I’m doing something a bit different here. Rather than shoehorning six paragraphs of text about the specifics of the PC version into the Rise of the Tomb Raider review (which should be up shortly), I figured I’d do it as an entirely separate article, where I can go a bit more in-depth. That’s not to say that the quality of the PC version has no impact on how I feel about the game, but this way, I’ve got a lot more freedom to really explore those aspects without dominating the review. Consider this an experiment.
Obligatory system specs: i7-3820, 16GB RAM, 4GB GeForce GTX 970. The listed minimum specs are an i3-2100, 6GB RAM, and a 2GB GeForce GTX 650 or a 2GB AMD HD7770. In short, I should be able to run it okay.
The good news is that, based on my experience, Rise of the Tomb Raider has a pretty damn good PC version – as in, it actually deserves the title of “PC version” rather than “PC port”. If you were worried that the relatively short time between the “exclusive” Xbox release and the PC release meant that no time was being spent on making this work for the PC, your fears were in vain.
It’s got a fairly svelte install, clocking in at around 18GB. After that, though… well, I did worry, because Rise of the Tomb Raider kicks off with a bunch of options in a loader. This is normally the sort of thing that’s reserved for slightly lazy ports, or for games that were never really designed for the PC – but as it turns out, all these options are in the game anyway.
That’s quite a lot of tweakables. I’ve got no idea how high the resolution goes (I don’t know if it’s capped at 1920×1080, or if it’s just showing that as my cap because my monitor doesn’t support higher), but every other option is extremely welcome.
Other than manual settings for the usual annoyances like Depth of Field, Motion Blur, Bloom, Ambient Occlusion and the like, you’ve also got a big text box on the right for every single option which details what it does and how much of a performance hit it’s likely to cause. Top marks for that. If you’re not sure how Vignette Blur differs from Motion Blur and which of them is responsible for your framerate, Nixxes (who I believe are largely responsible for this port) have you covered.
Initially, I kicked off with the game on Very High presets (which, interestingly, are not the highest settings possible, as both Shadow Quality and Sun Soft Shadows can be kicked up another notch if your system has the necessary grunt). Initially, this seemed fine: the opening segments were pootling along at between 50 and 60 FPS.
Two things to note, here. From what little research I’ve done, the Xbox version of the game was capped at 30 FPS. The PC version doesn’t seem to have an FPS cap, as FRAPS’ framerate counter indicated that the game was regularly rising up to 70 or 80. Secondly, the pre-rendered cutscenes are capped at 30 FPS. Not unexpected, and to my mind, not a major issue; there aren’t really that many of them.
Performance got a little bit scattier later on, though. Once you’re through the opening areas and reach the first major hub zone, you get a glorious view of the distance… and this is where Very High started to seem like it was a little bit much for my system, with the framerate dropping down as far as 28 FPS.
What’s weird is that this only happened sometimes. On occasion, that glorious vista was still giving me a framerate in the region of 40 to 50 FPS. Then I might spin the camera 360 degrees, and suddenly the same view was giving me a significantly lower framerate.
In short, this seemed like a really good place to test out the graphical settings.
Here’s the good news: as far as I can tell, every single setting can be changed on the fly without needing to restart the game or reload the level. The options menu is overlaid on top of the game window, and changing a setting instantly changes it, giving you a little background view of how it’ll look. Raising something like the texture quality can take a moment as the game loads in the new textures, but to its credit, it tells you it’s doing this and you can still continue to play while it does so. Again, top marks.
Slightly lower marks for how this actually impacted the performance, though, because I still don’t know what the hell was going on. Lowering certain settings seemed to lower the framerate. I could drop the texture quality and the framerate would also drop, which is… rather contrary to what I expected. It might have still been loading in the new textures and reloading the entire area bit by bit, and that might account for it, but it’s really hard to be sure.
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I’m fairly certain one of those is Very High and the other is Medium, but don’t quote me on that; the latter may actually be Low. The major differences are probably the trees in the middle distance on the left, and the CCCP logo on the tower, but the latter hardly looks bad.
Eventually, I settled for dropping the presets to High, and then bumping up the Anisotropic Filtering to 8x. This gave me a nice mix of prettiness and performance; the game rarely dropped below 50 FPS, and would still occasionally rocket up to 70. Even when it did drop below 50, it was never so low that it impacted the gameplay experience at all. Your mileage may vary, of course: if you do a lot of sudden sharp camera turns and can easily spot momentary drops to 45 FPS, this might upset you more than it did me.
Nonetheless, as far as I’m concerned, Rise of the Tomb Raider looked stunning and it ran quickly. I’m not sure I could easily tell the difference between Very High and High screenshots; even looking back at my massive gallery, I’m having a hard time picking out which pics were on which settings.
Next up on the obligatory PC version checklist is how it controls. Total disclaimer: barring the mouse sensitivity, I didn’t change a damn thing. The controls list looks fairly comprehensive, but I can’t tell you if it allows any and every bind you’d like. I don’t know if you can set it up so that you fire with NumLock or whatever weird preferences you have. I stuck to the default.
The default, however, pretty much works fine. It’s the usual “multi-function gamepad buttons mapped to the keyboard” thing, where E is both “use” and “climb onto stuff with axes”, but this rarely causes much of a problem. Maybe having C as both the scramble/roll into cover button when tapped, but having it drop an item when held, is a bit rubbish. And maybe having E pick up and use everything, from grabbing a bottle to looting a corpse to opening a door, is a bit of a pain. But if you’ve played anything on mouse and keyboard in the past few years, I don’t think you’ll have any issues. And hey, I’m willing to put up with that crap for mouse-based aiming.
Even then, some of the context-sensitive controls actually work quite well. As an example, Lara’s bow can fire a multitude of different types of arrows. When you’re aiming (with the right mouse button, as is tradition, putting you into Aiming Mode) a left-click fires a regular arrow, while a middle-click fires whatever special arrow you have selected. When you’re not aiming, the left mouse button will instead craft a regular arrow, and the middle mouse button will craft whatever special arrow you have selected. It’s a neat little on-the-fly system.
One possible problem is related to the relic examination. As with Tomb Raider, you find lots and lots of relics neatly filed away in boxes. On opening said boxes, Lara picks them up, and you can rotate them in full 3D prettiness. Many of them will have extra “comments”, if you look at the correct area. The issue is that you have to stay on the relevant area and wait for a second, and controllers apparently vibrate when you’re at or around the correct area. My mouse and keyboard, alas, do not vibrate. It’s a very minor issue, but it did trip me up with a couple of relics.
Wait, no, there are two more control-related problems. One is that the map is really finicky with the mouse and doesn’t really act the way you’d expect it to; you have to scroll around with WASD and click-and-drag to move it, rather than just clicking on the point you want to focus on. The menus are also a little more finicky than I’d like. These are minor annoyances, but one that tripped me up a lot to start with.
The second is either more or less severe, depending on how much time you’re going to spend outside of the game’s main campaign. Rather than having slapped-on multiplayer, Rise of the Tomb Raider offers Expeditions, which let you replay parts of the game in regular or Score Attack mode, and also allows you to craft your own mini-missions. It’s not quite Hitman Absolution‘s Contracts mode, but it’s still a pretty nifty addition.
These missions can be crafted (or modified) with cards. Cards themselves are acquired through regular play, but can also be purchased for credits (also acquired through regular play, or through completing Expeditions) or for real money. Obviously, I don’t recommend the latter… but I haven’t really seen any need to do that anyway as credits are plentiful.
I’ll go into more detail on Expeditions in the review itself, but the long and short of it is that you use a bunch of cards to set things up how you like them. Maybe you want to use this shotgun, or you want Big Head mode on, or you want Lara to start with certain upgrades, or maybe all the enemies are on fire. Whatever. The problems are twofold: firstly, navigating between the cards and the options at the bottom of the screen is an abject nightmare akin to playing one of those old jumpscare games where you have to very carefully navigate a maze without touching the walls. Secondly, clicking “Remove” at the bottom to get rid of a card you don’t want… brings up the Marketplace. I mean, it removes the card too, but I’d like to be able to remove a card without then being asked if I want to spend some credits.
I’m fairly certain that’s a bug, but either way, the controls for setting up Expeditions are a bit arse.
Speaking of bugs, I should say that over the course of about 25 hours of play, I really didn’t encounter many.
Zero crashes, one visual bug (depicted above, which only turned up when I flicked Lara’s magic Batman vision on and off in rapid succession, and only in that area), and two occasions when I had to reload to the last checkpoint because of Issues. The first prevented me from using anything in the environment. The second had me get stuck while using an object and no controls responded at all. Both were easily mitigated by just hitting Reload Last Checkpoint, though, and the game checkpoints so frequently that no actual progress was lost.
And yes, there are manual saves as well as checkpoints.
So, um… this actually appears to be a pretty damn good PC version. Uncapped framerate, plenty of well-described tweakables, perfectly workable mouse/keyboard controls, no major bugs or problems. There are some minor annoyances, but nothing that hugely aggravated me except for the Expeditions menu. Truthfully, I wouldn’t really recommend venturing into that until you’re pretty far into the game anyway, by which time some of that will hopefully have been patched.
Basically: well done, Nixxes. I’m sure there’ll be issues with various video cards and computer setups and so on, but if my experience proves to be the norm, Rise of the Tomb Raider actually has a really solid PC version only a few months after the console launch.
Our full review will be coming shortly. Stay tuned!