Batman: Arkham Knight PC Version Impressions

Batman: Arkham Knight PC Version Impressions

Batman: Arkham Knight has had a less-than-stellar reception on PC so far. According to the internet: texture pop-in issues! Random framerate drops! Capped at 30FPS! Other things!

We hadn’t been able to give you our thoughts on the PC version until now, because we only got our hands on the PC version yesterday evening, and downloading 33.8GB (expanding to 37.3GB) takes quite awhile on my slightly naff connection. But now? Now I have it downloaded. Now, I have fiddled about with it for an entire 60 minutes. Now, I am ready to give you some thoughts on it.

Batman Arkham Knight - 1
I’m Batman.

First things first, though: that download. There is no possible way that the download can be a horrible clusterfuck, surely? I mean, yes, okay, WB Games did release Mortal Kombat X, which had that totally broken “streaming” thing, where you could supposedly play bits of the game while the rest of it downloaded… but then they promptly abandoned that because it didn’t actually work and instead it just broke everything. So Batman: Arkham Knight must download fine. Right? Right?

Yeaaaah, no.

Batman Arkham Knight - 2
He’s also Batman.

I got about 25GB of the game downloaded last night, and then noticed that there was a small, 2MB patch for another game. That “something else” was something I’ve actually been playing recently, so I figured “well, I’ll get that patch downloaded quickly and play that game while the Arkham Knight download finishes.” Joys of Steam, really: it lets you pause and resume downloads, or rearrange your queue, or whatever.

I queued up the patch. I downloaded the patch. Doing this magically lost everything of Arkham Knight I’d downloaded already, so I had to start the download from scratch.

I had to start the Arkham Knight download again, from scratch. From scratch. I had to restart the entire bloody download!

Batman Arkham Knight - 7
More important than randomly playing other stuff while waiting for downloads? That explains the “deleting everything” punishment, then.

I’ve actually heard that it does similar if you verify the game’s cache – deleting the entire game and forcing you to re-download the entire thing – but I’m not enough of a masochist to try that for myself. This might be the same issue; I was perfectly fine closing Steam, or pausing Arkham Knight and resuming the download later. But swapping it in the queue and downloading something else instead? Instant loss of all data. Which is – not to put too fine a point on it – completely fucking ridiculous.

You know you’re in for a good time when I spend half a page complaining about downloading the game, don’t you?

batman arkham knight download
Installation issues are definitely not very Batman.

Eventually, I got the game downloaded. Let’s fire it up and have a look, shall we? And for the record, my system specs: Intel i7-3820, 16GB RAM, GeForce GTX 670. Not amazing, and roughly between the game’s Minimum and Recommended specs, but it can comfortably run most games as long as I don’t go nuts on the graphic options.

First things first, a full 40 seconds of Bat-splash screens. For full effect, scroll very slowly through this lot.

Batman Arkham Knight - splash 1 Batman Arkham Knight - splash 2 Batman Arkham Knight - splash 3 Batman Arkham Knight - splash 4 Batman Arkham Knight - splash 5 Batman Arkham Knight - splash 6 Batman Arkham Knight - splash 7

Right. Let’s have a look at the options. The graphical options are the ones that intrigue me, and, uh… they’re not very impressive at all. Here’s your lot:

Batman: Arkham Knight - Settings
These options are not very Batman at all.

Actually, “not very impressive” barely sums up the disappointment of these options, particularly considering how graphically intensive the game is. Anti-aliasing has two settings – on and off. No options for any different AA types like the prior Batman: Arkhams. Texture Quality can be Low or Normal. And, excluding the Nvidia options, we only have Shadow Quality and Level of Detail left. Holy lack of meaningful tweakables, Batman!

(I can’t be certain that the Texture Quality only has Low and Normal options; it may have detected my available VRAM and decided – probably quite correctly – that there’s no way in hell I can run it on High without the game instantly bursting into tears and crashing. This doesn’t change the fact that the rest of the options are horribly limited.)

Level of Detail seems to be the general “should stuff that’s quite far away be rendered in high detail or not” option, which is pretty much a must for any game with lengthy draw distances, but… where the bloody hell are the rest of the options? Where are the proper post-processing options, like bloom, or HBAO, or motion blur? Or options for various different types of texture quality, even if only “environment” and “characters”?

This was also where I noticed that the Steam overlay doesn’t seem to work within the game, so no taking screenshots without FRAPS or another external program. Sigh.

On the plus side, the control options seem nicely extensive. Pretty much everything is configurable, and the defaults seem to make sense; gadgets are even bound to the number keys, rather than using some bloody awful wheel implementation. There’s one really rubbish omission (unless I’ve simply missed it, which is a possibility) but we’ll get to that shortly.

Batman Arkham Knight - controls

There’s also a benchmarking tool, which manages to be both “a bit rubbish” and “actually quite good.” On the one hand, the scenarios it runs to test the framerate don’t actually appear to be the sort of things you’ll encounter in game too regularly, so the performance you get here isn’t necessarily the performance you’re going to see when playing. On the other hand, it does test the various options quite nicely; the first scene the benchmark plays, for instance, shows off the Interactive Smoke/Fog and the Interactive Paper Debris, so you can at least get an idea of how much of a performance hit those particular options will cause.

I mean, changing either of those two options requires you to exit and restart the game and sit through those 40 seconds of splash screens again, but hey. At least you can reliably test them.

The benchmarking tool lets you know your minimum, maximum, current, and average framerates, which is a pretty good mix. With everything bumped up as high as the game would allow, I was managing an average of about 26; with all of the shiny Nvidia options turned off, I averaged about 56. Considering the game itself is hard-locked at 30, though, that barely matters.

Batman: Arkham Knight - benchmark
Cardboard boxes: impacting framerates since 2004.

Enough tooling about with the Bat-options and Bat-benchmarks. Let’s fire up the game.

The intro is exactly what we saw at E3: a cremation, followed by a first-person experience as a police officer in a diner, who promptly gets hit with Scarecrow’s fear gas. It’s all ultra-stylish, decently acted, and very immersive, right up until (if you’re me) you try to look around, because the mouse sensitivity is set way too high in this section. But that’s fine; I’ll just dip into the control options, and… oh. There doesn’t appear to be a way to change the mouse sensitivity.

Batman Arkham Knight - 3
Yeah, that’s… not the nicest screenshot I’ve ever taken, particularly with the locals. I know Gotham’s dark, but. they look like they’ve just wandered in from Innsmouth.

This was less of a problem in the game proper, where the sensitivity actually seemed okay, but that’s still a pretty bloody glaring omission.

Weird side-note: while the game is locked at 30FPS, the cutscenes actually run at 60FPS, which is pretty much the exact opposite of every other game I’ve played recently that locked framerates.

The game itself… actually runs pretty serviceably. With everything on high, and two of the Nvidia options on (Enhanced Rain and Enhanced Light Shafts) the game seems more than happy to sit around at 30FPS.

Hell, even with everything as high as I can put it, it’s just about playable; the framerate occasionally drops to the low-to-mid 20s which I’m sure would be a deal-breaker for some, but that’s hardly game-breakingly low, particularly considering my hardware and particularly considering that tends to only last for a moment.

Batman: Arkham Knight - 4
On the other hand, the environments do look pretty bloody slick. Very Batman.

The biggest frame drops occur in three areas. Gliding causing a bit of a dip, probably because it’s streaming in large portions of the city, and because I’m viewing large portions of the city. Driving the Batmobile does similar, and for likely the same reasons. And, uh… rotating the camera quickly also causes a framerate drop. Which seems a little odd, but again, it’s hardly game-breaking. It’s pretty rare for me to suddenly spin the camera 270 degrees and need to react within a fraction of a second.

Tearing is abundant with Vsync turned off, but tearing doesn’t bother me too much and I’d prefer that to a hugely inconsistent framerate, so I’m leaving that off.

Now, this is all as-the-devs-intended (at least, presumably.) Thanks to the magic of the internet, though, I know that there are ways of removing the framerate cap, and also removing those 40 seconds of splash screens. Let’s see how things work when we set the framerate to 60, shall we?

batman arkham knight ini file
That’s the one. Also, why aren’t these other options in the menus?

Er… kind of okay, honestly. I have no idea if this is going to screw up the scripting or break certain events, but for the most part, it just makes Arkham Knight feel a bit smoother.

Not a lot smoother, though. Those limited graphic options mean there’s only so much I can adjust, and no matter what I do, I’m not getting 60FPS anywhere outside of enclosed locations without a lot going on. With everything on full I’m averaging around 30FPS, with occasional drops towards 20, although I imagine it’d get a lot worse in crowded scenes. With everything as low as possible, it’s pretty constant around the high 40s, no matter what.

Batman: Arkham Knight - 6
The environment and rain do look utterly lovely, but for the love of Batman, let me fiddle with the post-processing.

For now, I’m pretty satisfied running it with Enhanced Rain and Enhanced Light Shafts on. The other two Nvidia options are the ones that seem to murder my framerate (particularly the Interactive Smoke/Fog), and getting a framerate that generally stays above 30 means everything seems nice and smooth. I’d rather have 60 FPS, sure, but that’s clearly not happening on my computer. It’s a bit weird I’m getting performance as high as I am, though, considering WB’s recommendations. Perhaps it’ll get a lot slower later.

So what about the rest of the problems, like the texture pop-in?

Actually, not as bad as I expected. It might be that I’m just going blind, but for the most part it’s been better than, say, anything Bungie have ever made. Cutscenes occasionally had low-res faces for a few moments at the start, but the most obvious I’ve actually noticed in gameplay is the “Gotham City Police Evacuation Point” banner you can see below:

Batman Arkham Knight - banner1 Batman: Arkham Knight - banner2

It’s not all happy, though. I’m quite disturbed by how people look; Oracle, for instance, appears to be a pallid zombie, and Poison Ivy hasn’t fared much better.

Batman: Arkham Knight - 5
Wow, you look… kind of terrible, actually.

I also really, really miss some of those post-processing options, and would actually consider violence if that were to let me turn off motion blur. To paraphrase my colleague Peter Parrish, when he was looking at a few of these screenshots, it’s a game that somehow looks both really good and really quite bad at the same time. The general visual effect is stunning; the rain and drizzle are fantastic, and the lighting and so on are brilliant. But look a little bit closer – look at the faces, or the motion blur, or at places where you’d expect ambient occlusion (which, uh, seems to have gone missing entirely from the Batman: Arkham Knight PC release) or soft shadows – and it looks a little bit ass.

The other weird thing is that half of these seem to appear in the .ini files, so you should be able to turn them on or off. Except apparently trying to do so with (say) motion blur just stops the game from working.

There are nice touches, like the way that it tells you when your last save was when you try to quit, but that doesn’t quite make up for a lot of these weird omissions.

Batman Arkham Knight - motion blur
Motion blur: the Bat-breaking bane of everyone who takes screenshots.

The upshot, then, is that this is a bit of a rubbish PC port. I’m not too disappointed with how it actually runs, and in this first hour or so, things like texture pop-in haven’t really bothered me… but it feels incredibly limited. There’s a serious dearth of tweakables, and a number of issues that really shouldn’t exist. Why is there a framerate lock if the benchmark goes up to 60 FPS? Why doesn’t the Steam overlay work? Why are there so few options, when the .ini files appear to offer plenty more? Why is the performance this uneven? Is it just that very little time was given to the PC version, so the release was made as “safe” as possible to avoid bigger problems? Hmm.

For now, my recommendation would be to hold off. Batman: Arkham Knight isn’t as hideous a port as something like Mortal Kombat X but it’s still not something I’d actually consider in any way acceptable. A few patches and a few driver updates will likely be needed before this feels like a PC version instead of a bare-bones, largely functional PC port, and that’s giving WB Games the benefit of the doubt based on their recent communications with the public about these problems. It seems like they’re interested in fixing these issues and making this actually, properly good, but that doesn’t excuse the half-arsed state of the version that’s currently on my hard drive.

And fix that bloody installation issue, already.

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