Tomb Raider Definitive Edition has been released on Sony’s Playstation 4 and features numerous graphical improvements over the previous generation, trading blows with the PC’s Ultimate Edition. As we discussed in our PS4 vs PC comparison article, the PS4 version isn’t so much ‘better’ but is a different take the graphics and direction. The PS4’s lower resolution textures, inferior Anti-Aliasing (compared to say SSAA offered in the PC version) and no Tessellation are offset by a much improved lighting system, dynamic foliage and more.
So, it’d be wrong to call either the PC or the PS4 version ‘better’ looking as we’ve already discussed. Tomb Raider Definitive Edition made quite a lot of waves when it was discovered that the Xbox One version of Crystal Dynamics title runs at a lower frame rate to the Playstation 4. Both consoles are running at 1080P natively, using FXAA, but the PS4 version does spend an awful lot of time at 60FPS. In this article we explore this and the overall performance.
The Definitive Edition on both consoles features AMD’s TressFX 2.0 technology, which offers game developers the frame work to create super realistic hair, grass and other ‘natural’ elements. As we’ve previously discussed, TressFX 2.0 is a large improvement over the original TressFX (which is featured on the PC version of Tomb Raider) in that it’s not only more accurate (Lara’s hair tends to not defy gravity as much using TressFX 2.0), but it’s also far less resource intensive, thus making it somewhat more suitable for the PS4’s GPU. TressFX 2.0 is according to AMD at least, up to twice the rendering speed of the original, and for the sake of comparison I did a little testing on the PC in conjunction with the PS4. This isn’t a exactly like for like comparison, but is an interesting demonstration.
TressFX enabled on the PC is a known resource hog, and in one of our testing rigs (featuring a Nvidia GeForce GTX 680 2GB, I-7 and 16GB DDR3) we saw with TressFX disabled running an average of 82.9 FPS using the built in benchmark available (latest Steam patch). With TressFX enabled, the frame rate took a significant impact, managing 54.4 FPS average due solely to the inclusion of TressFX technology. Everything else in the test was maxed out, 1080P, with all settings (including the PC exclusive Tessellation) turned on to their highest settings. Anti-Aliasing was taken care of by the same methods used in the consoles, FXAA. it’s worth noting the increase in RAM usage with TressFX, as reported by TechPowerUp’s GPU-Z, which was set to monitor the ‘maximum ram usage’. TressFX disabled hit 1139MB, enabled used an extra 200MB, hitting 1351MB peak.
It’s clear that even with AMD’s optimizations of TressFX (only taking twice the performance impact on GPU’s), it’s still certainly responsible for a lot of the FPS dips observed in the game. Strange as it may seem, cutscenes were some of the worse offenders for frame rate drops. This is particularly true when Lara’s hair was in full camera view or there’s a lot of light sources / physics being rendered at the time. Clearly, during a cutscene this doesn’t matter much, and the frame rate typically stays in the low 40’s to 50’s, meaning it still maintains a fairly smooth feel.
Interestingly, large explosions don’t necessarily mean that the frame rate tanks. When the plane is truck by lightning for example, you might expect that the frame rate would suffer as Lara tumbles down the slope, with the plane breaking up behind her. This isn’t so, with the PS4’s Frame Rate managing to stay defiantly around the 60FPS mark, only dipping for a few moment or two here or there.
So in terms of gameplay, the frame rate is generally a little more stable than during cutscenes, although does tend to stall slightly when there are a lot of environmental effects (i.e, foliage or fire at night, which use the new lighting system) or ‘bad guys’ on screen. It’s possible that the frame variance may be of very slight annoyance during QTE events. This can come on suddenly, for example a large explosion can cause the frame rate to take a small impact, but generally it’s nothing too off putting. Tomb Raider Definitive Edition runs smoothly enough in most situations that it’s rare the lag caused by stuttering frame rates will cause problems during combat or during platforming. With that said, it is a pity there wasn’t an option to lock the frame rate to 30FPS like was implemented into Killzone Shadow Fall recently via a patch.
Overall, my thoughts of the PS4 version of Tomb Raider Definitive Edition are somewhat mixed. It’s clear that it’s certainly a huge graphical upgrade from the previous generation, but it’s more a side step of the PC version rather than another step forward. The issue of course for the PC is that you’ll need a pretty beefy graphics card, particularly if you’re wanting to play Tomb Raider at the ‘Ultimate’ graphics settings. As mentioned earlier, TressFX on the PC takes more of a toll, but you’re certainly awarded if your rig is up to the task.
For owners of the Playstation 4, it’s likely that we’ll not be seeing TressFX 2.0 in lot of titles, particularly the graphically demanding ones unless the developers feel there’s performance to spare. Even despite the performance improvements of the TressFX implemented in Tomb Raider Definitive Edition, it’s clearly the culprit in some of the lower frame rate areas, particularly on closer shots of Lara’s face / head. This is due to the dynamic Level of Detail of TressFX 2.0, which place more hair, animation and finer details when close enough and they’re in view.