced sample point.
But in gameplay areas even with the Highest setting on some times where the XboxOne has it kick in for dramatic effect it never appears on PC, again like the Motion Blur and other areas may be a bug or just the extra development time and teams direction of what to have in the versions, it shows that Nixxies appear to have had a good deal of involvement within the PC release and changed, tweaked areas. But even though these are minor it does show how forked even a close linked port like this can be.
Texture filtering is probably the biggest bump over a possible 60fps rate over the XboxOne with that version running Trilinear filtering pretty much across the game as seen here with some examples. PC can go from 2/4/6/8 or 16x AF to help sharpen the details and as the bandwidth and contention issues are not present as much on PC this can be run on all 3 of my graphics cards with only a small cost. The only other change is the XboxOne can have less Alpha effects and post effects in some areas than the PC release, like here with the increased snow drift at the cave entrance or the atmospheric scattering from the mountain view to soften distance and colour, even when you max the PC out you can see the lighting changes, colour and shadows can be a better or worse on both. Here with Lara you can see the HBAO+ on the rocks and tessellation adding to the scene, but the darker shadows and colour change hides some of the detail and texture quality in the scene, and this can even be true when the PC is at the Full 1080 display with the XboxOne cut scenes running at 1440*1080, 33% less than the full 1080 but the textures can at times appear sharper and more detailed due to this extra coverage. Pure hair is the only other area with the XboxOne running the same as On with PC in gameplay and in cut scenes it runs this at the Max level from the PC so with the tested scene here from XboxOne and my Radeon 7870 we can see that they can both dip to near identical levels but the AMD card has the higher resolution.
And that about wraps up the detailed version comparison and shows the work that went into both versions and how you can get as close to the XboxOne version with your or now our chosen PC’s, so with that lets move into the performance area and how it runs across a spread of PC’s starting with the Nvidia GTX750Ti paired with my AMD FX8350 as some feel that the A10 APU that was powering it before was a bottleneck which most of the time was not the case, but to remove that it now is being powered with an 8-core CPU that in my tests the game is well threaded and will use all cores to keep the GPU busy at all times. Never maxing out the CPU the game is a decent but by no means an aggressive CPU user, but a multi-core machine is a definite requirement from here and as I have said from here onwards now for pretty much all forthcoming games.
Run Lara Run
So at the same 1920*1080 resolution as the XboxOne this card really, struggles to stay in the fight, with the cinematics running at a lower rate on the X1 we can see that the 750Ti on a light sequence runs around 25/26 in the scene with other sections giving us dips to below 20 at this level. But in gameplay this gets worse in even the less stressful areas the game on the same as damn it Console settings is nearly always under 30fps as you can see with this like for like test, and this is a good area for the game and machine it only gets worse. Dropping to 900p resolves most of these issues and allows the game to still dip under 30 at points but hold nearer the 30fps target in gameplay and cinemas alike. As you can see here with a comparison with the same machine running with a 2GB 7870 Radeon card in like for like 1080 tests the AMD card is nearly 12fps higher average in this short and simple scene. But when we compare in the much more stressful volcanic valley with full 1080 on the 7870 and 900 on the 750Ti we see that although the AMD machine still bests the Nvidia card throughout it is now much closer and offers a similar level of performance albeit at the reduced resolution throughout play but a worthy sacrifice to get nearer the XboxOne performance level, if between the 2 machines the XboxOne is the better choice here.
This shifts slightly with the 7870 machine as here a fully native 1080 is possible throughout both gameplay and story scenes, aside the extra Texture filtering as we saw with the 750Ti all others settings are as close to the X1 as possible and we get a game that can be safely capped at 30 from the menu or Driver panel if required offering up the same or slightly more solid performance of the X1 as the rare tearing can be removed but also the IQ improvements if the increased Resolution in cut scenes helps sharpen the image but just expect these sections to dip sometimes lower than the X1 but gameplay is as solid or slightly better.
So moving to the big guns and already knowing that the 8350 is a good enough CPU to not bottleneck the other 2 cards with the i5 4690k fuelling the GTX970 we should have no problems from that side to see what it can muster, but this is not where some may thing or hope as at Max settings then really a capped 30fps is your only real option as the game spends hardly anytime at all anywhere near its 60fps target. Even quieter moments with such rich sets in play at all times the GPU is hardly given a break and with the extra options adding some welcome but small boosts within the native 1080 display the cost is quite high and this only gets worse in the valley section of the game and later on where at these settings we can get dips below 30.
So can we get to the 60fps presentation with the XboxOne settings, well yes and no. If we drop to these settings then in gameplay we can certainly achieve 60 far more often to make it a viable option in play. But in some of the more frantic sections we still get some dips into the 40’s and cinematics particularly with close-ups of Lara we again can see the same 33ms frame times regular enough that some may find it distracting. By dropping Shadows to Medium, turning of Soft shadows/dropping Level of Detail can help along with reducing textures back to High as the cards lack of Vram and the limits on its construction mean that the stutters that it creates can be distracting at times and often the reason for the dips and stutters appearing as you hit sector loading points.
You can see the core metrics and more detail across the machines, tests and performance in the side out box in this article.
Nixxies have done themselves and the talented team at Crystal Dynamics proud with a thorough, solid and polished port of one of my favourite games of last year. Now available to a wider audience the game scales well across hardware with even the X360 release being a worthwhile option but if you have the PC to run it then it offers up some minor but decent improvements over an already impressive title. PS4 owners holding out may yet see some more improvements on that version over the XboxOne release and maybe even here (Some of the DLC could be included also) and if you are holding off till this winter to play you can be assured that it is a worthy addition to your library and a great continuation of our Oxford exploring lass.