Surprise! We’re not going to be reviewing Batman: Arkham Knight. Not yet, anyway, though we will when it gets relaunched. It’s not really a surprise, though, is it? The PC port is undoubtedly one of the biggest gaming cock-ups this year, so much so that Warner Bros. has even ceased selling it, though that’s probably also due to Steam’s new refund policy. That leaves me with a review code for a game that you cannot buy, and we don’t even know when that will change.
I have been playing it, though, and the performance issues – a phrase that doesn’t really convey how colossally poorly it runs – that have been given the most attention are just the tip of the iceberg. This is Arkham Knight beta, at best; a game that is missing a slew of features, that’s not remotely finished and, frankly, looks worse than Arkham Origins.
It might be temporarily dead, but let’s dig up this corpse and dissect it.
This is not a review, which should be pretty clear given what I wrote a mere 150 words ago. You can’t buy this game, and if you own it, you should get a refund. If you haven’t already done that, go do it. Now. Anyway! What this is, I suppose, is a post-mortem of this ridiculous mess. Let’s try and make sense of it all and look at what Rocksteady, Warner Bros. and Iron Galaxy will need to fix.
First off, it would be nice if it the game actually worked. I suppose it works in a loose sense: you can boot the game up and muck around as Batman, but it’s a stuttering, glitchy, frustrating experience.
The inconsistent frame rate is undoubtedly the most noticeable of these problems, regardless of your GPU. AMD, Nvidia, 670s to Titans, the result seems to be mostly the same in that few players are able to witness Batman in all his smooth glory. The game’s locked at 30fps, which does improve the consistency, but it’s just a smoke screen, and a bad one at that. Unlocking the frame rate is possible, but then you’re faced with just how spasmodic the game is. It’s worth noting that even if you don’t unlock the frame rate, there’s still stuttering and frame rate drops; they’re just not quite as dramatic.
Here’s what I’ve been playing on: Intel i5-3570K @3.40 GHz, 8 GB of RAM, GeForce GTX 970, Windows 7 at 1080p, tested with and without the new Nvidia drivers. Once I made some tweaks in the.ini, I was able to get a playable frame rate when on foot and in the skies, though there was still some occasional stuttering, but in the Batmobile? It’s unplayable. The frame rate tanks, and the game becomes a slideshow. And I know that’s an overused term that’s rarely used accurately, but I do mean that it looked like a literal slideshow. I might as well have been looking at a series of screenshots.
On top of frame rate troubles, there’s physx weirdness, texture pop in, audio cutting out and, more generally, the fact that the game simply doesn’t look very good. The art style is, of course, incredibly strong, but the lighting and texture quality are both disappointing, and the graphics options are so stunted that it barely feels like a PC game.
Here’s what you can’t do in-game:
- Change the anti-aliasing (you can only turn it on or off)
- Change the anisotropic filtering
- Change the ambient occlusion (because there’s simply no AO)
- Select anything above “normal” texture quality
- Remove the hideous motion blur
- Remove the hideous grain filter
These are just the ones that are immediately obvious; things that are baseline options in a AAA PC game, even if it is a port. These options can be changed by fiddling with the .ini or your GPU control panel, but in some cases this can make the game’s performance even worse, and the results are not consistent. And you shouldn’t have to do this. You shouldn’t need to read a guide to change basic settings or make it look only a little worse than the PS4 version instead of a lot worse. And, yeah, nothing that you do is going to make it actually look like it should or perform acceptably.
Some of the solutions simply aren’t possible for some users. It’s recommend that you install Arkham Knight to the SSD, because texture streaming seems to be utterly broken, leading to objects and enemies lacking detailed textures. This isn’t an option for me, though. I only have an SSD for my OS, and there’s no space for a game the size of Arkham Knight. Even if I did, however, it wouldn’t change the fact that I shouldn’t be fixing the game or jumping through hoops.
The huge range of problems and missing features means that Batman: Arkham Knight can’t be quickly fixed with a rapidly deployed patch. It needs a major update and, equally important, a considerable amount of testing. The release window on Steam, “Fall 2016” is probably a placeholder, but I don’t think we should expect it to be updated and released soon, either.
If it wasn’t for the Batmobile sequences, I could probably power through, completing it and offering a review. But that’s not the game you’ll be able to purchase. It’s moot, anyway, because the Batmobile is a massive part of the game, and I’m just not able to drive it. So! Here’s what we’re going to do: the day the update drops, we’ll have a port review for you, detailing the game’s performance, graphics options and PC-specific features. That will be followed, as quickly as possible, by the full PC review. Unfortunately, we have no idea when this will be.