And both versions look better than the PC version. For the most part, I really liked last year's reboot of Tomb Raider. As time has gone on, my feelings about it have only increased, both for the stuff I liked — A main character with a real arc! Nods to my favourite horror movie! A sick bow! — and the stuff I didn't like — Weak side tombs! Easy puzzles! Unfortunate combat/puzzle ratio!
But on the whole: I like the game. I was looking forward to playing through the "Definitive Edition" on next-gen consoles, particularly after seeing how many visual improvements Crystal Dynamics had made to the game. I was also curious about how the game would run on Xbox One as compared to PS4.
Turns out, the PS4 version is indeed the superior version. After downloading it earlier this week, I fired up the game on PS4 and played the introductory sequence. My first thought was:
"Holy shit, this looks good."
As Lara made her way along the cliff face, climbed the dangling aeroplane and fell down into that first wooded area, I couldn't help but notice how excellent everything looked. Man, the level of detail! The wind, loaded with leaves and debris, whipping off of the ocean! The foliage, blowing in the breeze! Mist everywhere!
And… could it be? Is this console game running at 60 frames per second?
The PS4 sadly doesn't offer any app like FRAPS to tell me what frame rate my games are running, and my retail PS4 has copy protection so I can't capture video on my own. But over the last few years I've become something of a frame-rate obsessive, and I was all but certain that the game was running at 60fps, or at least close to it.
Shortly thereafter, the Xbox One version was halfway downloaded, enough to fire up the game and start comparing the two. I started it and… wait a minute. It still looked great, still had all the visual bells and whistles I'd seen on the PS4 version… but it was not running at 60fps. It was noticeably more sluggish, closer to 30fps.
Of course, by now, most people who care about this kind of thing have already heard about the framerate difference between the two versions — it was reported a few days ago on NeoGAF, among other places. Reading that, I felt vindicated: My eyes were right after all; the Xbox One version of the game doesn't run as smoothly as the PS4 version. (Note: I had previously been under a review embargo until next week, but some retailers started selling the game early so Square Enix lifted the review embargo about an hour ago. So! Here I am telling you about it now.)
My frame-rate obsession borders on unhealthy, so this stuff makes a difference to me. Will it matter to you? Well, it depends on how much you care about frame rate. I've already outlined why it matters to me that Assassin's Creed IV, Battlefield 4 and Call of Duty Ghosts all run at higher resolution on PS4 than on Xbox One. Jason's also weighed in on why talking about this kind of stuff is important. And hey, from our unscientific poll, it sounds like more of you guys care about frame rate than resolution. But your individual mileage may vary.
The Xbox One version certainly doesn't stink or anything. If I only had an Xbox One and played that version, I'd think it looked fine. But the difference is there, and it's evident when you put the games side by side. The PS4 version is noticeably smoother and as a result feels better to play.
I asked Square Enix PR if they could get the developers at Crystal Dynamics to elaborate on why the game runs at a higher frame rate on PS4, and what it might be about the PS4 that makes it easier to develop for, but all I got back was the standard reply I've seen elsewhere:
"Both platforms offer the same outstanding Tomb Raider experience. Delivering the core Tomb Raider gameplay at native 1080p and running at 30fps was always our primary goal given the type of experience Tomb Raider is and the exploration we want players to do. Anything beyond 30fps for this version is gravy."
I'm sure that Eurogamer's Digital Foundry will have a painstaking, in-depth report on the differences between the two versions, but since the embargo lifted early, I might as well tell you what I see when I play it: On PS4, Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition hangs at around 60fps a lot of the time, but dips down to what feels like 40 or 45 at some more complicated areas, like the shantytown and some areas where there's a lot of on-screen fire. On Xbox One, the game hangs at bit above 30fps and gets smoother if you pull in close to Lara in an enclosed space where it doesn't have to render lots of objects or long-distance detail.
Any way you slice it, this is yet another third-party cross-platform game that runs better on PS4 than it does on Xbox One.
For Once, The PC Version Comes In Third
Also interesting: both next-gen versions look better than last year's PC version in some respects. A couple of weeks ago, when we ran that IGN video detailing the new features in the Definitive Edition, a bunch of readers were quick to say "So, it's basically just the PC version on ultra settings, ported to consoles." Ah, but that's not the case.
Putting the two versions side by side, there are a number of differences. Most immediately noticeable is how much more alive the environments feel in the new version: Howling winds and low-hanging clouds blow through most areas, where in the PC version there was only open air and the occasional bit of fog. Trees in the Definitive Edition blow in the wind where on PC they stand still. In some places in the Definitive Edition, flocks of birds circle in the air, while on PC the air is empty.
The definitive edition also has much more high-contrast, dramatic lighting, and everything looks somehow heightened — every time I'd switch back to see a similar scene on PC things would look flat and less active.
Of course, these are all cosmetic differences. But I do notice them. Here's a gif of the PC version on ultra settings:
And here's the Xbox One version:
(Remember, I can't capture video from the PS4 version. But for this particular comparison, the Xbox One version is fine.)
Here are the videos that I grabbed those gifs from, running on PC on ultra:
...and on Xbox One:
Check out how on Xbox One the trees are all blowing all over the place in the wind, while on PC they're just sitting still. Everything in the Xbox One version just looks richer and more alive. That kind of thing carries over through the rest of the game.
I haven't done anything close to the sort of deep-dive analysis that I'm sure Digital Foundry or similar sites will do. How is the tessellation on PS4 versus PC? How does the Xbox One handle antialiasing compared to PS4? I can't tell you. But I can tell you that to my eye, the next-gen versions look much richer and more alive than the PC version.
(As to why the Definitive Edition isn't available as an upgrade for the existing PC version? No idea. Hopefully that'll come out at some point.)
I Like Lara's New Look
Much has been made about how different Lara Croft looks in the Definitive Version. And it's true, and noticeable throughout. Two screenshots I captured from PC and Xbox One:
(Note: I'm running the PC version on "Ultra" with TressFX turned off, so that's part of why her hair looks different in the screenshot above.)
But really, I like it! She looks more like a person, and her face is more defined and easier to read. For a game that relies so heavily on getting us to identify with its protagonist, that's a good thing.
Stray Notes On The Other New Features
The Definitive Edition adds a few other features to both versions, but they're all pretty skippable. Still, some impressions:
- The game offers voice commands, which are activated through the Xbox One Kinect or PS4 Camera. I found the voice commands to be incredibly annoying in both versions, mostly because the game is far too sensitive. It kept pausing and unpausing as I spoke — the irony was my early exclamations about how good the game looked on PS4 caused it to freak out and pause. You can switch weapons or open the map with your voice, but who cares? After suffering through an hour of unintentional pausing and unpausing, I turned voice commands off for good.
- The Xbox One version offers a humorously un-useful "alternate camera" trick that works with the Kinect. During some sequences, when a green camera icon pops up on screen, you can tilt your body to the side on the couch and view things from another angle. It's strange and awkward and pretty pointless, from what I've seen of it.
- The PS4 version of the game also has some fun with the DualShock 4's light bar, making it flicker red and orange when Lara holds a torch and causing it to flash white every time she shoots a gun. It's… silly. It didn't really add immersion to the game or anything, and it probably caused my controller's battery to drain faster.
- I should note that the PS4 version of the game has had a recurring technical issue for me, of the Error Code Ce-34878-0 variety. My save was never corrupted, but the game occasionally would crash or not load properly before giving me the error. It always has loaded fine after that, at least so far. Fingers crossed that keeps up. Since the error pops up on all manner of PS4 games, I get the sense that it's more Sony's issue than the fault of any specific game developer, but it still got me more than a few times.
So, there you have 'em — my (somewhat hurried, sorry!) impressions of Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition. It really is definitive, better-looking than it was on last-gen consoles or even PC. And if you're making a choice between the PS4 and Xbox One versions, the PS4 version easily wins out.
We'll have more on Tomb Raider: Definitive Edition soon.