Tomb Raider Benchmarked
Reboot. Crystal Dynamics breathes new life into the time-honored action-adventure series. With their renovated new piece, Tomb Raider, the developers hope to attract not only veterans of the series, but also newbies from the Uncharted Generation. This article mainly examines the single-player mode and the game's hardware hunger.
For the original German review, see here.
The reintroduction proves to be a complete success. The dramatic intro video, already familiar to those who have seen the render trailer, instantly pulls the gamer into the Tomb Raider universe. The young and now more accurately proportioned Miss Croft is shipwrecked with several colleagues on a lonely and mysterious island. There they must not only survive, but also search for their missing friends and unravel many secrets.
Does the initial situation remind you of another action game? The overall story isn't the only thing Tomb Raider and the recently released Far Cry 3 have in common. As our several hour long test session revealed, there are several parallels between the Square Enix and Ubisoft productions. Both, for instance, start off with a survival atmosphere. After the female protagonist escapes from the clutches of a strange cult, armed with nothing but a torch, we need to find a suitable fire pit where the wounded woman can warm herself.
Since we're on the topic: The fire pits, found in many places throughout the game, are conceived as both "speed travel portals" and central drop-in centers for the skill and crafting system. Like in Far Cry 3, the weapons and main characters can be tuned and/or improved by the gamer. Tomb Raider uses the experience points system, rewarding the player for all sorts of things - whether it be killing and gutting animals or recovering secret items spread all throughout the gaming world (relics, documents, etc.) Unfortunately the developers commit the same error as Ubisoft and mine the island with so many objects that the believability factor takes a significant hit. Particularly as not every action-adventure fan appreciates the new role-play and achievement trend in video games. The secondary pursuits rob the game of its focus and divert attention from the core story. But the collectible objects do intensify the player's thirst for adventure.
The mixture of linear indoor levels and half-open outdoor areas is reminiscent of Crysis 3. Although the technology isn't on par with the Cry Engine 3, Tomb Raider creates a first-class atmosphere. The reason: Most of the levels were obviously created by people with an incredible love of detail. The outdoor areas especially flaunt an amazing vegetation density. The sound quality is also very good. The thoughtful use of music and endearing sounds of the surrounding environment plunge the gamer deep into the game world. Add to that the professional (English) speakers.
In terms of gameplay, Tomb Raider makes a good though not outstanding impression. The series veterans will enjoy diverse riddles and lots of climbing; the interspersed battles and (sometimes unfair) quick time events won't appeal to every gamer. Whether it was a good idea for Lara to have to prove herself against several opponents using an automatic rifle (did someone say Call of Duty?) is an open question. From our point of view the action-oriented nature of the game doesn't quite fit the series. There are already enough competitors in that genre.
But if you're worried the game will be a mindless Rambo-shooter you can take a deep breath. Opponents can be eliminated silently with the stylish bow the gamer receives shortly after the start of the game - just like in Crysis 3 or Thief. Thanks to the active cover system and the fact that you can strangle or knock the daylights out of enemies from behind, the stealth mechanics make a good impression on you. You can comfortably control the game with your hands. Unlike other third-person titles like Dead Space 3, the controls aren't overloaded; they're limited to a few practically located keys.
In terms of storyline Tomb Raider didn't exactly knock our socks off. Despite the exciting starting situation and the cool staging, which is achieved with tons of videos, flashbacks, tracking shots and script sequences, in the end you just clatter up the rung to the next level. The secondary characters could have had more depth to them as well.
The story's greatest point of weakness is the abrupt change from a scared, careful Lara to a tough power girl blasting guns everywhere. In a rather short amount of time our protagonist can use a bow perfectly, accomplish great climbing feats and shoot a number of enemies from a tree - none of which is particularly believable. But anyone who is looking for a sensational adventure and doesn't care whether the story is completely thought through will be able to overlook this discontinuity easily. The story is certainly superior to any standard shooter game.
Tomb Raider has an integrated benchmark, which is comfortably accessible through the main menu. In the 70-second sequence the camera turns around Lara 360° and affords an impressive view of the extensive, deserted beach. In our experience, the integrated benchmark does lend itself to an easy assessment of gaming performance. For a fluid overall gaming experience you'll need at least 30 FPS.
Nixxes, the studio responsible for PC porting, put a lot of work into the controls and graphics options. The Dutch company was also responsible for the PC conversion of Hitman: Absolution and Deus Ex: Human Revolution. Super: The graphics settings can be altered both inside and outside the game. Changes are adopted immediately and no reboot is needed.
While the "basic" menu covers the basic options like resolution, refresh rate, aspect ratio, vertical synchronization and the general quality level (there are five presets), there are over 10 more options in the "advanced" menu. Alongside tessellation, the game also supports other graphics delicacies, such as the ambient occlusion SSAO. In terms of anti-aliasing, the game offers FXAA and 2x to 4x SSAA. Anisotropic filtering, which displays sharp textures even from a distance, is also on board.
AMD's hair technology TressFX is only activated at the "Ultimate" preset by default. In order to ensure equal opportunities we limited ourselves in the review to the presets "Low", "Normal", "High", and "Ultra".
The graphics quality differs greatly between the presets (especially between "Low" and "Normal"). Advantage: Tomb Raider's performance is tolerable on weaker notebooks too, provided the game is on a lower preset. At high or very high settings the action-adventure is definitely a feast for the eyes. Crisp textures, detailed characters, atmospheric light, weather and shadow effects: The developers hardly made any compromises. Our only complaint is that there could have been a little more variation here and there. The game gains even more points for the beautiful animations and the modest load times.
The hardware demands are reasonably high, but considering the high graphics quality they are by no means excessive. With an entry-level GPU, like the popular HD Graphics 4000, the game can be enjoyed at low settings (~50 FPS @ 1024x768). For the normal preset a graphics accelerator from the lower middle class will suffice. Nvidia's GeForce GT 630M, which has a great price-performance ratio, reaches over 30 FPS on average at 1366x768 pixels.
Those who wish to play Tomb Raider at high settings, however, should have at their disposal a graphics card from the upper middle class, like the GeForce GT 640M (1366x768) or the GeForce GT 650M (1600x900). To play the game at Full HD resolution and on the "Ultra" preset, you'll need nothing less than the current top models GeForce GTX 680M and Radeon HD 7970M.
As a glance at the benchmark table will tell you, AMD takes a significant lead when the game is at maximum settings (Tomb Raider is part of their own "Gaming Evolved" program). For example the Radeon HD 8870M: With 21 FPS the DirectX 11.1 GPU comes in before the GeForce GTX 670M, though the GeForce model generally does much better than the Radeon (compare the same test on the Samsung Chronos 770Z7E). We assume that Nvidia will optimize the driver in the coming months.
Tomb Raider is a top-class action-adventure. Despite small weak points in the story and logic, the game is a ton of fun. But we wouldn't call the reboot a smash hit; for our taste the battles play a little too dominant a role, and the developers could have focused a little more on the puzzles and climbing passages.
We thank Schenker Notebooks very much for the following three test devices (mysn.de):
- XMG P502 (Core i7-3610QM, GeForce GTX 660M, GTX 670M, GTX 675M(X), GTX 680M, Radeon HD 7970M & HD Graphics 4000)
- XMG A502 (Core i5-3360M, GeForce GT 650M)
- Xesia M501 (Core i7-2630QM, GeForce GT 630M & HD Graphics 3000)
- Each with 8 GB DDR3-RAM (2x 4096 MB @ 1600 MHz), 160 GB SSD (Intel 320 Series) & Windows 7 Professional 64 Bit
GPU drivers: Nvidia 314.14 Beta, AMD 13.2 Beta 7 & Intel 220.127.116.1132.