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Rise of the Tomb Raider Review

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Graphics:

As Rise of the Tomb Raider originally released for both the Xbox 360 and Xbox One, some of you may be worried that it is just another console port. To look at the graphics though, I would not describe it that way. There may be some places where rocks could have had some more vertices, but really the graphics are quite good.

The textures are very good almost all of the time, and the only exceptions I can recall encountering were on close ups. Actually, only in the beginning, when Lara is wearing a red jacket with snow on it do the textures not look that good, and it is just the snow that looks poor. Everywhere else the textures looked quite good to me, and I do mean everywhere, both on characters and in the environment.

Models too looked quite good everywhere, except for the occasional rock. Characters and environment alike had good detail to the models. This includes the various enemy models you encounter, which reminds me of one minor annoyance I found. Models are repeated for some enemies, including one that looks a great deal like Lara's friend Jonah. Those enemies look so much like him I was honestly expecting that to be a story twist, but that was not the case. In a number of areas, the environment's detail was superb, which combined with the lighting and shadows made for some impressive visuals. This is true for environments in the open air and enclosed.

 

 

 

The lighting alone is the reason I took some of the screenshots I did, whether it was from the light entering an area, filling the space, or reflecting off of the ice around me. It also fell on faces quite well, and if you look closely at some of the screenshots you will see how it brings out realistic details. Really it does just do an excellent job of creating beautiful scenes with hard rays and ambient glows from sources around you and the glow sticks you go around with. Naturally the shadows also play a significant role here and do a very good job as well. I only noticed the shadows cast by the environment as I ran around, but you and other characters do cast your own. I think this is because the camera is normally positioned high enough that you do not see your feet or any shadows cast around them.

Before moving on I want to mention something else about the environments, which is that they do change, so the palette does change from the whites and blues of snow and ice. Eventually you come to a valley warmed by geothermal heat and get the greens of life growing around you. Then there are several tombs and caves with yellows, browns, and grays for the stone.

 

 

The water in Rise of the Tomb Raider is also pretty good, except that you can see its surface just passing through solid objects. Your interaction with it is pretty good and the distorted reflections off of it are also nicely detailed. Fire is much like it was in the previous game, in that it is fairly easy to see it is an animation thrown on top of objects. For the most part, it does work and work well, but when you have many small fires burning on the floor or you, the repetition between them does not look so good.

When the previous game launched in 2013, it featured AMD's TressFX technology for hair simulation. We do still have advanced hair simulation this time around, but instead of going with vanilla TressFX, the developers modified it for what they wanted and are calling it PureHair. This is an example of the benefits of open technologies. PureHair does its job very well and Lara's hair moved around very nicely with her movement and the environment. Something you may notice is that most of the time when she gets out of the water after swimming, she will actually reach back and wring out her hair. It is a nice touch and works well with the hair being able to move through her hands.

 

Except for some of the enemy models repeating (which I would not have noticed if not for the Jonah-lookalike) and the occasional rock that could use extra vertices, the graphics really do look very good everywhere. With the detail we are getting on a number of newer titles, it makes me wish I could get a 4K monitor to better appreciate the detail the artists are putting in.

Up next is performance, so here are my specs:

  • Processor: AMD A10-5800K @ 4.40 GHz (44.0x100)
  • Cooling: Corsair H110
  • Motherboard: ASUS F2A85-M PRO
  • GPU: NVIDIA GTX 980 4 GB
  • PhysX: EVGA GTX 770 2 GB
  • Memory: G.Skill Ripjaws 4x8 GB (32 GB total) at 1866 MHz 10-10-10-27
  • PSU: OCZ Fata1ty 750 W
  • OS: Windows 7- Professional 64-bit
  • Drivers: GeForce Game Ready Driver 359.06 and 361.43

I played with every setting to the maximum except motion blur, vignette blur, depth of field, and anti-aliasing. The first three I turned off just for personal choice and anti-aliasing I had on FXAA because I experienced a significant performance hit with the SSAA options in the previous title. Instead of fighting with that as I did in the previous game, I opted to trust prior experience and just go with FXAA from the start. Except for one area, FXAA did a very good job of removing the aliasing, so I am happy with that decision.

Now, why do I have two drivers listed? Because my play through was on those two drivers and neither of them feature the gameplay optimizations for Rise of the Tomb Raider. As you might guess, the game suffered some serious stuttering and performance hits, which I attributed to not having the appropriate drivers. Initially I was running on the 359.06 drivers, but eventually updated to the 361.43 drivers hoping they would help, even though this release still lacks the optimizations. Those newer drivers did not noticeably help, but they did not hurt either.

 

 

I have since installed the appropriate drivers, version 361.75, and noticed some improvements, but it was not until the game also received a relatively small patch that a lot of the performance issues I experienced appeared to be resolved. The driver update took care of stuttering in in-game cinematics, and I do not doubt it made other improvements, but in some areas the performance actually seemed to be worse. The patch to the game has alleviated the remaining issues I experienced, which were just poor performance and even stuttering in certain areas. Technically there is still some poor performance in these areas, but it goes away after, I assume, everything finishes loading in. Regardless, the performance is now much more in line with what I would expect from this title and my machine, and I am reasonably confident that the performance could improve further as additional optimizations are made.

I almost forgot to mention that the performance issues with the older drivers are also why I have so few videos for this review. Capturing video appeared to have a noticeably negative impact on performance and at times the capturing broke and was stuck on a single frame. Either of these issues would be enough cause for me to not record video, and I got both. The former however does appear to have been resolved with the 361.75 drivers. The latter is hard to test without extended play sessions, and I am currently focused on getting this review completed.

While the new drivers have helped with performance, I must still report on how the game performed when I was actually playing it. Just temper what I say ahead with what I just said above. Also, and I just got this information while making revisions concerning this patch, it brings the game up to its final retail build and addresses some framerate issues.

The framerate varied quite a bit throughout the game, with some areas being able to reach and maintain 60 FPS, and others coming down to the 30s, sometimes lower if the stuttering hits. Of course turning down some in-game settings should help, but with my limited testing, I was not able to find one specific option that did the trick. Still I would put the average framerate in the mid to high 40s and always playable, as more places than not had reasonably high framerates. Performance is likely better than that estimate, now that I have the new drivers and that patch installed, but I still feel it is best to stick with what I decided on during the review play through.

Altogether, the Rise of the Tomb Raider looks very good and plays well once you are on the appropriate drivers, and have that patch I mentioned installed. Chances are the performance could improve even more with subsequent patches, but where it is now, I am still comfortable with for a newly released title.

 




  1. Rise of the Tomb Raider Review - Introduction
  2. Rise of the Tomb Raider Review - Graphics
  3. Rise of the Tomb Raider Review - Story
  4. Rise of the Tomb Raider Review - Gameplay
  5. Rise of the Tomb Raider Review - Additional Gameplay Media
  6. Rise of the Tomb Raider Review - Conclusion
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