This year, Tomb Raider turned 20. With 15 games released during those years, the franchise has evolved with modern 3D gaming and grown up with the people who've played it. To celebrate that, publisher Square-Enix and developer Crystal Dynamics released Rise of the Tomb Raider: 20 Year Celebration for the PlayStation 4 and, pertinently, the PlayStation 4 Pro and PlayStation VR platforms as well.
I spoke with Chris Johnston, Brand Manager for Tomb Raider at Crystal Dynamics, about how these new technologies have helped to tell Lara Croft's story to players, and where the franchise is going in the future.
But let's start with what you can expect from Rise of the Tomb Raider on PS4 Pro.
Rise of the Tomb Raider On PlayStation 4 Pro
The video above goes into great detail about what you can expect from Rise of the Tomb Raider on the PS4 Pro. Most importantly, it comes with three settings:
- 4K Resolution: Enhanced visuals featuring much higher resolution than the 1080p resolution seen in the original PS4 version, running at a 30fps framerate — the same smoothness as seen in the original.
- High Frame Rate: 1080p resolution as in the original PS4 version, but targeted a faster, 60fps framerate for smoother gameplay and more responsive controls.
- Enriched Visuals: Maintains the same 1080p resolution and 30fps framerate as the original PS4 version, but greatly enhances various visual effects for a more beautiful image.
The enriched visuals mode offers the following special graphics features:
- Hardware Tessellation: Improves the detail of surfaces.
- Anisotropic Filtering: Improves the quality of textures at longer distances from the player.
- Additional Dynamic Foliage: Adds more plants and trees that bend and respond when you walk through them for added realism and interactivity.
- Increased LOD and +10M LOD Bias: Increased quality and detail for the models of objects like buildings or rocks, farther away from the camera.
- Cinematic Hair: Applies the same quality and physics to Lara's long hair that you see in cinematics. Previously, it was less sophisticatedly rendered during gameplay.
- Sun Soft Shadows: Shadows from the sun look more realistic.
- Improved Depth of Field: Adds a greater sense of depth, particularly around bright objects in the environments.
Doubling Down On What Makes Tomb Raider Special
Critics and players have generally agreed that the reboot that started with 2013's Tomb Raider and continued in Rise of the Tomb Raider captured the heart of what made the franchise and its heroine so appealing, while updating it for contemporary times.
"When we did the reboot of Tomb Raider in 2013, we really didn’t change the pillars of the game that much," said Chris Johnston. "The core pillars of the Tomb Raider franchise are gonna be the traversal and exploration, the puzzle solving, and the action. Now we just have those core pillars all brought through a survival lens."
Technology like the PS4 Pro has given Crystal Dynamics the tools to keep on doing that. "We’re able to do so much more to make that experience even more immersive," Johnston said.
There's also the character of Lara Croft herself. The reboot has captured and updated her essence as well, and the tech has made her more relatable and more accessible.
Johnston says her character is all about tapping into the potential of the human spirit. Referring to the development team, he said, "They looked at pioneers of exploration ... These people that went above and beyond the human limit in search of things that people did not believe were out there."
As you can see in the list of changes below, improved rendering of environments has made those explorations more immersive and exciting, and subtle technological advancements like cinematic hair have brought Lara to life.
Where Will Tech Take Lara Next?
I also asked Johnston where the franchise will be in 20 years — with a platform like the PlayStation 4 Pro being just the beginning.
He was hesitant to make hard predictions, but confided, “I’m personally really excited by VR and AR. I think there’s lots of possibilities that we push the experience even further."
Rise of the Tomb Raider: 20 Year Celebration has a chapter called Blood Ties that you can optionally play in VR. It puts you in Lara's shoes and eyes for the first time in the franchise, although some critics are saying it doesn't fully leverage the potential of the technology.
Regardless, Johnston is very enthusiastic about the studio's first forays into VR. And while he was hesitant to predict the future, he said the team wants in on it, whatever it is.
“Whenever trends start emerging, we definitely want to make sure we’re catering to those experiences.”
Rise of the Tomb Raider: 20 Year Celebration certainly fulfills that promise on the PS4 Pro; it's one of the best-executed games on the new platform at launch.