Free from the shackles of Xbox One, Rise of the Tomb Raider is doing incredible things with PS4 Pro

By Alex Donaldson, Thursday, 15 September 2016 13:34 GMT

Surprisingly, this former Xbox One exclusive has one of the most interesting uses of PS4 Pro.

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One of the games that stood out to me at Sony’s PlayStation 4 Pro announcement event was an older one – Rise of the Tomb Raider. A lot of people were crowded around the live demos of Mass Effect or Horizon: Zero Dawn, but Rise of the Tomb Raider seemed to me a bit of a hidden gem – a great example of what the PS4 Pro is potentially capable of.

The game looked gorgeous even on the much-weaker Xbox One, but there’s also a high-end PC port that forms a solid benchmark to compare against Sony’s new top of the line machine. Most interesting of all the game features three different graphic modes that PS4 Pro players can switch between, an incredibly smart idea.

Only one of those three visual modes is designed for 4K, meaning the team has put serious thought into how to offer a PS4 Pro benefit to players on 1080p displays. In this Tomb Raider was fairly unique at the event, with most others promising but not talking specifics on 1080p benefits of the platform.

After skipping on the PlayStation platforms with its first release, Crystal Dynamics seems keen to ensure Lara’s return to her traditional home is a special one both technically and otherwise, with the PS4 Rise of the Tomb Raider package seemingly a fairly jam-packed one. We grabbed Crystal Dynamics Studio Head Scott Amos at the event for a little chat about the benefits of PS4 Pro and how his team has been utilising the new hardware.

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VG247: Tomb Raider seems to be one of the games here that seems to most have a handle on ideas of different things to do with PlayStation 4 Pro. How challenging was it to get to where you are now in the time you had?

Scott Amos: The good news is that we have some really amazing technology partners. When we made Rise of the Tomb Raider, Eidos Montreal partnered with us at Crystal, and then there’s Nixxes, who’s been a long time partner with technology – they’ve done all our PlayStation work for the past few years.

“If you’re going at 1080p on a PS4 Pro you can run with an unlocked frame rate. So instead of being just at 30 you can run north of 45 frames or better.”

Having these three groups that are very experienced, we can turn pretty quickly on a dime. We can actually take some new technology and say ‘we want to go after that’, and throw the right kinds of resources and experts at it.

For us it’s been one of those labours of love. It’s been a chance to say ‘here’s all these assets we made, here’s all the stuff that’s so high def we couldn’t show it on a console’ – being able to take that stuff and actually make it run perfectly, having it at 30 frames, having the different resolution modes going… for us it’s been a lot of fun.

Compared to, say, Naughty Dog and Uncharted, you guys have a high-end PC version. Does that simplify the process somewhat for you, having a PC version to work backwards from?

Every platform we work on we want to maximize the experience, right? With a great game, you’ve got a great game no matter what platform it’s on. If it’s fun to play, you want to go play it, and we want to be able to show off our technology too. Be it PS4, be it PS4 Pro, from our side it was about saying that we know what great looks like.

One of the things that the teams do that we pride ourselves on is having that vision, having that honesty. We call it ‘if it’s on the sticks, it’s on the screen, then it’s real. If it’s not, it’s not’. For us it’s about always putting our best foot forwards and always trying to one-up ourselves. So every time a new technology comes along, our job is asking how we can maximize what we already have and then putting the best version of that out with that technology. So, we love it – we love being able to take that opportunity.

One of my stories I like to tell is looking at Lara’s face – she has the scar from the first game that, honestly, you really couldn’t see until now. Now the idea is you’ve got the resolution that you’re like ‘Oh my gosh, I can see the texture details on her face!’

It was there before, but it just couldn’t resolve. For people playing on console, sitting on a couch, they didn’t get to see that. Now, big 4K TV, big 4K resolution, you can. It’s awesome.

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One of the things I’ve realised at this event is how hard this stuff is to demo. Knowing the tech as you do, what’s your pitch to those at home who are unconvinced by what they’ve seen on stream of the hardware or indeed your game’s use of it?

So, a couple of different things, right… First, this year. It’s the 20th celebration for Tomb Raider. 20 years ago the franchise launched and now, 20 years later, here’s our love letter to the old fans and the new fans.

“From our side the benefit of having so much horsepower is that we can kind of direct it into different channels.”

There’s a great game, there’s a massive amount of content. There’s every DLC we’ve launched in the past year plus new DLC, and we actually now have dabbled in new technology like co-op in one of our DLCs, and VR… So you actually get a sense that we’ve put everything we’ve got into this package in terms of rendering technology, visual technologies, gameplay experience – all that together, so that people can say this is an amazing package.

Then we were able to look at the PS4 Pro – what can we do with that? How can we push it further? Well, we actually added real-time in the options menu the ability to slide between three different visual settings.

You can go for a high frame rate – so if you’re going at 1080p on a PS4 Pro you can run with an unlocked frame rate. So instead of being just at 30 you can run north of 45 frames or better. It’s one of those things that, when you start playing it, it’s great for those speed runners and those hardcore gamers who are just like ‘I want to get through this as quick as I can, I want seamless controls’.

Then you’re like… this is a beautiful area, I want to take a closer look, you can slide over a notch and now we have enhanced visuals. That’s actually 1080p locked at 30 frames but we throw everything in that we can – lighting, multi-pass rendering, texture shading, reflections, density of pixels, density of particle effects… everything we can turn on. It’s just this beautiful-looking experience at a locked 1080p, 30 frames.

“Suddenly there’s things in the world that with this ratchet up in crispness and clarity that you just couldn’t see before. Something on the horizon that used to be a blob of kind of grey shadow on the hillside is now a very crisp outline of a ruin with a cross on top of it.”

Then you go to 4K. Suddenly there’s things in the world that with this ratchet up in crispness and clarity that you just couldn’t see before. Something on the horizon that used to be a blob of kind of grey shadow on the hillside is now a very crisp outline of a ruin with a cross on top of it. It has some sunlight poking through a hole and trees way off in the distance, and you honestly couldn’t have seen that before, it would’ve just faded off and dropped to a low resolution – but now you can see it. That does have this ratcheting effect on the immersion and on the ‘oh my god, I’m actually there’ experience.

You’re fairly unique here in that you’re talking more about what all this means for non-4K TV owners too. Would you say there’s a lot of value for players with 1080p tv sets?

Yeah, exactly. I think from our side the benefit of having so much horsepower is that we can kind of direct it into different channels. That’s why we’ve worked with Sony and said… hey, what if we had these different settings from the 4K resolution to some custom 1080p resolution options. That was exciting to them because it lets us look at different ways to exploit the technology and give different types of experiences. Whether you have 4K or a nice 1080 screen there’s some really nice ways to look at this.

On top of that in our game in terms of value we’ve got over 50 hours of content, custom character skins – everything we’ve done is piled into this one package for PlayStation, and I think that’s a great package. Plus – it’s 20 years, man. It’s a great celebration of Tomb Raider and Lara Croft.

Rise of the Tomb Raider is out on PS4 October 11.

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