Although I've only had time to play about an hour of Tomb Raider, it seems like something I could invest more time in. As usual, we'll let the critics discuss its gameplay 88 and we'll focus on the game's graphics, which happened to really surprise us. This is a truly stunning looking release and we're delighted to have it right on the heels of Crysis 3, which also kicked the hell out of our high-end enthusiast components.
Not only does Tomb Raider look amazing, but it's well adapted for life on the PC, offering an intuitive menu, highly customizable settings and built-in benchmark capabilities. Given the level of visual detail we saw relative to the performance we recorded, we also believe the game is very well optimized. That said, Nvidia has plenty of work to do on its drivers and AMD's new TressFX tech seems overly intensive.
When we played at 1920x1200 on ultimate, the Radeon HD 7970 GHz Edition sustained 53fps and that figure increased 47% when we disabled TressFX. Most gamers probably won't be able to justify that kind of performance hit. And it's worth noting that TressFX isn't the reason for Nvidia's poor showing -- that seems largely due to depth of field (DOF), which we discovered after a lengthy session of trial and error.
The Nvidia cards only performed as expected when we used the high quality preset, and the changes when shifting down from ultra to high include texture quality, level of detail, depth of field and SSAO. After testing each item, we found that changing DOF to normal while leaving everything else on ultra produced a 48% boost from 54fps to 80fps -- and that's with TressFX enabled as it is by default on ultra quality.
If we set the DOF level to high while on the ultra preset, the GTX 680 gave 47fps at 1920x1200, which is just 2fps less than the HD 7970 -- far more practical results. Folks playing with an Nvidia card should definitely watch for a driver update that fixes this issue. Of note, texture quality, level of detail, SSAO and texture filtering had virtually no impact on performance while tessellation accounted for only 4fps.
Those wanting to play on ultra at 1920x1200 or so will want at least an HD 7870 or its equivalent, which should be a GTX 660 if you change DOF from ultra to high. Although Tomb Raider can cripple our best gear when it's cranked up, it's worth stressing that the game still looks great on the high quality preset and you can expect a stable 60fps with relatively inexpensive cards like the HD 7850 or the GTX 660.
While the game shreds GPUs on higher settings, it doesn't seem to care what processor you have as long as it's a modern chip with at least four cores. We recorded a meager 1fps increase after overclocking the Core i7-3770K from 2.5GHz to 4.5GHz, while the FX-8350 gained a whopping 3fps over the same frequency span. Though it was slower than parts like the i7-3770K, even the Athlon II X2 265 gave playable results.
Update (3/13): Just as we were posting this article, a patch for Tomb Raider was issued, noting stability fixes for Nvidia and Intel hardware, as well as TressFX hair rendering related improvements. As you can imagine, completing a performance review takes entire days and we usually try to move pretty fast to get you the facts as titles are released -- sometimes at the cost of missing a zero-day patch or driver update. In the particular case of Tomb Raider, we have performed a limited set of tests with the new patch and Nvidia graphics cards, and performance hasn't improved on the highest visual settings. It's somewhat safe to assume this will be addressed on an upcoming driver release.