Rise of the Tomb Raider was released as an Xbox exclusive last November, a decision that took some serious flak from gamers ever since it was announced. Microsoft was out looking for a new flagship game for its console, a game that could be as significant as PlayStation’s Uncharted. So far it’s proven to be a winning decision. Rise of the Tomb Raider has been widely praised for its gameplay and visuals and now that the PC version is out, we are taking it for a spin.

(For Kotaku’s experience running the game at 1440p, check out Kirk Hamiton’s analysis here.)

Developed by Crystal Dynamics and published by Square Enix, the second installment in the Tomb Raider series reboot has been ported to PC by Dutch studio Nixxes, the same folks that ported Square Enix’s Deus Ex: Human Revolution, Sleeping Dogs, and 2013's Tomb Raider. With those credentials, in addition to participation from Nvidia, Rise of the Tomb Raider fell into capable hands.

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It has to be said the game already looked surprisingly good on the Xbox One. Powered by an updated version of Crystal Dynamics’ in-house Foundation Engine, it boasts several next-gen visual features such as image-based lighting, physically-based materials system, deformable snow, enhanced hair simulation, tessellated terrain, and more.

With such a solid base to work with, Nixxes has been able to deliver a number of PC exclusive options that help to make an already beautiful game look truly spectacular. Rise of the Tomb Raider is arguably the best looking game to hit the PC yet, and without question the cut-scenes are the best I have seen.

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Nvidia had a hand in the game’s adaption to PC, too, though that might not be the best way to word it. Yes, Tomb Raider is now a GameWorks title and in spite of featuring Pure Hair which has its roots deeply embedded in AMD’s TressFX, we can assume Nvidia has made every effort to optimize this and other visual features for its own hardware.

Given Nvidia’s exclusivity and involvement, AMD had a hard time delivering a fully optimized Radeon driver in time for the game’s release. However we are happy to report that after some preliminary testing, performance is still good on AMD cards. We’ve been told a hotfix driver with game-specific enhancements is in the works and should be delivered soon. We plan to update our benchmarks with those improvements when they become available.

Testing Notes

For testing Rise of the Tomb Raider we will be using the Acropolis Expedition stage of the game (score attack mode) which is about an hour into the main single player campaign. This test features a good blend of outdoor and indoor environments with a few in-game cutscenes, the test lasts 90 seconds. We have recorded a video for your reference:

Rise of the Tomb Raider was tested at three resolutions: 1920x1080, 2560x1440 and 3840x2160 using the Very High and High graphics quality presets. We also tested with Pure Hair disabled and as usual we’ve included a number of CPU tests to see how the game scales.

Test System Specs

Benchmarks: 1080p

There are five quality presets: lowest, low, medium, high and very high. Very high doesn’t actually apply the maximum quality settings as features such as shadow quality, sun soft shadows and Pure Hair can all be turned up another notch. That said, few gamers are going to have the required hardware to harness these quality settings as we are about to demonstrate with the very high preset at 1080p.

As you can see, using the very high preset at 1080p yields pretty low numbers on the R9 390 and GTX 970 — both were well south of 60fps with frame dips around 30fps. Still, for the most part performance was smooth so these frame rates are acceptable in Rise of the Tomb Raider. Interestingly, the Nano and Fury X ran into frame buffer issues and as a result minimums dropped below 20fps, oddly this didn’t impact the GTX 970. It would appear that Nvidia’s optimized drivers are working well here so we hope AMD can work similar magic with its high-end Nano and Fury graphics cards.

Due to the extreme demands of the very high preset we have conducted the majority of our testing using high instead and it has to be said the IQ difference is almost indistinguishable. Features such as tessellation and Pure Hair are still enabled. The biggest performance difference comes from the ambient occlusion mode which has been changed from HBAO+ to ‘on’ which enables Crystal Dynamics’ own in-house SSAO technique dubbed ‘Broad Temporal Ambient Obscurance’ (BTAO).

Even with the slightly dialed down quality settings, Rise of the Tomb Raider is still extremely demanding and mid-range to low-end graphs cards really struggle. For a minimum frame rate of 30fps gamers will require an R9 380 or GTX 770 at 1080p. For an average of 60fps, you’re looking at a R9 390X or GTX 970!

Turning Pure Hair off only affords graphics cards such as the R9 380 an extra 3fps on average which equates to an 8% performance boost. However, if we look at the minimum frame rates they are much improved as the R9 380 is now 14% faster.

Disabling Pure Hair will buy those with lower-end hardware a small but much needed performance boost, though this rendering feature looks so impressive that I would be more inclined to look for performance gains elsewhere.

Benchmarks: 1440p

At 1440p, gamers will require no less than an R9 290/390 or GTX 970 just to break the 40fps barrier and we are of course talking about the average frame rate here. These GPUs only just kept the minimum frame rate from dipping into the 20s.

At the top of the food chain the Fury X wasn’t a great deal slower than the GTX 980 Ti and we are confident with an optimized driver the Fury X will end up alongside its green competitor.

As for mid-range graphics cards such as the R9 380 and GTX 960, they aren’t really designed for AAA gaming at 1440p using high quality settings, so their sub-30fps average shouldn’t be a huge shock in this stunning title.

Benchmarks: 4K

Given how demanding the game is at 1440p using the high quality preset we weren’t expecting to find playable performance at 4K even with the GTX 980 Ti. Although the card did manage an average of 31fps, we couldn’t enjoy the gameplay with 24fps minimums.

Even with SLI scaling at 100%, the GTX 980 Ti would be good for just a 60fps average at 4K using the high preset, the same is true for Crossfire Fury X cards as well.

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Steven Walton is a writer at TechSpot. TechSpot is a computer technology publication serving PC enthusiasts, gamers and IT pros since 1998.