improvements to Rise of the Tomb Raider sound amazing!
At Gamescom 2017, Square-Enix revealed a playable demo of the title running on Xbox One X - our first chance to see how the game compares to both the base Microsoft console, and of course PlayStation 4 Pro. The initial takeaway? First impressions suggest that Xbox One X is indeed capable of producing a tangibly improved version of a key third-party title - what we've played looked even better than the excellent PS4 Pro release.
Crystal never fixed the input lag issues on the original Xbox One release, while the X port retains the crisper right-stick control of the latest PS4 title update.
Just like the PS4 Pro game, there are three specific game modes you can swap between in real-time - all of them boasting considerable upgrades on Xbox One X. The checkerboard 4K mode on Pro is boosted to full, native ultra HD with a mostly consistent 30 frames per second. This is backed by higher resolution art assets and improved texture filtering - all of which in combination offers a distinct visual upgrade over the equivalent PS4 Pro mode.
The Pro's 'enriched' mode also makes an appearance on Xbox One X and seems to feature a very similar visual feature set, packing in more graphical upgrades ported over from the PC version. However, the big difference here is that it's presented as an alternative 4K mode, as opposed to PS4's 1080p presentation. It's not immediately clear how Nixxes has pulled this off, but there's a slight shimmering effect around edges in motion, and a curious vertical interlace-type effect when the game is paused, suggesting some kind of temporal reconstruction or checkerboarding technique (no claims are made for a native presentation here). Regardless, it's a really nice addition - there's a lot of controversy surrounding 'smart' upscaling techniques vs native resolution rendering. Rise of the Tomb Raider on Xbox One X offers users the ability to choose between razor-sharpness or a softer look, but with more visual features in place.
Rounding off the package of rendering modes is another port from PlayStation 4 Pro - the high frame-rate option. This drops back the quality to base PS4/Xbox One equivalent settings and unlocks performance, diverting the Scorpio Engine's power to raw throughput. Unfortunately, the demo doesn't include the Geothermal Valley - the ultimate stress test area for the title, and particularly stressful on CPU - but the entirety of the Prophet's Tomb level played back locked at 60 frames per second.
On top of that, there are further enhancements we've not seen on any other platform: Dolby Atmos spatial surround support is confirmed, along with HDR rendering. We actually saw HDR running on the PC version of the game way back in March 2016 at Nvidia's GTX 1080 launch (there's even a blog post from Nixxes about it), but for reasons unknown, the feature never made its way to users. With this in mind, we're hopeful that HDR support will roll out to all Rise of the Tomb Raider users, regardless of platform.
Of course Rise of the Tomb Raider is an older game, but it remains one of the most impressive third party games of this generation, and a highly demanding workout for a range of hardware when maxed out in its excellent PC incarnation. But perhaps by this point, the game has more of a reputation as a technical benchmark - and in this respect, this first hands-on suggests that Xbox One X will indeed deliver the best console version of a particularly challenging third-party title.